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Touch Of The Fumbles: The Monkey’s Paw

Touch of the Fumbles

There would be a poetic aptness to the Shitshow that is 2020 – a year of pandemic peril, civil unrest and lunatic leadership – if it also conspires to end with a Port Adelaide premiership.

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Yep, that would just really suit the whole ‘end of the world’ vibe to a tee, wouldn’t it?

A Power pandemic.

Alberton fever.

Covid-119.

Hell, even their “bring back the bars” refrain has struck a popular chord of late (although the rest of us didn’t mean it in quite the same way).

Even worse, early results suggest we could be tossing up as to which eventuality will inflict the more permanent psychological damage: a Port flag, or a premiership medallion to Paddy Dangerfield. And possibly Josh Jenkins.

For it turns out that cancelling the AFL season for three months wasn’t the worst thing that could happen in football this year. In fact, it may well have been the best.

But then, it’s also kinda in keeping with the whole 2020 ‘vibe’ that the most logical way for football to return from its prolonged absence was with my team losing badly to the most annoying side in the league.

It’s like some ‘Monkey’s Paw’-style, ‘careful what you wish for’ cautionary tale – you want things to return to Normal, and then quickly remember that Normally things are Pretty Shite Actually.

And exponentially so on Saturday, given we were playing the hated cross-town rival in front of a near-empty stadium but a mammoth national audience, not to mention the state’s esteemed Chief Public Health Officer Nicola Spurrier, who attended Adelaide Oval with her “SA Health Team” to “take extensive notes” about the whole thing – a concept I still find inherently quite amusing.

Mary Steenburgen Writing GIF by The Orchard Films

Particularly given she’s previously hinted at her encyclopaedic knowledge of All Things Football when she told reporters “we’ve got two excellent football teams in SA” – in response to a question about the SANFL.

And of course, she’d have been wrong anyway.

In fact, as of Saturday night we haven’t even got one Excellent AFL Football Team in SA.

But at least Professor Spurrier and her Team would have been impressed with our on-field social distancing efforts.

Professor Nicola Spurrier, possibly observing Adelaide’s forward line trying to hold a mark. Photo: Kelly Barnes / AAP

As far as building a score was concerned, we were certainly Flattening The Curve.

Because this was indeed one of those “be careful what you wish for” scenarios.

Not that I’d particularly missed the season during lockdown, to be honest.

And in some ways I’m less invested in our inevitable losses because the whole season is in any case, to say the least, A Bit Crap.

But what the hell – I’ve paid my membership.

I’m getting my Advertiser Hero Pledge, whatever that means.

So the least I can do is watch the damn games.

(And then, y’know, write thousands of words about how crap they are.)

And in any case, after three months of relative solitude, I’d started to get into the idea of football being played again, at whatever level.

So in the lead-up to the fateful Showdown, I’d even quite delighted in a few of the other games. Carlton’s scoreless first term against the Dees for instance was particularly pleasing, a quarter punctuated by one of the year’s most pleasing sets of stats thus far:

(Still love Eddie, of course – just, y’know… not for Carlton.)

Mind you, Melbourne soon remembered that they couldn’t play football very well, and by the end the game was gently reminiscent of those wistful pre-Grand Final days of 2017 – when we had to figure out who we liked less out of McGovern or Lever

Ah, the Grand Final – the ultimate Monkey’s Paw moment.

We’d spent 19 years waiting for it. In the last few of them, after all those prelim defeats, I’d even convinced myself that just making the Grand Final, just seeing my team play on the day, would bring me some comfort.

(Disclaimer: it did not.)

So you see the pattern?

We wanted to play a Grand Final, and we did.

It started a chain reaction that completely destroyed the entire fabric of the football club.

We wanted the season to restart, and it did.

We were nationally humiliated by the worst club in the world and embarrassed ourselves in front of Nicola Spurrier and her SA Health Team.

And a despondently thorough humiliation it was too. The Crows obligingly stirred those delightful Grand Final memories by deigning to kick the first two goals before their abject capitulation, en route to a record Showdown loss.

In fact, were it not for the Covid-curtailed shortened quarters, we could have been looking at ‘119’ territory.

At least, though, after the months of lockdown we got to see some of our new coaching innovations, such as our peculiar ‘giving away 50-metre penalties in front of goal’ strategy (which, frankly, I’m not convinced is a Winner).

It was a suitably odd buildup too, the dubiously-‘lucky’ 2240 spectators chosen via the brutal ballet of the AFL ballot – most of them Port supporters, who would have had a grand old time. As for the 475 Crows supporters in attendance:

Hellraiser Pinhead GIF - Hellraiser Hell Pinhead GIFs

While I was happy not to go – given your chances of being broadcast around the nation looking like a complete nuffy are exponentially higher in a crowd rivalling Port’s 2012 nadir – I’d still respectfully argue it would have made more economic sense for the tickets to go to those of us with a proven track record of spending money at the Garry McIntosh Bar.

Bring back the bars, and all that…

But no amount of socially-distant social lubricant would have dulled the pain of this one.

The hated Power weren’t even slowed down by the absence of their former “’blink and you’ll miss it” captain Ollie Wines (in fact, it probably sped them, up, if anything) who I once thought would never find a stupider reason for missing games than his previous waterskiing mishap – but it turned out I underestimated him.

So, the burning question: are Port the fabled ‘real deal’? It’s hard to tell, of course, given they’ve only beaten two teams thus far: one of them last year’s wooden spooners, and the other presumably this year’s.

At least, however, Gold Coast provided the upset of the round in the concurrent match against West Coast, giving the broader football public something else to talk about other than how bad we are.

You wouldn’t want to be the team who has to play the Suns next week though… oh wait.

Not even the half-time strip-show distracted from the carnage. Photo: David Mariuz / AAP

Anyway, the important thing is not to panic.

We may have set a record losing margin to Port and be about to record our first ever loss to the Suns but, actually, there’s really nothing to worry about here at all.

Everything’s cool – I had a word to the Past Players’ Committee, and they assured me there was no problem.

And besides, all the Crows players are now heading off to camp out at the Gold Coast for a few weeks – a scenario that couldn’t possibly go wrong.

Of course, the ultimate ‘careful what you wish for’ morality tale was Shakespeare’s Macbeth, whose titular villain – having sold his soul for a barren throne – bitterly ruminated: “Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow, creeps in this petty pace from day to day to the last syllable of recorded time, and all our yesterdays have lighted fools the way to dusty death.”

Now that sounds like a man who’s waited two decades for his team to win a flag only to see them start over with a complete rebuild.

And yes, I get that we’re ‘Rebuilding’.

I get that we’re in for the longest shortened season one could possibly contemplate, and that the vast majority of its curtailed quarters will feel like a lifetime of torment.

I understand all that.

The problem is, you need to feel it’s worth it.

You have to have faith that the guys doing the rebuilding actually know what they’re doing.

And I can’t say for certain that I do.

Ben Keays’ hair had more highlights than his six-possession game. Photo: David Mariuz / AAP

After all, we were told there’d been a cultural shift at the club late last year – the proverbial clean sweep. A new broom. A fresh start.

Since when we’ve had a player done for DUI, a training breach – we fly as one, but train as eight apparently – that threatened to derail the entire AFL season (although given how it’s now panning out I’m gonna give them the benefit of the doubt and assume that was the cunning plan all along), our greatest ever player panning the club’s culture or lack thereof and a timely punch-up between new recruit Billy Frampton and veteran Kyle Hartigan during a recent scratch match.

Although to be fair I can see both sides of that last one: on the one hand, Frampton has been wearing Port colours these past few years – but on the other… I still remember Hartigan’s game on Jake Stringer in 2015.

As for Andrew McLeod – best on ground in our only two flags and three-time club champion – saying the club feels inauthentic and has an unwelcoming culture, that’s all fine too.

Andrew McLeod playing for the Crows in 2010. Photo: Tony McDonough / AAP

For Mark Ricciuto, who is in fact a Different Person and Not Andrew McLeod, says he doesn’t feel the same way, and what’s more he checked with the Past Players’ Committee, who are also a bunch of Different People (specifically the ones responsible for making sure the club has a welcoming culture), and they didn’t feel the same way either.

So, case closed.

Sure, one could argue that asking the Past Players’ Committee whether the club has an unwelcoming culture is a bit like asking Donald Trump whether he thinks Donald Trump has done a bad job of containing the coronavirus pandemic.

smug donald trump GIF by Election 2016

And sure, hearing that a softly-spoken indigenous guy has an issue with the club’s culture, and cross-checking it with a bunch of blokey white guys before broadly rejecting it is also maybe kinda odd.

Next they’ll probably argue they checked with Tyson Edwards and Lleyton Hewitt and they didn’t agree with McLeod either, so he’s clearly wrong.

They did also point out that “there was great work being done at the club”, including a Heritage Committee led by former footy boss John Reid.

I asked Reidy what the Heritage Committee was all about but it didn’t really go well:

 

It’s just possible, of course, that despite the protestations, McLeod could be on to something.

I’m not saying we need to enter Port Adelaide-style cultdom or anything, waving scarves aloft to old INXS songs like it’s a religious experience. Weirdos.

Port fans: how could anybody not like them? Photo: David Mariuz / AAP

But surely – surely – there’s a happy medium that we’re not quite nailing here, something somewhere between whingeing about a 100-year-old jumper that some related-but-different team used to wear and taking all the old photos down off the boardroom walls.

Hell, maybe one day we’ll want to honour old club jumpers of our very own, Eddie McGuire be damned.

Our 2120 heritage Guernsey?

Anyway, while the club’s leaders quietly gaslighting my favourite player didn’t exactly scream “our culture is fine, nothing to see here”, there are still positives to look forward to.

For instance, if we presume we’re at a 1999-era level of incompetence, that means we only have to wait another 18 years until we get to lose another grand final.

That’s Zero Wins so far in 2020, according to Dr Spurrier’s notes. Photo: David Mariuz / AAP

That means I’ll be in my early 60s and quite possibly even still alive when we next get a shot at a flag.

But even then, I’ve learned my lesson: be careful what you wish for.

For we’re stuck inside the perfect nightmare curse: perpetually hoping for another chance at the AFL’s ultimate prize, but when the chance arrives, it somehow renders us a pitiful wreck for years to come.

So… does that mean we should be hoping to make another Grand Final…? Or not?

Fortunately, it’s patently clear that’s not something we’ll have to contemplate for a long, long while yet.

Touch of the Fumbles is InDaily’s shamelessly biased weekly football column, published on Mondays during the AFL season.

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