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It was all going along so well.
Friday night under lights. The Velvet Fog had dobbed a major with his first kick, the new Bryce was right as Gibbs racked up touches and (briefly) goals, and I was reconditioning myself to the zeitgeist novelty of enjoying D.Mac’s game.
Nothing. We collectively stopped, with nary another chance to squander, save for Richie Douglas’s heroic dash inside 50 to kick a soul-destroying behind. It was eerily redolent of one of my all-time favourite ‘Crap Crows Cringeworthy Moments’, back in ’01 when David Gallagher streamed from the centre to shank a game-saving shot for goal that would have handed us the lead at home against Collingwood with seconds to go.
Being a Crows supporter is a bit like Shane Watson’s Test career – we just can’t get past the 90s
Much has been made of the fact we strangely opted to stop playing having built a tenuous lead with a full quarter to go, which commentators gleefully declared our second ‘choke’ in as many games.
But I’d point out that for much of the match both sides did their best to lose. We just wanted it more.
On some regrettable pre-season whim, I decided to shoot over to Melbourne for the match, and foolishly jinxed us by booking to fly to our first game since the Grand Final loss with… Tiger Airlines.
Still, it was at least relatively cheap, since I only had carry-on luggage and the airline hasn’t yet worked out how to charge for ‘emotional baggage’.
And while I’m annoyed (oh boy, am I annoyed), I was expecting far worse when the team sheets came out on Thursday night, when my enthusiasm for the fact we were blooding three debutants was only dampened by the fact we’d been forced to blood three debutants.
And, to be fair, each had his moments, with Tom Doedee’s encouraging debut more than justifying his slightly unfortunate mantle as A Ready-made Replacement for Jake Lever™, and suggesting that – as The Big Lebowski once told us – The Dood abides.
(Incidentally, after an almost entirely frustrating opening weekend of footy, there was one small consolation late in the piece, with The Leaver doing next to nothing for three quarters against Geelong, which gave me an almost embarrassing amount of satisfaction.)
I should also point out that The Dood is also clearly much better looking than The Leaver, like a particularly elegant piece of chalk next to an offensively smelly wedge of cheese.
So while Jake could fairly point out that Tom has the disadvantage of not having 50-odd AFL games under his belt, The Dood could well invoke Winston Churchill’s famously-soused retort: “Jake, you’re ugly – but in three years I’ll be a gun.”
Still, it will be oddly comforting to have a new nemesis after The Leaver’s defection, particularly given the preseason retirement of Kurt Tippett, who has been our muse here at Fumbleland for longer than we care to recall.
I honestly didn’t know how to feel about this news: on the one hand, there was the obvious relief that my worst football nightmare would never come to fruition – having to watch Kurt stooping down to be presented with a premiership medallion, obviously followed by the traditional ‘ruffling the hair of the kid who gave it to him’.
But on the other hand, the AFL without Kurt is kind of like Star Wars without Darth Vader. So, like The Last Jedi, presumably.
Which I guess would make the days when he still played for us more like The Phantom Menace, when Darth was involved but hadn’t yet turned evil and was still just a gifted kid with potential. Which I suppose makes sense, since I have no intention of ever watching any of those matches again either.
But in true Kurt style, even in retirement he couldn’t make a clean break. With Swans ruckman Sam Naismith going down with a season-ending ACL, Sydney were frighteningly coy about the prospect of Tippett being coaxed from retirement to annoy us for one more year.
“Technically Kurt could play, given he is still on the list,” football manager Tom Harley casually pondered, before airily adding that “at this stage” they planned to make do with what they’ve got.
But here’s the thing: over the years I’ve become sanguine about ol’ mate Kurt.
In a way that I can’t imagine ever being about what transpired last year.
After all, without all the post-Tippett draft sanctions, we never would have ended up drafting Matty Crouch, probably the only player who could hold his head up as he trudged off the MCG last September.
And while in his Sydney days Kurt became something of an expert on How To Lose Grand Finals, we’ve more than demonstrated that we’re perfectly capable of losing grand finals without him.
So that’s a relief.
But blowing what should have been a match-winning lead against Essendon is hardly the best way to kick off a season of redemption.
Rather, it seemed to confirm our worst fears for 2018 – a Premiership Hangover, without actually having won a premiership.
Once in a while, it takes longer than usual to shake off the shackles of cricket season and enthusiastically embrace Round One of the AFL.
And for a while there, for Adelaide supporters at least, it appeared that this would be one of those years.
Indeed, despite the broad perception that we were every chance to recover from our Grand Final folly and make amends this year, I can’t think of a season I’ve greeted with less enthusiasm.
After all, those positing theories of our inevitable success are notably Not Crows Supporters: if they were, they’d by now be too well-accustomed to heartbreak to bother with such bullish predictions.
So instead, I’ve awoken to the 2018 AFL season as a drunk awakes to a hangover: grumpy, remorseful and sneakily pondering if it’s too early to have another drink.
For a while there, the cricket seemed an apt viewing pastime by which to forget the events of last September, not least because being a Crows supporter is a bit like Shane Watson’s Test career – we just can’t get past the 90s.
And we’ve also had quite a few unsuccessful reviews.
And after all, there was at least a bit in which to lose oneself this past summer – an Ashes series triumph, for one – although we will always look back on that now as the heady days before it all came crashing down.
Which is, coincidentally enough, much how we also now look back at the Crows’ 17 wins in 2017, including two thumping finals victories. Simply another gilded path towards crushing disappointment. How nice.
But of course, as of yesterday, we can officially kiss goodbye to the last vestiges of pretending to care about the cricket, and concentrate on how the Crows (and, in a different and more annoying way, Port Adelaide) might make our lives more miserable in 2018.
The Power kicked off the year as you’d expect, comfortably accounting for Freo at home, which means they are now absolutely certain to win the flag.
With Todd and Steven both kicking goals in their respective fields, it was a big week in SA for people with the surname Marshall (and also to a similar but lesser degree people with the surname Wingard).
And as we’ve been told a few times already, Port’s off-season forward recruits managed 39 touches and five goals between them. Which would be even more impressive were they not actually two different people who each individually got a less-impressive-sounding 20 and 19 touches and three and two goals respectively.
But even allowing for the fact he is not one single entity, ‘Wattslop’ was still annoyingly effective. It’s almost as if Port’s recruiting department knows what’s it’s doing or something.
Still, it must be noted that Freo played with a level of competence that harked back to their turn-of-the-century heyday under Damian Drum, who surprised no-one familiar with the Dockers circa ’99-‘01 by going on to play a minor role in the downfall of a federal government.
And speaking of Fremantle’s formative years, Gerard Neesham’s infamous water polo expertise could have come in handy this weekend for the Suns and North Melbourne players who took part in the Cairns ‘Slip and Slide’.
There was always going to be a heavy Dew on the park for this one, but enough about the Suns’ new coach. A torrential downpour meant that this game lacked the usual polished skills you’d expect when elite sides like Gold Coast and North face off. Although, to be fair, were it not for the occasional chance to see a bunch of blokes comically trying to kick a water-logged ball while paddling about in an oval-sized wading pool, I’d probably never watch a Gold Coast game at all.
But this is the point.
With the new season upon us, it was time to get back on the proverbial horse and watch some footy. Any footy.
After all, what better way to put last year’s Grand Final loss to Richmond behind us than to sit down and enjoy the traditional Thursday night season-opener?
For some reason, the AFL has decided that you have to earn the right to enjoy each season by first enduring the annual meh-fest between Carlton and the Tigers.
Which obviously wasn’t as therapeutic as I’d hoped it might be.
Still, on the bright side, at least now I finally know which team to barrack against.
At some point on Grand Final day, Richmond handed the mantle of Being Richmond over to us
But besides that, and a frenzied opening stanza by the Blues, there was little of interest, other than the annual opportunity to ponder the fact that we delisted Matty Wright, letting Carlton get him for nothing, while hanging on to Matty Jaensch only for him to ‘retire’ a few months later.
That, and the traditional “well the Blues didn’t win but their supporters can take a lot from that loss” commentary to kick off the season.
But to be honest, while the Tigers comeback was as annoying as it was predictable, part of me was nonetheless relieved. At least it re-emphasised that they’re actually a half-decent team, and suggested that last year wasn’t just some elaborate prank that we stupidly fell for.
But if you’re a Labor voter or an anyone-but-Richmond supporter, and you’re looking for someone to blame, blame me. For as it turned out, I wrote the following back in 2016, when it was not well-meant:
Richmond is the South Australian Liberal Party of the AFL. Discuss.
And suddenly everything makes sense.
Although, in hindsight, it’s possible Richmond were never the South Australian Liberal Party of the AFL anyway. We are.
And not just because, as of last September, neither of us had won anything since the late ‘90s.
But if you’re still pondering what went wrong in that final quarter on Friday night, fear not. For I have now come up with an incredibly Plausible Theory for what happened: at some point on Grand Final day, Richmond handed the mantle of Being Richmond over to us and we are now therefore Richmond. Only without the premiership, obviously.
We’re the Richmond who can’t seem to get it together to win when all the objective evidence suggests it’s our turn to win.
The Richmond who obligingly adheres to the cliché we have created for ourselves over decades of semi-competence.
The Richmond synonymous with failure and frustration, but which nonetheless believes in destiny over drive.
Which is why, even now, I maintain a nagging pang of hope that last year’s loss is all part of some Grand Cosmic Plan to allow us to break our premiership drought on the 20th anniversary of our last flag.
Which is, of course, grand cosmic folly.
Adelaide’s Messiah complex has never really dissipated; even last year’s successes felt preordained because of some faux-symbolism around 1997, and the romance of breaking our premiership curse two decades on from the original triumph.
It couldn’t just be its own victory: it had to mean something.
And that’s perhaps why, despite our interminable trek through the football wilderness, we still think there is a quick fix, a magic formula: we still think deep down that we can just turn up and win it because it’s our turn, dammit.
Because, deep down, in places we don’t talk about at parties, we still believe in a Messiah.
(Well, actually, we do talk about it at parties, quite a lot. Probably too much.)
And that’s why last year, and this one, remain significant. Because we still like to think that there’s a reason we’ve been so preternaturally averse to premiership success since our increasingly remarkable double. We like to think that by winning our third flag on the symbolically significant (but otherwise completely irrelevant) 20-year anniversary of our first or second triumph, it will somehow give the whole ordeal meaning. It will all make sense.
And indeed it does make sense: we haven’t been good enough when it counted. For 20 years.
Both sides did their best to lose. We just wanted it more.
But because we’re never truly bad – and often rather good – we can’t really spend our days bitching and moaning about our travails.
Over the past few months I’ve asked a few neutral supporters who they’d rather have been over the past two decades: a Crows devotee, whose side has been more often good than bad, and has realistically challenged for the prize several times without ever achieving it? Or a Richmond fan, whose team has spent much of its time not merely propping up the AFL ladder but being a national laughing stock… but who in the end has a flag to show for their considerable troubles?
I still can’t work out the answer, in part because it depends on what happens between now and the next cricket season.
And, of course, we’ll find out more about that when we face our demons against Richmond on Thursday night.
In keeping with my ambivalence about the whole season thus far, there is arguably a rationale for either prospective outcome: if we win, we get the clichéd payback that actually provides no comfort whatsoever about losing on Grand Final day.
And if we lose, at home, it will at least confirm that that bastard of a day wasn’t a complete fluke after all.
For whatever that’s worth.
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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