It had to be too good to be true.
A season wherein my team could be relied upon to win more often than not. But even when they didn’t, a comically craptacular effort from our crosstown rivals would return some semblance of good humour to my weekend.
And then this.
What’s the world coming to if Port can’t be relied upon to drop games against awful sides like Brisbane anymore?
Next thing you know, they’ll be beating Carlton next week.
They now boast the same win-loss record as the Crows, a stat more insulting than anything a Victorian umpire could dish up.
Moreover, they’re a better than even prospect of leapfrogging us this weekend – a proposition that makes the respective narratives of an Adelaide renaissance and a Power crisis faintly ludicrous.
In the absence of talls of the ilk of Ryder, Schulz and Lobbe, Charlie Dixon held the fort with all the intent with which he used to fortify himself the night before a big game.
And while Jackson Trengove’s stints in the ruck could be seen as robbing Peter to pay Paul, it turned out the demands on Peter’s finances weren’t that pressing in any case, given Brisbane’s forward forays were generally errant and increasingly rare.
Remember when Brisbane were a Thing?
It’s easy to forget, given their subsequent (mis)fortunes, that seemingly irrepressible post-9/11 dynasty that won three premierships from four Grand Finals – a dynasty that officially petered out a year later with an ignominious 139-point Round 22 thumping by St Kilda (who went on to ruin our 2005 premiership push a week later).
We can only hope Hawthorn’s golden run ends the same way this year (although I doubt it). If nothing else, it would be appropriate karma for giving us the three most boring Grand Finals of the millennium.
Anyhoo, this ruck-free football the People’s Republic are pioneering could really catch on. Defender Trengove was asked to play dual roles (which was probably appropriate given he has two surnames) and was easily the Power’s most prolific faux-ruckman, with 14 hitouts for the game – and 13 clearances. Brisbane’s Stefan Martin had 51 hitouts, but his team combined for just 34 clearances for the game.
It’s possible Ken Hinkley has inadvertently hit upon the biggest football lightbulb moment since they started using an oval-shaped ball in 1877 – the Superfluous Ruckman Theory.
Mind you, I’m not convinced the theory will stack up once Port start playing actual teams; but with five of their next seven games against current bottom eight sides, that’s not a conundrum they might have to ponder for a while yet.
As for Adelaide, for the third time in a month we’ve been involved in a game billed as the match of the round.
And for the third time in a month, it has actually even transpired to be the match of the round.
But, for the second time in a month – we lost.
With contentious frees – or lack thereof – roundly blamed. For the second time in a month.
I’m always hesitant to buy into free kick controversies where a narrow Crows loss is concerned, largely because it inevitably conforms to a stereotype expected of Adelaide supporters, who evidently spend most of their time quaffing bubbly and crying “ball” through mouthfuls of caviar.
How this stereotype sits alongside the other broad cliché about South Australians – the one in which we’re all unemployed and unemployable charity cases waiting for a handout – is unclear.
But nonetheless blaming our still-too-frequent defeats on umpiring errors somehow manages to conform to both cliches at once, and feels a bit like blaming our entrenched unemployment on Commonwealth procurement policy.
It’s arguable, but unhelpful.
And moreover, it’s what everyone expects us to do.
The fact is, though, we earned our loss to the Bulldogs.
The free kicks were more a symptom of the fact Scott Thompson appears to have been taught how to tackle by the Boston Strangler
Isolating the lopsided free-kick count is beguiling, but deceptive. Far more telling is every other major indictor.
The Bulldogs had 80 more disposals than us. 22 more contested possessions. 11 more kicks. 69 more handballs.
Damningly, they had 31 more inside 50s.
They even out-tackled us.
Sure, if some of those contentious free-kicks – or lack thereof – had fallen our way, we might have won the game.
But we wouldn’t have deserved to.
I’m not one for putting aside petty parochialism, but in all honesty the free kicks paid against us (with the possible exception of the 17-1 differential from umpire Troy Pannell, who has now been made an honorary Footscray life member) were more a symptom of the fact Scott Thompson appears to have been taught how to tackle by the Boston Strangler than of some pro-Victorian AFL conspiracy.
Our cause was further derailed by the fact Tex Walker has a sore foot that apparently hinders his ability to take marks.
I’m not superstitious, but it seems to me making our captain wear the Number 13 on his back might be tempting fate.
We’ve now lost three games this year by a total of 28 points – an average losing margin of less than 10. Which is kind of impressive – but not as impressive as NOT LOSING THE DAMN GAMES.
What showed us up more than anything on Saturday was our midfield, which was most often second to the ball and generally made to look slow and sloppy by the polished Dogs. We lacked grunt and we lacked pace.
It would be good if we could recruit someone who could simultaneously address both those deficiencies. Who’s that guy who wears Number 35 for Geelong? He’d be perfect!
Is he out of contract anytime soon?
Fortunately he’s coming to Adelaide this week so our recruiting staff will get a chance to take a look at him up close. Keep it quiet though because he’s flown under the radar so far, but if we play our cards right he might turn out to be A Pretty Handy Pickup.
Ironically though, the Bulldogs game felt like a throwback to those Dangerfield-assisted efforts under Brenton Sanderson; even when we got a run on and drew close, you always felt the Bulldogs were going to kick the next goal. Which, when we finally drew within three near the death, they did.
And the one after that.
Sure, we could count at least four goals in amongst all that which would either have gone our way or not gone theirs but for contentious umpiring – two dubious marks paid to Jake Stringer, a belated out of bounds against Eddie Betts confoundingly held off until he’d passed the ball to a lone Mitch McGovern in the goalsquare and a play-on call after Rory Sloane plucked what appeared to be a mark directly in front.
So yes, there was a sense of injustice about the whole thing.
But not as unjust as it would have been had the Bulldogs lost.
Blaming the umpires is like Homer Simpson blaming Bart for his own lax parenting, and we deserve the same rejoinder Marge once offered her impetuous other half: “You should be strangling yourself.”
And we should. At the very least, we might get a free kick out of it.
Touch of the Fumbles is InDaily’s weekly AFL column, published each Monday during the AFL season. Yes, it’s shamelessly biased. Even up the score in the comments section below.
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