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Touch of the Fumbles

Touch Of The Fumbles: Kryptonite

Touch of the Fumbles

The Crows folded at Kardinia Park like Superman being exposed to Kryptonite, while Port continued to underline that they belong in the top four, as long as they can play bottom four sides. A bad round, then, for our Fumbles correspondent – but at least he wasn’t forced to relive any hideously-demoralising historical defeats. Oh, wait…

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The first sign that this week was not going to end well came when a crazed passenger threatened to blow up an outbound Malaysian Airlines flight from Melbourne.

Not because of the incident itself, which was quickly defused.

But because one of the passengers who confronted the unhappy customer was former Melbourne player Andrew Leoncelli.

And sure, confronting potential terrorists on international flights is all very brave and all that… but there is no way I am ever going to forgive Andrew Leoncelli for kicking the winning goal against us in Round 2, 2001.

Unfortunately, a lot of Demons supporters seem to remember that moment as well. Indeed, it must have been the single high-point of the guy’s eight-year AFL career. Because no sooner had he started doing the media rounds to talk up his heroism, clips of one of my least favourite memories in football fandom started resurfacing all over my social media timeline.

Which meant that even before a ball was bounced on Round 11, I had already reverted to the foetal position, haunted by recurring flashbacks of Mark Bickley’s loose-checking on Leoncelli.

(David Gallagher had three possessions and gave away a free that night, in case you were wondering.)

Still, I was somewhat heartened by the recollection that Melbourne didn’t make the finals that year, and we did (a first-round thrashing by a pre-collapse Carlton, so nothing to write home about.)

The man who allegedly threatened to bring down the Malaysian Airlines flight has been charged with endangering the safety of an aircraft and making false threats, both of which reportedly carry a maximum of ten years in jail.

Hell, he should get ten years just for the mental trauma of reinvoking that loss for all us innocent Crows supporters.

I can’t wait to see what next week might bring.

Jack Anthony foiling a terror plot, perhaps?

Chris Tarrant thwarting a bank robbery?

Brendan Fevola winning a reality TV show… oh wait.

Because, of course, you could probably fill a football side with all the blokes who have broken our Adelaide hearts with last minute kicks to cost us a game. (Sure, it would be a side full of forwards and would therefore probably be a bit crap, but you could at least make up the numbers.)

So in hindsight, the memory of one of our more crushing losses was probably a fair portent of what was to come on Friday night.

It did not go well. Photo: Julian Smith / AAP

But you can’t really begrudge Melbourne – certainly not after all they’ve endured since.

They’ve had a hideous record against us in Adelaide (at least until recently). After that Leoncelli-inspired three-point win in 2001 it was 13 more years until they had a win in South Australia.

No wonder their supporters still celebrated the moment; it was a little oasis of joy in a churning sea of despair.

And I can understand how they feel.

In 2002 I drove from my then-home in Canberra for a weekend in Melbourne, detouring on my way back to take in a Crows game at Kardinia Park.

The young Cats (let’s call them ‘the Kittens’) were coming off a seven-game hot streak, but despite outplaying us for much of the game, their errant kicking – and Mark Ricciuto’s epic final quarter – saw us escape with a three-point win, 12.18 to a preposterous 15.3.

It was one of our more memorable wins, since we generally boasted among the poorer conversion rates in the competition, and also for Gary Ayres’ famous two-finger salute to his former home crowd. And, of course, because we so rarely won in Geelong.

It was more often the scene of hefty defeats, including the biggest score ever kicked against us (210 points in 1992). We didn’t get our first victory there until 1998 – a freakish 74-point romp punctuated (again) by some Ricciuto brilliance and six Tony Modra goals.

The fact that after the 2002 win my car broke down on the way home to Canberra and I had to spend the night trying not to freeze to death on the side of the Eastern Freeway didn’t immediately strike me as a bad omen, especially since we won there again the following year in a fairly forgettable affair in a season in which the Kittens lost all but two of their first nine games.

But had I known that thereafter we wouldn’t win on the road in Geelong again for another 14 years – and counting! – I probably would have celebrated just that little bit harder.

I would have celebrated like Andrew Leoncelli after he drifted goal-side of Bicks to shark a hitout from a stoppage at the death and send the ball sailing through the big sticks.

I think I’ve figured out Adelaide’s problem.

We’re bad breaker-uppers.

Normally when someone breaks your heart, the trick is to go from strength to strength, and make them look at you with silent envy and wonder.

Like the Cats did to Hawthorn for years after the 2008 Grand Final.

But not us.

Whenever we part ways with a key player (invariably after they give us the old ‘it’s not you it’s me’ routine, even though it’s always actually really us) we seem to follow it up with a succession of capitulations against their new side. When Jack Gunston went to Hawthorn, for instance, we embarked on a five-year losing streak to the Hawks, during which time he also helped them win three successive premierships. Although we did get to keep his Mark Bickley Medal, so that more than made up for it.

Tippett’s messy defection to Sydney heralded a spate of embarrassing defeats to the Swans.

And then, of course, there’s Paddy.

“Do you miss me?”: Dangerfield kicks the first of several Geelong goals against Adelaide. Photo: Julian Smith / AAP

Our best player upped and left, to go prop up another middling team’s premiership aspirations.

So just to teach him a lesson about messing with our battle-weary hearts, we helpfully front up for every game against Geelong – and immediately forget how to play.

I mean, we were just awful on Friday.

At least when we played them at Simonds Stadium last year we kind of held our own for a half, before dropping our bundle completely in the third quarter. This time around we were outclassed from the get-go – when we let Paddy Sodding Dangerfield kick the opener – with only a few junk-time goals to turn our blushes from beetroot to burgundy.

But that’s all it was, despite the commentators’ valiant efforts to paint it as some sort of failed comeback.

As LL Cool J once said: “Don’t call this a comeback – I’ve been here for years.”

And that we have.

Sloane chatting to Paddy after the game was like when you bump into your ex while their new, better-looking boyfriend is standing awkwardly nearby

Like many, I was starting to lull myself into the false hope that the stench of our many, many failures in Geelong were about to be washed away by a victory that would underline our premiership credentials. That our historic ineptitude on the narrow confines of Kardinia Park was, as Don Pyke noted, a series of Unfortunate Events, rather than a pattern of incompetence.

But that’s what it is.

A pattern exacerbated by our bizarre propensity to make fools of ourselves in front of our former star players.

Did you see the footage of Sloane (well held, again) chatting to Paddy after the game, in which he and his ‘Dangerwood’ consort conspired to produce 66 possessions, 40 contested possessions, 16 clearances and four goals? It was like when you bump into your ex while their new, better-looking boyfriend is standing awkwardly nearby.

AWKIES: “Argh, I shouldn’t have told him he played well…” Photo: Julian Smith / AAP

Of course, Pyke did produce one strategic masterstroke that allowed Sloane to temporarily break his Scott Selwood tag – by leaving him on the bench for nine crucial minutes in the first quarter.

(Speaking of the younger Selwood, I noted the free he was gifted in front of goal early in the game, and I have now deduced that the Selwood family must have grown up living in a house with very low ceilings.)

It did not, apparently, occur to us to try and shut down either of the two most damaging midfielders in the competition. Indeed, the only thing we managed to shut down all night was our premiership hopes.

We’d better pray we don’t end up having to play Kardinia Park in a final; that place is like our Kryptonite. One minute we’re demolishing sides like a football superpower, the next we’re an incompetent, incontinent rabble.

The Kardinia Park effect, as seen in a 1951 Action Comic.

In his public appearances, Pyke does a pretty good poker face.

Which is apt, because we have a game plan that’s akin to bluffing our opponents that we have a better hand than we’ve actually been dealt.

The problem is, if our opponents don’t buy the bluff – as they increasingly don’t – we simply fold.

“I wanna hold ’em like they do when Tex plays… they can’t read my poker face”: Don Pyke, possibly reciting Lady Gaga lyrics at the huddle. Photo: Julian Smith / AAP

As much as we like to pretend that we’ve pulled off a decent deal in losing Dangerfield, I’d suggest he’d be more useful to us right now than Milera, and possibly even more useful than Troy Menzel and Dean Gore are to our reserves side.

The Crouches are undoubtedly handy players, but they don’t turn a game like Dangerfield or Selwood. Charlie Cameron has that X-factor, but for now he is akin to William Hurt in A History Of Violence or Brando in Apocalypse Now: brilliant, but only in a cameo role.

Brando: A bit like Charlie Cameron?

Still, remember when we used to get annoyed with Danger because for years he used to only get about ten touches a game? Good times, if only we knew it.

Against St Kilda this Friday, the Crows are (fairly, but somewhat forlornly) promoting the game as an occasion to celebrate the 20th anniversary of our first premiership.

Which is all very nice, but it does tend to highlight that it’s also been 19 years since our last one.

When we look back on those wasted years, we’ve found plenty of endearingly frustrating ways to squander opportunities. But it really does all come down to 2006.

That was perhaps the only season we’ve ever gone in as a frontrunner and maintained that status throughout. We even managed that rare feat (for us) of winning a home qualifying final and securing a home prelim – the first and only time we’ve ever done so. And even though we squandered our half-time lead to go down at the death – one of the more gutting losses I can recall – I never bought into the line that we bottled it. After all, we merely did what we always did back then – lost to West Coast.

Arguably, it wasn’t us that cruelled our premiership chance, but Sydney – by beating the Eagles by a point in that year’s other qualifying final.

That was the twist that forced us to play West Coast (to whom we always lost back then), rather than Sydney (to whom we never did).

Just as when Hawthorn ruined the cadence of fate in ’08 by ‘stealing’ Geelong’s flag, there’s always some other poor team that feels the knock-on effect.

Arguably, the Hawks’ surprise premiership didn’t hurt the Cats as much as it did St Kilda, who consequently missed their turn in 2009 – a season in which they finished on top of the ladder, with only two losses for the minor round, both by under a goal. If the Saints hadn’t had to face Geelong, still smarting from missing out the previous year after an equally-remarkable build-up, they surely would have broken the league’s most dismal drought.

And similarly, it was that infernal Swans/Eagles rivalry that probably cost us at least a crack at a third flag – and we’ve had to wait another decade for another legitimate chance.

It’s easy enough to recall that failed ’06 campaign, because the present-day similarities are eerie. Pyke was an assistant at Adelaide under Neil Craig in ’05/’06, and his mentor’s legacy is evident: the current Crows side is likewise impeccably drilled with a game plan that, when it works, is thing of breathtaking beauty.

But when it all falls apart, we’re like a fallen superpower.

Speaking of which, the humbled Hawks helped round out a crap weekend by giving Port the chance to prove their premiership mettle – albeit in a game they were always going to win, given Hawthorn were coming off two six days breaks on the road, and are also a bit crap.

“On the plus side, Clarko, Tom Mitchell is on fire in my AFL Fantasy team…” Photo: Michael Errey / InDaily

They were depressingly awesome in the first half, the Power, and although they eased their foot off the accelerator as the game wore on, we can read about as much into that as we can our own supposed final-quarter fightback.

For, right at this moment, I wouldn’t fancy our finals chances against Port, let alone GWS – and certainly not Geelong. And unfortunately, they seem the three sides most likely to round out the top four – assuming we even make it that far.

The players watch in captivated awe as Jimmy Toumpas sends the ball through for a point. Photo: Michael Errey / InDaily

Witnessing a three-point win at Kardinia Park was a blissful memory, not least because – sadly – it was likely a once-in-a-lifetime event.

But dropping our bundle in the major round – that’s the kind of history we seem doomed to keep repeating.

On that note, Touch Of The Fumbles is taking an early mid-season break, and will return after the bye rounds. 

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