At long last, we’ve reached the business end of the season: that hallowed stage where ordinary players become heroes and heroes become legends, the ultimate test of stamina, resolve and resilience to which both SA teams have evidently keenly aspired all year.
I’m talking, of course, about Mad Monday.
Yep, bugger finals glory – let’s get pissed instead.
In fact, that could be Adelaide’s new club slogan for 2020. With perhaps an alternative club song as well:
Of course, Mad Mondays are notorious for the outrageous dress-ups, and I hear the Adelaide players are going all out this year on their outfits, collectively pulling off a masterpiece of far-fetched fancy dress: they’re going to pretend to be a semi-competent football team.
The muck-up day festivities will be overseen by the comic stylings of emerging stand-up star Taylor Walker, who had us in stitches this time last week with comedy gold such as “I hope blokes are ready to roll their sleeves up because we’re still a chance to play finals”, and “We need to play with a bit of heart and a bit of passion and play for each other and play for the guernsey”.
I think we can all agree that hilarity prevailed, particularly coming from the guy with statistically the least impact on the ground in the previous week’s mauling by Collingwood.
To be fair, Tex did kick five goals yesterday, showcasing his adept comic timing by saving his best scoring output of the year for one of our worst performances.
But he’s unlikely to surpass this classic of comic brilliance from the captain of a team that has lost seven of its last nine games across five different locations: “We could beat any team anywhere so if we get into the finals we can do that.”
When I think back on Tex’s captaincy (which could presumably be over before next season commences), I find my response to it weirdly encapsulated in that Twitter brawl he instigated with Nick Kyrgios back in 2015, the year he took over as skipper: it started off strongly (such as when he called the petulant tennis star a “dead set flog”) but ended up all a bit cringeworthy and awkward (ie posting a video of himself taking a mark after Kyrgios said he’d never heard of him).
Whether or not Tex truly believed Adelaide had any chance whatsoever of making the finals at the start of the week – and regardless of why he evidently thought the team would show any fighting spirit at this belated juncture when it had failed to do so in any of the preceding weeks when finals were more realistically on the line – it was clear by Saturday night, when the Hawks prevailed over West Coast, that there would be no miracle revival.
Amusingly, Hawthorn actually did to West Coast what West Coast did to us in 2016 – unexpectedly knocked them out of the top four altogether on the eve of finals. But with the Bulldogs already a game ahead of us, the equation to haul in both them and the Hawks become something akin to a 100-point flogging.
Which made it a tad peculiar when the Crows promptly conceded the first six goals of the game.
Perhaps there was a misunderstanding when the players were told they needed a 100-point margin to play finals?
Anyway, by the time Luke Brown pin-pointed a routine kick-in straight to Bulldog Patrick Lipinski for yet another team-deflating goal, I was pondering what deep-seated character flaw was causing me to even bother watching this madness.
Still, as the margin steadily ballooned, at least my shame and embarrassment was somewhat offset by the knowledge we were annoying a few Hawks and Power supporters. Although forcing Port to fulfil their contractual obligation to keep Crazy Ken Hinkley for another two years would probably have been funny too.
(Spending the rest of the evening watching The Ashes to take my mind off things wasn’t much help either, but that’s by the by…)
For if there’s one other minor consolation, it’s that the artillery is also out across town at Port Adelaide.
Port, however, can count far more positives than we can: they finished higher on the ladder, blooded some young future stars and look to be broadly headed in the right direction. Theirs is the exquisite joy of being just slightly less crap than their crosstown rival.
Whereas our main source of schadenfreude is that the Adelaide Oval PA didn’t work for their club song after last night’s win.
Which isn’t much – but, frankly, I’ll take it.
Now it seems all there is left to hope for is that Paddy’s Cats don’t further rub our noses in it by taking the flag back to Moggs Creek.
Beyond which, there is just one further consolation from the end of this pitiful season: at least I don’t need to bother about watching another Carlton game, at least until sometime next year.
For when all is said and done, the most compelling part of this whole shiteful season was following the fortunes of that pick swap with the Blues – and even that ended fairly crappily for us, with Carlton getting pick eight (yes, and Liam Stocker), and handing us pick three.
Don’t get me wrong, if we’d even remotely held up our end of the bargain, I’d be more than happy with pick three; but in the event that trade feels a bit like when you leave for a long-awaited overseas holiday just as the exchange rate shifts against your currency.
And yet in hindsight, it was not the destination that was important – but the journey.
Indeed, given how dour, listless and spiritless the Crows have been this year (even when they were still winning games), the highlight of the season for me was probably that moment when Gold Coast kicked a last-gasp goal to keep the Blues winless after four rounds.
Still, we’ve ended up back in our rightful place: after 29 seasons, we’ve now taken out 11th spot six times – roughly once every five years. So, given I used this very same point to ridicule Port last week, it’s only fair to now concede this much of my own club’s players:
Indeed, the best that can now be said for 2019 was that we managed to finish above North Melbourne – and very nearly didn’t, for a brief few minutes in the final quarter yesterday.
Which, to be frank, is a pretty crappy selling point for a season, given North at one point appeared destined for the wooden spoon (until they made some fairly radical football department changes, hint hint).
Fortunately though, the Adelaide Football Club appears to have embraced the need for a full and frank audit of its internal workings, including a fulsome dialogue with its membership. Or not, as the case may be.
This heartfelt dedication to transparency was highlighted by football boss Brett Burton, who on Sportsday SA noted he didn’t listen to anyone outside the club because those within the sanctum “are the ones that have the experience and are educated and dealing with facts”.
Which is lucky – imagine how much worse things could be if they weren’t educated and didn’t deal with facts!
Not to be outdone, board member Mark Ricciuto told Triple M that “whatever decision has to be made, from top to bottom, will be made for the betterment of the football club – and the supporters should back our people in, and if they don’t, well then maybe they don’t need to barrack for the footy club”.
He later sort-of apologised, saying the comment “didn’t come out right”, and insisting no-one would be spared post-season scrutiny “whether it’s me or Chappy or the boot-studder or the fitness coach”.
As an aside, why is it always the boot-studder who gets dropped in it in these situations?
It seems a bit insulting to boot-studders that they’re always referred to as the lowest rung of any given post-season audit but, to be frank, if the boot-studder is the biggest casualty at West Lakes in the next few weeks, I might feel a tad ripped off.
Still, it’s probably too much to hope that the long-suffering supporters will be expected to do much else than renew their memberships, collect their token thermos and applaud politely as those that deal with facts continue our club’s eternal journey into mediocrity.
Many years ago, I watched an indie arthouse movie called Buffalo ‘66, whose premise revolved around a US city’s collective frustration with its football team, which had not won a title since the titular year.
The movie was made in ’98 – the year the Crows last won a flag – which meant the team in question, the Buffalo Bills, were by then 32 years into their drought. At the time I watched it, that felt like an eternity.
Now, however, as Adelaide openly canvasses a painful and painstaking rebuild, such a milestone feels like a sickening formality, as the prospect of a quick comeback from this year’s collapse seems remote indeed.
While Port supporters may scoff at the Adelaide Football Club’s lack of longevity, the allure of the Crows – for me – comes from the era in which they emerged. In the post-State Bank, recession-we-had-to-have days of doom and discontent, they were a beacon of hope.
Now, though, they’ve become a beacon of frustration and despair.
For, one way or another, every season for the past 21 years has ended in shame and/or ignominy. There have been heavy finals defeats, and narrow ones (oh, have there been narrow ones!), there have been seasons that petered out and seasons that never really got going in the first place, and plenty more where we just hung in there until that last refuge of the eternal optimist – our ‘mathematical chance’ – was eventually, mercifully extinguished with a round or two to go.
There was even that almost-100-point loss to West Coast as a final ‘farewell and fuck you’ to our late-unlamented 2011 campaign, as we headed into the unknown with no coach, no plan and – as ever – no flag to show for our post-millennial travails.
But the truth of it is, this is our lowest ebb: I’ve never ended a season with so little heart or hope, nor can I remember seeing my team play with such little heart and hope.
From starting 2019 believing we could return to that freewheeling form of our 2015-17 campaigns, we now appear to be at Year Zero of the most painful rebuild in the club’s relatively brief history.
Of all the teams to have underperformed this year, it’s likely we’re the most disappointing of the lot.
Sure, one could argue we were still in with a chance (albeit an admittedly fanciful one) of cracking the finals in the final round, but disappointment is relative. It depends on the magnitude of your expectations.
For Melbourne supporters, for instance, this season doubtless hurt even more than all those pitiful years that preceded it, solely because they allowed themselves to dream they might actually, finally enjoy the exotic taste of success, that theirs might be a team of contenders.
Well, to them I say: imagine having that feeling every single year.
For that is the lot of the Adelaide Football Club supporter.
We oscillate wildly between two perpetual states: wild-eyed optimism and abject despair.
And all for what? What is this madness that prompts us to give over so much of our waking life to the whimsical fortunes of a team of complete strangers?
There can be no coherent rationale for it: nothing I do will influence anything that happens on the field, nor does anything that happens on the field objectively affect anything I do. And yet my weekly emotional wellbeing so often rides on it.
If I got a terminal disease or somesuch and had to nominate my life goals for my remaining years, watching my team win another Grand Final would sadly be near the very top of that Bucket List.
But why? It’s not like it would reflect on me in any way; no-one will add ‘watched his team win a flag’ to my list of achievements.
But therein lies the compelling mystery of spectator sport. Its appeal is arbitrary, parochial, tribal, and deep down we know that our world doesn’t turn on the weekly football results.
And yet it retains the most singular ability to fill us with pride, euphoria – and raw, genuine joy.
Just not this year.
And probably not the next.
But someday again. Maybe.
Touch of the Fumbles is InDaily’s shamelessly biased weekly football column. This was its last hit-out for season 2019.
We value local independent journalism. We hope you do too.
InDaily provides valuable, local independent journalism in South Australia. As a news organisation it offers an alternative to The Advertiser, a different voice and a closer look at what is happening in our city and state for free. Any contribution to help fund our work is appreciated. Please click below to become an InDaily supporter.