Every once in a while, that capricious bastard Fate throws you a bone.
I’m fairly good at rationalising away Adelaide’s perpetual incompetence (no, really), but there are moments that are so perfect, that the universe finally makes sense.
In 2005, for instance, when we blew our first ever home qualifying final against St Kilda, and with it effectively our shot at that year’s flag.
I was pretty dark about it at the time.
But within a week, it became clear that it was all part of the Footy Gods’ divine masterplan, whereby we got to end Port Adelaide’s season in what was (and will certainly remain for another year or so, at least) South Australia’s only major round Showdown.
And now, at long last, this wretched turd of a season is starting to make sense too.
A season that for so long has spun on the whims of the dying minute of that Round 8 abomination against the Power – wherein in the space of a few mad seconds we lost both the game and our only forward who could then be described as ‘in-form’ to a lengthy injury.
But if the last Showdown’s denouement was the definitive moment that cruelled our season, Saturday’s frantic finish – punctuated by JJ’s contentious ‘was it or wasn’t it?’ match-sealer – was similarly the moment that potentially screwed Port Adelaide for 2018 too.
There’s some nice symmetry in that.
Showdowns are wont to be wars of attrition, and wars of attrition are won not merely on the day, but by your ability to inflict lasting damage on your opponent.
And the legacy of this year’s two local clashes is really the epitome of that concept: Mutual Assured Destruction.
And though, generally speaking, I prefer my victories to be controversy-free, I’m willing to make an exception in this case.
Because if there’s one thing more satisfying than beating Port Adelaide in a thriller, it’s watching everyone involved in the club losing their collective shit about it in the aftermath.
It was, as Mike once said in The Young Ones, very good – but it could have been very bad.
Those final two minutes were among the longest I can recall.
I’m not overly fond of Port Adelaide (you may have noticed?), but I will concede that their pre-match build-up is a fair bit better than ours.
While the Crows welcome their players to the field with a dour, overly-dramatic musical montage, Port prefers to incite a stadium full (well, half-full, at least) of their supporters to yell tunelessly along to one of INXS’s less objectionable staples, the 1988 single Never Tear Us Apart.
It’s a track that carries particular resonance after Showdown 45.
Particularly the bit that says: “If I hurt you, I’ll make wine from your tears”.
The best bit, for mine, was ‘Crazy’ Ken Hinkley insisting at the after-match presser that the AFL would “come out and say they got it wrong”, minutes before the AFL came out and said they got it right.
Crazy Ken then insisted the club wouldn’t bother seeking an explanation from the umpiring department, arguing “What’s the point?”
“What for?” he fumed. “What are they going to say?”
A few minutes later, Port Adelaide sent a letter to the umpiring department seeking an explanation.
Ah, Port. You’ve gotta love ‘em.
No doubt, the AFL’s considered diplomatic response will be something along these lines:
Ken’s post-match grump was the icing on a very sweet cake -particularly when he lashed out at the AFL, “a billion-dollar industry [that] can wreck seasons for football clubs that work too hard”.
Sorry to hear you’ve all been working too hard, Kenny! By all means, take a load off. Have a few weeks downtime.
He then continued: “I don’t want to be seen as a sore loser, but in an industry that’s about getting it right, we didn’t get it right.”
Ken, of course, is well known for his very measured and sensible responses to Showdown results.
You will, for instance, remember the diplomatic way he helpfully reminded us what the 2018 ‘win-loss’ ledger looked like after our Round 8 capitulation:
So, just for Ken, let’s just remind ourselves how the ledger looks now after Round 20:
The result will help ensure that the allure of Showdown week is undiminished, even after 21 years – and even if the local media has long since run out of inventive colour stories about the respective team’s biggest nuffy supporters.
The one I remember from many years back was the couple who were so enamoured with then-Power ruckman Brendon Lade that they named their newborn “Blayde” in a touching tribute. As you do.
Indeed, I tried in vain to convince my wife we should call our own kids “Tedwards” and “Cladhams”, but to no avail. (Note: this is not technically true.)
It was also a nice fillip in a despondent season to see Brodie Smith recalled for his first game since last year’s Qualifying Final, a guy evidently so popular among his teammates that they kindly avoided winning a premiership without him while he was injured. Which was probably taking the gesture a tad far, IMHO.
The burning question, of course, for the past two days in SA has been “did JJ’s kick shave the post?”
He thought so, and fessed up just as his Grandma always taught him to (although his ‘Grandma’ is technically his foster mum, Edith Casey).
This fact alone was enough for Crazy Ken and his band of sympathisers to claim that it was clearly a behind, although it’s technically immaterial unless the AFL happens to be trialling a new rule change whereby every scoring shot is adjudicated by the player who actually kicks it.
But I’ve had a look at all the available evidence and can positively, definitively hand down my verdict about whether or not it was a six-pointer:
Yup, it actually doesn’t matter. Not a jot, nor a tittle. If you want to tell me that you had the perfect vantage point directly behind the left-hand post on the northern mound and that it clearly skewed off the woodwork, fill your proverbial boots. Knock yourself out. But as for me:
Because all that actually matters is that the umpire gave it a goal, the goal reviewer saw no reason to overturn it and the AFL – “after accessing all relevant vision” – supported the decision of the reviewer.
But, y’know, feel free to carry on about it for another year or two if you like…
In reality, there’s only two serious courses of action that should be taken in the aftermath of Showdown 45: giving JJ’s Gran an Order of Australia and inducting Adelaide Oval’s north-west goalpost into the AFL Hall of Fame.
Controversy aside, all agreed it was a cracking match. Things started awkwardly as D.Mac returned from injury to allow his direct opponent to kick three first-quarter goals in just his second AFL game, although to be fair our Number 14 (and looming 200-gamer) had some important touches in the crucial final term.
And despite the usual nuffies booing him back onto the ground, Robbie Gray was deservedly given the Showdown Medal (although Polec cut us to ribbons as well) after continually getting away from Luke Brown to kick four damaging goals.
But at the end of the day, this is probably the zenith of Adelaide’s season.
For all our stoic insistence that we’re still mathematically alive in Season 2018, the fact is we’ve been mortally wounded for weeks now.
To haul ourselves up from 12th, we’d need to not only win our remaining three games (a dubious prospect given we play the top-four-bound Giants away this week) and bolster our percentage by more than 10, but for Port and/or the Swans to lose all their remaining games.
Gaff’s gaffe in the western derby yesterday will help the Power’s cause, with the in-form mid’s thuggish hit not merely ruling him out of this week’s Port clash (and then some) but no doubt unsettling the Eagles as the spotlight inevitably turns to their star’s playing future.
But in reality, if we’re pondering the permutations of a host of other matches, we can safely assume our season is shot.
It’s like Goose in Top Gun: even though we’re still technically alive late in the piece, you just know there’s no way we’ll make it till the end.
Speaking of whom, let’s just remind ourselves again how far ahead we are now on the Showdown ledger…
And there’s the rub, really.
For just as that 83-point victory in the September Showdown of ’05 helped soothe the pain of the following week’s defeat, Saturday’s contentious win has banished the demons of that hideous final-minute collapse earlier this season, and it’s a genuine joy to hand our hard-won mantle back to our cross-town rival.
It is, after all, a rivalry so strong that simple commonsense plays almost no part in our calculations.
In 1997, the year Port entered the AFL, the Crows made the Grand Final.
One supporter turned up at the MCG with a large banner that read: “Port: Wish you were here?”
That’s right: even in our finest hour, we still couldn’t let the rivalry go.
Port hadn’t even made the finals, and we were still baiting them as we watched our team make history.
Ten years on, Port made some history of their own, losing a Grand Final to Geelong by a record margin that is unlikely to ever be superseded.
It’s easy to forget now that the Cats’ lead actually got out to as much as 128, and was still 125 late in the final term.
All things considered, I was quite unreasonably annoyed when Shaun Burgoyne kicked the final goal of the game, a beautiful shot on the run from the 50-metre arc to peg the deficit back to the (I thought at the time) less aesthetically-pleasing margin of 119 points.
But now, of course, I realise that this was a moment of sheer serendipity, as ‘119’ has become the numerical touchstone of bloody-minded Crows supporters everywhere.
In the same way, we can now see our mid-season travails – punctuated by the Round 8 Showdown shocker – as a necessary setback that allowed Showdown 45 to play out to the perfect script.
And a finale that, like its predecessor, will be spoken of for years to come.
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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