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Touch Of The Fumbles: All on our own

Touch of the Fumbles

It wasn’t altogether easy, but you’ll be pleased to know that I have managed to find the single glaring negative to come out of the Crows’ Showdown mauling of an unaccountably insipid Port Adelaide.

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And that is that in a tight, seesawing season, we are now, objectively, the outright, undeniable premiership favourite.

Does anyone recall who the premiership favourite was at this point last year, or the year before that?

Of course not.

Because being premiership favourite a month out from the finals, frankly, sucks.

It’s the kiss of death. Which is almost as bad as a peck on the cheek from Will Langford.

“Fredo, you are now the 2017 Premiership Favourite.”

(In case you were wondering, it was Sydney last year, and West Coast the year before that. In 2011 it was Collingwood; in 2009 St Kilda. To be fair, all of these also-rans at least went on to lose a Grand Final, which is more than we’ve accomplished for the past 19 years.)

Up until this point, any discussion of the Crows being a flag hopeful has been accompanied by the cliché du jour: “They’re not top of the ladder for nothing.”

Which sounds like something you’d say about teams you don’t think should be on top of the ladder.

And yet, there we are, and not for nothing.

A rare photograph of Showdown 43, which manages to capture a moment in which Port Adelaide made a contest of it. Photo: Michael Errey / InDaily

But it’s always a worrying sign when your team’s players start publicly embracing flag favouritism.

“I love it knowing we’re the hunted rather than hunting,” Lever lookalike Jake Kelly told the AFL website after the Showdown mowdown.

Kelly is 22, so he probably doesn’t remember much about the 2006 season, other than probably crying into his Crispix when his beloved Collingwood got bounced out of the finals in a first-week trouncing by the Bulldogs.

But just as a brief refresher, Adelaide went from pacesetter to also-ran in a matter of weeks, failing even to make the Grand Final. As they had done the previous year, despite winning the ’05 minor premiership. Across those two seasons, Adelaide lost only 11 home and away games out of 44.

We could have been talking about them as our glory years, with back-to-back flags to mirror those miracle seasons of ’97 and ’98.

But instead, they’re merely the apex of our two decades of wasted opportunity.

So, Jake, much as I love your work… the Crows aren’t the hunted. Because they haven’t actually done anything yet.

Other teams aren’t coming for our crown, because we haven’t got one to steal.

There was nothing unlucky about the Showdown record-setting 13 tackles Hugh Greenwood laid yesterday. Photo: Michael Errey / InDaily

Still, even despite the despondency of those mid-noughties failures, there was one significant consolation. Namely, beating Port Adelaide in what to date remains our only Showdown final in ’05.

It was a tight tussle at half-time, until the Crows broke away in the third quarter, kicking eight goals to one.

And the best of them was from fullback Ben Rutten, whose job blanketing Power spearhead Warren Tredrea saw him dragged high up the ground. Mark Williams had shifted Tredrea up to the wing during the previous Showdown just four weeks earlier, and the move had helped spark a Port revival that fell just seven points short. This time though the masterstroke backfired fairly spectacularly, with the Port captain held goalless and Truck kicking his first career goal since the three straight he bagged on debut in 2003.

The Crows eventually ran away with the game by 83 points, which has remained the highest winning margin in a Showdown. Until yesterday.

A Port supporter invaded the pitch and still managed to find more space than any of his team’s players. Photo: Michael Errey / InDaily

Now, it would be tempting to revel in the Power’s misery, and celebrate just how limp and lacklustre they were, with their top four hopes on the line.

So tempting, in fact, that that is precisely what I am going to do.

It was apt that the match opened in a driving downpour, because Port simply went to water.

We ought not to be surprised, of course. It’s well known in South Australia that the Power goes missing during bad weather.

Charlie Dixon goes for the tackle. So to speak. Photo: Michael Errey / InDaily

The Crows, on the other hand, seem to revel in it – somewhat bizarrely for a team whose game is predicated on precision and pace.

Three times this year we’ve played in sheeting rain, for a combined winning margin of 243. We smashed the Dockers in a downpour by 100 points, and belted the Bulldogs by 10 goals.

Still, it’s days like yesterday, as you sit sipping your rain-diluted lager while a torrential downpour steadily soaks through five layers of clothing, that you nonetheless find yourself wishing the State Government could have chucked in an extra few hundred mil to put a roof on Adelaide Oval.

Eddie Betts: no appendix, but plenty of guts. Photo: Michael Errey / InDaily

Things started ominously when Port kicked the opening goal, a soccer off the slippery deck by Justin Westhoff, albeit well against the run of play. But little did anyone suspect that they would not kick another major until well into the third quarter, by which time they would be 48 points in arrears.

By late in the same quarter the margin had hit 50, and I was just on the verge of pointing out that the Crows had managed to whittle back that very same margin in one withering 30-minute burst just seven days earlier, when Josh Jenkins kicked two goals in a minute to officially kill off the contest before three quarter time.

During the week, Power captain Travis Boak taunted Rory Sloane that he’d like the job blanketing him, pointing out that he’d done it before. Of course, Sloane won the medal for best afield last time the teams met, so this probably wasn’t the bombshell sledge Boak hoped it was. And sure enough, Sloane was let off the chain completely, amassing 30 decisive touches.

Of course, Power fans can still take plenty of positives out of the game. Their conversion rate in front of goal was better than ours, for starters, and…well, that’s about it.

Matt Crouch and Brad Ebert have a quiet word. Photo: Michael Errey / InDaily

As it turned out, I was happily sat next to a despondent Power supporter, who spent most of the match bemoaning the fact that Port doggedly refused to man up their Adelaide opponents.

“All on his own,” he would loudly lament whenever a Crows player found the ball in space. Which was frequently.

Thus, the soundtrack for my Showdown was effectively a single soundbite stuck on auto-repeat for about three hours.

“All on his own.

“All on his own.

“All on his own…”

And, indeed, we are now all on our lonesome at the top of the ladder, six points clear of the chasing GWS and Richmond, and two games and vast percentage from Geelong.

It’s now impossible – even for us – to lose a double finals chance, that feat we so adeptly managed with a home loss to West Coast in Round 23 last year.

Jake Kelly: still hunting. Photo: Michael Errey / InDaily

So it was a fortuitous finale for a frenzied week, which also saw the football world celebrate the career of retiring St Kilda great Nick Riewoldt.

I’ll never forget seeing the young number one draft pick play his first game at Docklands Stadium back in 2001. Largely because the Crows won it by 97 points.

Of course, in traditional fashion even a fond farewell to a star veteran had to be all about Paddy Dangerfield, with Adelaide’s favourite Malcolm Blight medallist rubbed out for a tackle which saw Carlton’s Matthew Kreuzer concussed, but which many commentators regarded as a “perfect tackle”.

Evidently a tackle can only be perfect if it transgresses at least two of the AFL’s official rules, namely that it is considered dangerous if “the player being tackled is in a vulnerable position (ie arms pinned) with little opportunity to protect himself”, and if he is “slung, driven or rotated into the ground with excessive force”.

Many others cited a little-known caveat to the rule, which apparently reads that “if a player is the outright favourite to win the Brownlow medal and also widely admired amongst the Victorian media, these earlier rules do not apply to them”.

But for some reason, the Match Review Panel did not seem to be familiar with the “Patrick Dangerfield Clause” and duly suspended him.

Patrick Dangerfield kissing the 2017 Brownlow Medal goodbye. Photo: Julian Smith / AAP

There was even some talk about scrapping the “fairest” component of Brownlow eligibility, to ensure Paddy and Charlie can still be reunited at season’s end.

Mind you, even Dangerfield doesn’t seem minded to do that, saying: “I think we continue to change rules too often.”

Although, to be fair, he said that four months ago about a completely different issue.

It’s an odd feeling when you’re enjoying Geelong getting spanked by Sydney, and suddenly remember that your own team is playing Sydney in a fortnight

Frankly, I’ve never understood the hallowed hype surrounding the Brownlow. Each year, the collective footballing community spends the best part of the season bitching and moaning about umpiring decisions, and then lends sacrosanct credence to an award determined by those very same umpires.

Maybe instead of debating whether to change the rules around the Brownlow, we should just decide instead to make the coaches’ or players’ awards the game’s highest individual honour and move on.

But nonetheless, given the choice to contest the charge and risk a two-game ban, Danger put his teammates first, as he always does. At least, when he’s not stabbing them in the back, a la 2015.

But we’re over all that now, aren’t we?

We have bigger fish to fry. In 2017, Romsey is the new Moggs Creek, and we pause our perennial “will-they-won’t-they” debate about Leaver and McGoin’ only to note new reports that Charlie Cameron also wants out at season’s end.

Et tu, Charlie?

The chances are high that Sauce Jacobs has at least two, if not three, more Showdown medals than you. Photo: Michael Errey / InDaily

Anyway, given the opportunity to showcase that they’re not just an average side with an over-reliance on a star midfielder, Geelong duly took on Sydney and perfectly executed the game plan they’ve followed all year.

Namely, to start slowly and then wait for a big last quarter from Dangerfield to rescue them. A sound strategy with only one glaring flaw…

Their shiteful night was exacerbated by an injury to the other half of the ‘Dangerwood’ duo, with captain Joel Selwood to now miss the rest of the home and away season after ankle surgery.

Which, given Geelong have to play fellow top four aspirants Richmond and GWS, as well as the somewhat improving Collingwood before season’s end, could well and truly see the Cats sat flat on the mat.

Still, it’s an odd feeling when you’re enjoying Geelong getting spanked by Sydney, only to be hit with the sudden and awkward realisation that your own team is playing Sydney in a fortnight.

Which is a handy reminder that while winning a Showdown with a record margin is something – and a very, very good something at that – it’s not everything.

And there are still plenty of things that can go awry from here.

That 2005 Showdown has long been one of my better recollections as an Adelaide supporter, but the abiding memory of that year is still one of squandered opportunity.

So here’s the best thing to do now.

Once the euphoria fades, forget all about the Showdown (ok, you can watch Ken Hinkley’s post-match media conference where he describes the effort as “unexcusable” a few more times first).

“If you boys don’t lift, I’m going to make up some very derogatory words about you later on…” Photo: Michael Errey / InDaily

Forget all about flag favouritism.

It’s time to do what the State Government failed to do with Adelaide Oval – and put a lid on it.

And only then, if we do go on to somehow live up to our own hype to the point that we actually make a grand final, we should probably pray for lousy weather.

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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