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Touch Of The Fumbles: A beautiful set of numbers

Touch of the Fumbles

When you actually stop and think about it, Port’s heartbreaking exit after an epic draw-into-extra-time elimination final wouldn’t have happened if we hadn’t put in such a relatively half-arsed effort against the Eagles in Round 23.

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So that was lucky, wasn’t it?

And for the Power, the number 13 was indeed the unluckiest of them all, as the man who wears it on his back coolly went back to slot the match-winner from 40m out.

DRINKS ON THE FIELD: The waterboy loses his shit after Shuey ices the game. Photo: Michael Errey / InDaily

Good luck, of course, is more often associated with the number seven, a superstition that’s certainly proved true for Crows supporters in the past. Since we entered the AFL, every year that’s ended in a ‘7’ has proved a winner.

Our first premiership. Port’s record Grand Final defeat. It seems like every 10 years is a champagne finish for Adelaide aficionados.

Coincidence? Probably. But that’s the thing about arbitrary superstitions. We somehow manage to conjure a way for them to suit our narrative.

Hence our obsession with seemingly-meaningless round-number milestones.

A beautiful set of numbers. Photo: Michael Errey / InDaily

Adelaide’s own Fields medalist Terry Tao wrote in his 2013 dissertation on Compactness and Contradiction that “it is a convention in popular culture to use round numbers as milestones… of course, thanks to the artificial nature of both our system of units, and also our decimal system to express numbers, such milestones have no particular intrinsic significance”.

However, he notes, “there is some value in selecting some set of milestones of a given spacing in order to set up a periodic schedule in which to focus occasional attention on a topic”.

I’m not sure whether the good professor was specifically referring to looking back on the 10 and 20-year anniversaries of sporting highlights, but I suspect not.

He does concede, though, that “it is certainly useful to spend some time occasionally reflecting on one’s past and making resolutions for one’s future” but notes “one should not spend every day of one’s life doing so”.

Instead, he says “the optimal fraction of time that one should invest in this is probably closer to 1/365 than to 1/1”.

I suspect this is where I have gone wrong with my preoccupation with my team’s flag prospects, past and future.

Perhaps if I spent 1/365th of my time in this pursuit – instead of closer to 1/1 – I too could become one of the world’s most accomplished academics – perhaps not the Mozart of Mathematics, but maybe at least the Salieri. On second thoughts, probably not…

I don’t know if Terry Tao is a Port or Crows man, and rather suspect if I ever asked him the question he’d just look at me with a mix of pity and annoyance and politely extricate himself from the conversation as quickly as possible.

But he might at least concede a footballing exception to his rule that would allow the amount of time spent reflecting and anticipating to increase exponentially depending on how long it’s been since your team’s last flag.

The Fumbles may not be the Mozart of Maths, but I’d argue I’m the Stravinsky of Sports Stats – inasmuch as every time I present a new one, people respond with confusion and revulsion before promptly walking out.

But bear with me here – because Crows supporters are probably the world’s greatest exponent of the psychology of round numbers.

Hence why, all year, I have referred to a two-decade lull since our last flag. Sure, I know it’s really 19 years – which takes as many syllables to recount – but it doesn’t seem to capture the true breadth and depth of our despair.

Which is why I am strangely ambivalent about Thursday night’s Crows win – a heady mix of excitement, hope, fear, nostalgia and much else besides.

They talked a good game, but we made swift work of the much-feared Giants:

But there was something bittersweet about the Crows’ win, as the horror of Rory Sloane’s omission – surely, in hindsight, a cunning selection strategy to help him avoid an opposition tag – gave way to the despair of Brodie Smith’s season-ending knee-wrench.

After Smith went down, it took me a full quarter to really refocus my concentration on the game at hand, and another 10 minutes or so before I happily realised that we were actually dominating said game so assuredly that it was effectively over at half-time (those first three GWS goals on the third term notwithstanding).

There was a similar mix of hope and melancholy at the next day’s hit-out against the GWS reserves, watching the likes of Scotty Thompson toil away despite knowing that he’s almost certainly played his last game.

Thompson takes the field in the reserves clash. Photo: Tony Lewis / InDaily

And then, as the likes of Milera, Menzel and Gore ran beneath the spring sunshine within the ruins of Football Park, came the realisation that not only do we not need Dangerfield to win finals, we don’t even play the guys we traded in for him.

So, yes, there’s excitement about the fact we’re heading into only our second ever home preliminary final. But there’s trepidation too.

After all, we all recall how the first one ended, don’t we, against our then-nemesis team?

Brad Crouch, one of Adelaide’s best, gets the better of Giant tall Jonathon Patton. Photo: Michael Errey / InDaily

Back then, it was West Coast who perpetually frustrated us in finals; and we would have given anything to have a crack at the Swans in the major round, but sadly our paths never crossed.

This time round, ironically, it could be Sydney who cruels our chance to progress to the big one.

They were ominous in their 10-goal second quarter trouncing of the hapless Essendon who, after their supplements sojourn, probably thought making the finals was like finding a great lost treasure, only to find they’d opened a doorway to hell instead.

Anyway, I’ll admit Sydney have been pretty remarkable to turn a 0-6 start into flag favouritism, and moreover concede that they’re much more sympathetic since they announced they were dropping Kurt Tippett on the eve of finals.

By all reports, ol’ Kurt didn’t exactly impose himself in the weekend’s NEAFL decider either, thus bringing his career tally of Underwhelming Grand Final Performances to three (that we know of). For his sake and ours, let’s hope he stops there.

Kurt: enough now. Photo: Michael Errey / InDaily

So, being slaves to the psychology of numbers, we are tempted to say the weekend completed a trilogy of good fortune.

The Crows won, Tippett got dropped and Port had a heartbreaker.

But that would be to leave out Paddy’s Cats getting shellacked at the ‘G, so in reality at least four fine things happened on this belter of a weekend. We can’t really begrudge the Tiges, either. After all, they haven’t got near a Grand Final for 40 years (well, 37 years really, but 40 sounds better, doesn’t it!)

Plus they haven’t pilfered any of our players of note lately. Well, apart from Kane Johnson, Ivan Maric and Chris Knights, but that’s really a very poor man’s Dangerfield, Tippett and Gunston in the scheme of things, right?

So it really was, as Paul Keating was wont to say, a Beautiful Set of Numbers on the weekend.

Just not one that fits readily into our preordained system of interpretation.

An essay on Psychology Today notes that humans innately “focus on round numbers”.

“The system of numbers doesn’t play favorites, but the psychology of numbers does,” the author notes.

“If somebody tells you that an event happened 10 years ago, then you assume they mean a number in the neighborhood of 10. It might have been 9 or 11, but probably not 20.”

Moreover, when the actual round number milestone finally arrives, we mark it with faux-reverence.

Witness the recent spate of strolls down Media Memory Lane about the Crows’ first premiership, 20 years on.

Anyway, given all this, two things – at least – are noteworthy about the past weekend’s results.

One, that the Crows are – tenuously – on track to mark the 20-year anniversary of their first flag in the best way possible, and create another vintage year-ending-in-7.

And two, that it’s almost exactly 10 years since the AFL last had a finals draw that went into extra time.

As fate would have it, that game also involved the Eagles, although fortunately they managed to resurrect their heretofore poor record of results in ‘finals draws that go into extra time’ to a more respectable 1-1.

Matt Priddis was not going into retirement quietly. Photo: Michael Errey / InDaily

And given they’ve endured a year of repeated observations that they probably won’t make finals and certainly won’t have any impact if they do, whatever else they achieve (or not) from here on in, they’ve now won one of the most memorable of major round contests and, in the process, ended the Power’s season. Both of which are achievements worth celebrating.

Although, if it’s any consolation for Port fans, I discovered to my annoyance last night that my Foxtel IQ stopped recording before extra time, so I didn’t get to re-watch the finale (although fortunately it’s readily available online, so crisis averted…)

Not that I’m indulging in my traditional Fumbles schadenfreude here (perish the thought!).

I mean, sure, it would be easy to have a laugh at Port’s expense and kick them when they’re down.

It would also be quite fun.

So, on second thoughts, we should probably do just that.

Brad Ebert wears his traditional head bandage as Sam Mitchell puts the pressure on. Photo: Michael Errey / InDaily

After all, while it’s undeniably enjoyable when Kochie comes out and bags the players and the selection strategy and laments how the club “blew it”… that’s really our job, isn’t it?

One could, for instance, question whether the Port players were already thinking two – if not three – games ahead, given Ollie Wines – who, along with the oft-maligned Charlie Dixon, was among their best – revealed during the week that the club had plotted their route to a Grand Final on a whiteboard at their Alberton base.

“Externally, expectation is we will win this week and get knocked out next week… but on the board we have all four games,” he reportedly said.

Um… how about just winning this week first, guys?

Ollie Wines clears the ball while pondering next week’s match-up against GWS. Photo: Michael Errey / InDaily

Still, it wasn’t just the players who thought they were a shoo-in for the Big Dance, if the series of increasingly strident texts I received yesterday from a Port-supporting mate is any guide.

(I note, parenthetically that “Port-supporting mate” is probably an oxymoron – or part thereof.)

Among the highlights:

“Leaving out Trengove was sheer incompetence… what sort of fantasy unicorn land makes it ok to play Marshall over Trengove in a final?”

“I’ve been a member for 17 years but if they don’t sack Hinkley I am seriously considering not renewing my membership.

“If I had a lawn I wouldn’t let him mow it… we are not Collingwood – mediocrity is unacceptable.”

And my personal favourite: “He has cost us two grand finals.”

Now, I have no idea if the invective is typical of the broader Power mindset – so don’t shoot the messenger here – but needless to say it was the proverbial icing on what was an already sweet cake of football fandom.

And, for the record, I think Hinkley has been a fine coach for Port Adelaide, and if any supporter has already forgotten the on-field state the club was in when he took over, they probably deserve to go back there asap.

But I pushed my Port-supporting acquaintance on this last point, because I couldn’t remember two prospective grand finals that had been squandered through his coaching.

And then it dawned on me.

In his charming Albertonian naivety, he genuinely believed the club was destined for a flag this year.

Like the club itself, he had mapped out a path to Grand Final Day, and figured the victorious Power would make short work of GWS and Richmond en route to the decider (although, to be fair, it is clearly the softer side of the draw).

And because I am so touched by this wistful hope, I am going to be kind here – and offer the grieving Port masses some words of consolation, courtesy of the Stravinsky of Sports Stats.

I am generous like that.

I mean, even though I would rather watch the entire season’s output of ‘Roaming BT’ in one sitting than contemplate Adelaide playing the Swans in a prelim, I’d still give Sydney a quiet round of applause if they won next week – largely for the satisfaction of seeing Paddy D’s finals campaign end with successive losses. You see? Generous.

So, lean in, Port fans – listen close.

Because we feel your pain.

After all, the Crows have been here before.

Ten years ago.

This exact thing happened to Adelaide in 2007.

Indeed, there are already a few eerie echoes of that finals series a decade ago – a nailbiter between Port and West Coast, a draw going into extra time, and an elimination final decided by a dramatic final kick.

We were pitted against what we thought was an easy opponent – a young Hawthorn side – and after that, the path to the Grand Final opened up, offering us the middling Kangaroos (who I’m still convinced we’d have beaten) and the Power themselves (a 50-50 proposition at any time).

But instead, we lost on the siren courtesy of bloody Buddy’s booming boot. (Let’s hope that particular piece of history doesn’t repeat!)

It was about as bad as I’ve felt after a final. And it was largely because I could see us somehow navigating a path to Grand Final glory – and all of a sudden it was all over.

But you know what?

In the end, Port Adelaide made the decider that year instead.

And lost by 119 points.

And all of a sudden I realised that there are consolations to Not Making Grand Finals.

So chin up, Power fans. Because there are worse things in life than losing a close elimination final.

And anyway, you probably should have known all along this wasn’t your year. After all, it ends in a ‘7’.

Touch of the Fumbles is InDaily’s weekly Monday AFL column. Yes, it’s shamelessly biased. Even up the score in the comments section below.

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