I’m glad this happened.
No, really – it’s for the best.
At least now we can shuck that familiar self-delusion that tends to dog the last few rounds of many a season, wherein we rationalise our inevitable disappointments with increasingly implausible ‘what-ifs’ about us beating various finals-bound teams by 100-or-so points with a few other David v Goliath results around the traps to see us slide into an unlikely eighth-place finish at season’s end, from where we might knock off Port Adelaide in a classic local elimination final and somehow redeem this godawful season.
Or not, as the case may be.
So now we can focus on other self-delusions, such as the merits of having a bad year before a strong draft – although the bitch about losing to Melbourne is since they’re already handing us their first-round pick under the deal for Jake ‘the Snake’ Lever, we gain a draft position while simultaneously losing one.
But still, it’s probably better this way.
The way I actually envisaged us blowing our entire season was by knocking off all our finals-bound opponents in the coming weeks, only to drop our last game against lowly Carlton.
So it’s good to get the disappointment out of the way nice and early.
And while a home loss to the decent-but-decidedly-flaky Demons was certainly not part of the Fumbles ‘Grand Plan for Salvaging 2018’, it was – to be fair – an appropriately annoying way to wave goodbye to our faint finals hopes.
Let us count the ways. It was a game that encapsulated everything that has sucked about the year: fresh injuries, lengthy periods of ineptitude, another momentum-shifting goal against us after Eddie Betts again opted to turn over a pass instead of kicking a set shot for goal…
And, of course, supporters going home cold, water-logged and disappointed.
Not me, though: I watched most of it on an Athens hotel wifi as I packed up my suitcase on the final day of my overseas sojourn, which was also appropriate, given the Crows were simultaneously packing their proverbial bags for yet another year. I have been in transit for most of the intervening time, which is why this missive appears 24 hours late – although it’s also arguable that a period of mourning was warranted after squandering a season of such promise.
In any case, I’ve now had two long-haul flights followed by a night dealing with a jet-lagged four-year-old, so am obviously in a good frame of mind to reflect objectively on the season that was.
It was an appropriately annoying way to wave goodbye to our faint finals hopes
And the annoyance of this game – as a microcosm of this season – comes precisely because it promised so much.
And as such, there were good things there too: a blistering opening stanza, a doggedly persistent albeit somewhat incompetent fightback after that shiteful third-term collapse and the continued emergence of Milera as a player – a timely development, given only a few weeks ago I was sufficiently concerned that he appeared to be treading water that I double-checked who else we might have picked up at Number 11 in 2015 with more judicious drafting and annoyingly recalled that Carlton nabbed Charlie Curnow with that year’s pick 12.
Still, it’s not easy coming in as a new draftee when you are effectively a straight trade swap for The Best Player In The Competition™, and Wayne Jr is one of the very few Crows players whose 2018 is a step forward from the previous year (as opposed to several steps back).
So far back, indeed, that the real frustration of this season is essentially how similar it has been in both cadence and dashed expectations to that Zenith of Mediocrity we’ll call the ‘Late Sanderson Era’.
The Snake Oil Salesman’s final two years at the helm epitomised Adelaide’s propensity to annoy: beguiling with gutsy wins only to drop our collective bundle with a string of insipid defeats.
In the midst of it, I mused on the prevalence of those concentration lapses that typified our bizarre fade-outs, coming to the most logical conclusion: that in that 2013 game when we inexplicably beat the Kangaroos from nowhere, the Curse of Crap Decision-Making that had bedevilled North’s season to that point had passed over into us.
In the same vein, it’s now plausible to conclude that at some stage in the first quarter of last year’s Grand Final, the Spirit of Being Richmond somehow passed from the Tigers to us, like one of those life-swap movies they used to make in the ‘80s starring Tom Hanks and/or Judge Reinhold.
Hence, the Tigers have continued on like the Crows of 2017, while we have comically imploded like the Richmond of Every Year Since 1980.
For the average Crows supporter there are ‘Three Phases Of Hope’ during any given clutch game, which as the match progresses we tend to move through with first excitement, then trepidation, then despondency:
PHASE ONE: I hope we get a percentage-boosting win
PHASE TWO: I hope we get a win
PHASE THREE: I hope we don’t lose by too much
It was an emotional ritual well-practised during Late Sanderson (2013-14), when the latter third of each season felt like a string of sudden-death disappointments, and its re-emergence during our team’s see-sawing 2018 campaign has the comforting familiarity of an old friend returning after a protracted absence. Assuming of course that the old friend is your former terrorist captor and you’re suffering from a severe case of Stockholm Syndrome.
For all our wailing and gnashing of teeth about the fact the Crows collectively went off the deep end for a month, it’s the narrow losses that have really blighted our season
And then, as the season wends its way towards its inevitable frustration, we add longer-term vain ambitions:
“I hope we do better next week”…
And finally, dolefully: “I hope we do better next year.”
Which is where we find ourselves now.
For we are, officially, on our last strike in the game of chance with which supporters of perpetually annoying clubs are all-too familiar: the Mathematical Finals Prospect™.
Every match is like a Near Death Experience, with your season perpetually on life support.
If we don’t lose another game, and other results fall our way, we could yet make the eight, for whatever good that will do us.
But realistically, that season daydream of pipping Port at the last post has now evaporated as our wending campaign has again proved a long day’s journey into night.
We won’t be playing the Power in September this year, let alone beating them.
So we’ll have to do it this week instead.
After all, it’s not like we’re hard-up for motivation.
For despite our season essentially turning on our bizarre month-long implosion from that first Demons game in late-May, there are plenty of other teams that have weathered losing streaks this year. Notably, we backed up from that Alice Springs bloodbath with a home loss to GWS, who were then coming off their own four-game losing streak and are now odds-on to end the season ensconced in the top four.
The second-placed Eagles also had their own three-game lapse mid-season, as did the seventh-placed Hawks.
Even the hated Power briefly seemed magnanimously disposed to ameliorating their soft draw advantage by playing really badly against average sides.
Hell, Essendon had only two wins from their first eight games (one against Port, amusingly, and the other against us, less so), and is still better-placed than we are to play in September.
So for all our wailing and gnashing of teeth about the fact the Crows collectively went off the deep end for a month, it’s the narrow losses when we were in form that have really blighted our season.
And none more so than coughing up that last-minute goal to bloody Port Adelaide.
If there’s a moment that will ultimately define the respective fortunes of both teams this year it is the final stanza of that Round 8 epic.
For, had it gone the other way, this Saturday’s game could be considered a genuine knockout bout, rather than merely a chance to inflict some collateral damage as our season collapses.
In its dramatic denouement, and the lasting implications of the result for both teams, it echoed that final Showdown at Football Park, of which I wrote last year that “losing was a bit like being a producer of the movie La La Land: one minute you think you’ve had a great win, and the next you realise that not only have you not actually won, but you’ll have to hear about how you didn’t win for the rest of your fucking life”.
The only consolation, and it’s hardly that, would be for history to record a footnote that Adelaide exacted some paltry, belated vengeance when next the two teams met.
As ever, right now I’m teetering between Phases One and Two, in anticipation of Three: I’m hoping for a big win, but any win will do. Or if we must, that we don’t lose by too much (although another match-stealer at the death will probably finish me, tbh).
It’s not much to hope for.
But, this season, it’s about all we’ve got.
Touch of the Fumbles is InDaily’s weekly AFL column, and is usually 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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