Counter-intuitively, let’s start with the good news.
And yes, there was good news, despite the hideous Thursday night start to Round Three, a round which fortuitously did not begin as it meant to go on.
Indeed, Round Three eventually provided what might end up being not merely my favourite moment of the weekend, but of the season (particularly if the season continues much as it’s kicked off).
For Port Adelaide, the self-proclaimed purveyors of “the only western sport in the world to play a game in China”, went ten points clear of the Lions halfway through the last, only to roll over at the death.
DK: we are the only western sport in the world to play a game in China and to have this support is so important and significant #pafclive
— Port Adelaide FC (@PAFC) March 30, 2019
And if there was one thing better than the moment Oscar McInerney put the Lions in front with a towering mark and goal with two minutes to play, it was the bloke going nuts in the crowd behind him wearing a Crows guernsey, who’d evidently just turned up at the Gabba to troll the Port fans.
That’s the kind of next-level pettiness and schadenfreude to which I think we should all aspire – I salute you, good sir.
Such a boon for my jaded spirits it was, I nearly forgot that I supported the world’s most annoying AFL team, who have thus far spent Season 2019 more than living up to that epithet.
Worst of all, perhaps, is the dawning realisation that Geelong is now an unambiguous flag contender
Unless they’re just trialling some novel qualifying strategy, whereby we win all our away fixtures, and try and pinch a couple of home games towards the pointy end of the season.
Could work, I guess.
So, turning now to the bad news… I have made a few notes from Thursday night’s game.
Firstly, a Good Idea for the Crows’ next preseason: have less Fun.
Safe to say, the Having Fun approach hasn’t paid great dividends in the season proper.
The Adelaide Footy Club may have made a virtue of falling back in love with the game of late – but as the old song goes, love is just a lie made to make you blue.
For, while we obviously had our chances to beat Paddy’s Cats and we can all bemoan our suddenly vastly ineffective and one-dimensional forward line and collective inability to kick straight, even when we were on the charge it was an oddly dour and joyless affair.
If we can liken Don Pyke’s tenure to that of Neil Craig (and I think we all agree we can), I can’t help thinking the high promise of 2016-17 was the recent equivalent of 2005-06, and that we’ve somehow skipped over the subsequent frustrating 2007-09 era and gone straight on to the 2010-11 malaise.
There is no X-factor, no spark, no dash of inspiration
On paper (and occasionally off) this remains a strong enough team, but it is workmanlike, lacklustre, one-dimensional. There is no X-factor, no spark, no dash of inspiration.
Those that we had, we traded away; Dangerfield, for instance, who reminded us what we now lack in no uncertain terms.
Not that we miss Dangerfield, of course. I mean, why would we miss a player with the ability to win the centre clearance, zip out of the square and kick a clutch goal himself with one of his 32 touches? In fact, I’m now convinced most Adelaide players haven’t even realised he doesn’t play for us anymore, such was the amount of space he was afforded on Thursday night.
Then there’s McGovern, who similarly reminded us of what we’re now missing on Saturday against Sydney (a match that was reminiscent of a US gang war, inasmuch as it was basically Cripps against the Bloods), by pulling his patented signature move: kicking a team-lifting goal before going off with a hamstring. That was before Charlie Cameron managed to pull off both his signature moves in Brisbane’s win against Port: going missing for much of the match while still popping up to steal the game with a moment of pure magic.
And then there’s Eddie; once our X-factor, but of late more of a ‘why?’-factor, who once strode the forward line like a little prince but is now more pauper, reduced to bit parts trying to inject some run up the field and desperate fumbled attempts to regenerate his goalfront heroics of yore.
And it brings me no joy to say that because oh, how I loved him in full flight and more than most of them in ’17 that man truly deserved a flag, but now he more arguably warrants a run in the twos because my family can’t live in your good intentions, Marge.
When everything works, and we play on our terms – as we managed at times against Sydney the previous week – there can be passages of fluid beauty; but good teams won’t allow us to play on our terms.
That’s why we lost the Grand Final (yeah I know, sorry). And that’s why we won’t make another one this year; or, probably, the next.
Indeed, on current form the only thing we can look forward to is handing Carlton our top four draft pick at season’s end.
For we seem to have regressed to Sando the Snake Oil Salesman-era outbreaks of pure idiocy, which were so prevalent during Thursday’s game that I genuinely felt stupider for having watched it.
The crowning turd was Josh Jenkins’ laconic (and now iconic) patented Handball Straight Out Of Bounds, which was not so much a ‘Look-away handball’ as a throwaway one (well, it was a ‘look-away handball’ in the sense that it made me want to look away).
Still, JJ at least pulled down the odd pack mark, unlike his fellow key forward Tex, about whom I last week waxed lyrical vis a vis how hard he’s done by and how his game isn’t really about stats but presence or somesuch nonsense, and thus I feel I might have inadvertently brought Tex’s Thursday night performance upon myself.
I mean, I’m not saying we should now kick him while he’s down.
I’m just saying that if we did kick him while he’s down we’d have an impressive one-fifth of the number of kicks he managed against Geelong.
Then there was Brad Crouch doing his impression of Lucas Neill during the 2006 World Cup: our shining light throughout before doing something incredibly stupid at the end to cost us the game.
Funnily enough, the last time we lost to the Cats at home we had an almost identical chance to hit the front with a clutch mark directly in front of goal and similarly botched the kick, allowing them to quickly score not merely the next goal, but three more after that.
Talk about déjà vu. It was Paul Seedsman on that occasion though, so the less said of that the better I guess.
I mean, seven days ago the guy was dudded on the Goal of the Round, and that ended up being a distant second in the Worst Things That Happened To Paul Seedsman last week.
His knee injury, which at the time appeared cataclysmic, was compounded by his being stretchered off the ground on The Longest Buggy Ride in History, with the driver somehow managing to cover more ground on his way to the exit than half the Adelaide players had for the preceding four quarters.
Worst of all, perhaps, is the dawning realisation that Geelong is now an unambiguous flag contender, which means the recurring nightmare that I thought might be all but over – a Paddy premiership – is instead suddenly all too real, like that last scene in the original Nightmare on Elm St.
Bizarrely, we were still ahead in a few facets of the game, including possessions (although well down on contested possessions), inside 50s (though unsurprisingly not efficiency inside 50) and, oddly enough, clearances, though evidently not the all-important ‘metres gained’ stat, which was somehow won by the umpires.
(That ‘umpiring karma’ from the Sydney game came back the other way pretty damn quick didn’t it?)
To have that inevitable lightbulb moment so early in the season has kind of done me in
I do blame myself though, much as it’s fun to blame the players, coaching and recruitment staff and higher deities (by which I mean the proverbial Football Gods, not Dangerfield, in case he’s wondering).
For it’s one thing to collectively convince ourselves in the off-season that we’ll be a force to be reckoned with in the year ahead; but to keep doing it for more than 20 years despite repeated evidence to the contrary betrays a collective delusion bordering on mass psychosis.
The Grand Final seems to have merely exacerbated things; both players and supporters appear to have approached both seasons since as annoying preludes to us having another crack at the title.
Last year, for instance, Brodie Smith admirably attacked his ACL rehab with a stated determination to get back on the field in time for finals. And indeed, he did get back in time for finals. Just in time to watch them from the sidelines with the rest of his teammates.
And even now, we think of the current season in terms of where we’ll be in 19 rounds’ time, rather than this time next week.
Perhaps that’s why this, our second loss at home in as many starts, seemed to prompt such a universal outpouring of simultaneous resignation and revulsion. For a season that we were promised (and foolishly allowed ourselves to believe) would be different already has an eerily familiar ring to it. And once again, like an oft-jilted lover, we’ve bought all the excuses, the pledges that things would change – and once again been left looking silly.
Which is perhaps why this one really got to me.
To have that inevitable lightbulb moment that the season is likely wasted so early in the campaign – and moreover to know that I still need to keep writing about it each week till September – has kind of done me in.
It also prompted me to feel like actual shite for a good 24 hours after the game, because on the way home I realised I’d consumed a skinful of booze but no food, and so decided to alight the bus early to get some Maccas (where I also almost got mugged by a weird dude standing out the front) and consequently had a fast-food gut on top of my hangover all the next day; none of which would have happened if we’d won (apart from the hangover).
I was so despondent and disillusioned about the whole thing I swore off football altogether, vowing instead to just get on and enjoy my weekend, and consequently only watched another four or five matches thereafter.
At that point, mind you, this was looking doomed to become the Perfect Shit Round Of Football: the Crows had lost, Port would win their Top Of The Table clash against Brisbane and Carlton would beat the Swans to go level with us on points, while also beating the one team that had thus far made us look remotely competent.
But as it turned out, things got progressively better after Thursday night.
The fog of disappointment began to lift with the news that Seedsman had been spared that seemingly inevitable ACL hell – an unlikely turn of fortune that genuinely began to turn my perspective on the loss.
The Seed will now – quite remarkably – only miss about four weeks, which isn’t even as long as his Buggy Ride off the field.
And then each successive result began to fall our petty way.
I didn’t much care who won or lost out of Melbourne and Essendon, but it was comforting to know it would be pretty funny either way.
Then Carlton managed to keep their perfect start alive, and our top five draft pick prospects were further enhanced with Gold Coast’s second win of the season. Richmond falling to the Giants by a point more than we lost to them on Grand Final day was sheer schadenfreude… and then there was Port, McInerney’s mark and my anonymous Crows compatriot’s wonderfully spiteful heroics.
This might make me a Bad Person, but it was the highlight of my weekend.
In fact, so perfectly did the round play out after its egregious opening that I’ve already somewhat forgiven and/or forgotten our cavalcade of incompetence and almost managed to convince myself that things aren’t quite so bad after all – despite our patchy form, hideous start and the tough draw ahead (with the gross misfortune to be playing the competition’s form sides, Gold Coast and St Kilda, twice).
We play the Kangaroos, Suns, Saints and Freo in the next four rounds. Objectively, we should start as favourites in each (although given the early form of a couple of them that could change in a hurry).
We’ve already dropped two home games; if we drop one of the coming four, we can pretty much call time on our season and my wife can go to that 40th in Melbourne her friend helpfully organised over Grand Final weekend.
If we don’t though, we’ll go into the first Showdown on 5-2 and can maybe – just maybe – re-set Season 2019.
And, of course, if all else fails, we can always see out the year trolling Port.
Touch of the Fumbles is InDaily’s shamelessly biased weekly football column, published on Mondays during the AFL season.
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