It was, I think, the longest 43 seconds of my entire life.
When Tex went back and kicked truly from 45-out to put the Crows one point – ONE FREAKING POINT – in front of the ladder-leading Dees, your humble Fumbles correspondent duly erupted in euphoria.
After all, not since our inaugural season had my club won a game in such a manner, by kicking the winning six-pointer after the final siren.
But then it suddenly dawned on me…
It wasn’t after the final siren.
There hadn’t been a final siren.
So, while the clock had ticked over 30 minutes, we still had to defend the slenderest of leads for… how long?
“How long’s left?” I desperately called to the spectators around me who were busily consulting their live feeds.
As the midfielders reassembled for the final centre bounce, the answer came back: 43 seconds.
Still, how bad can it be, right?
I mean, the last time the Crows kicked three late goals to hit the front by a point with 43 seconds left on the clock, we were playing Port in the first Showdown of 2018 – and, as far as I recall, nothing unfortunate whatsoever happened after that point.
Mind you, those with longer memories might recall with a shudder the events of 20 years ago, the last time we hit the front in the last minute against Melbourne – and the bitter spectre of those two maligned words, to be whispered in hushed regret until the end of time:
Ironically, the Crows player who kicked the final-minute goal that put us in front that night before Leoncelli’s final flourish was on Saturday spending those final frantic seconds trying to orchestrate a Melbourne comeback.
Anyway, there was obviously nothing to worry about, since Adelaide were clearly dominating the centre square, with Gawn ineffectual in the ruck all night and Oliver and Petracca rarely sighted.
As far as I recall.
Now, obviously, those of us actually at the game had little concept of when the siren would sound, so I’ve helpfully gone back to fill in the blanks of the longest 43 seconds in human history.
The clock starts, as the Dees (incredibly surprisingly) win the centre clearance, and Petracca breaks away to launch a soaring kick inside 50.
Pickett sits under it but, blissfully, it bounces from his grasp and spills to Crows defender Nick Murray, who – and let’s be absolutely clear about this – attempts a clearing handball to teammate Tom Doedee, which unfortunately misses its target such that the ball trickles over the boundary line, precious millimetres to the right of the behind post.
The umpire, very sensibly, calls for a throw-in.
By this point, I’ll admit, I’m ok with a draw.
I mean, draws are ok, right? We had one a few years back against Collingwood, and it was one of the greatest non-wins I’ve ever witnessed.
And at least we’d have broken the Dees’ winning streak.
Just don’t let them get the six points.
Gawn again gets hands to the ball from the throw-in, but it falls to Sloane, who hits the deck as he fires off a handpass to Smith.
But our number 33 is quickly wrapped up in a scrum, and the umpire blows his whistle for another ball-up.
Ok, to be fair, the Dees’ big bearded brute is actually just toying with us. At one point in the night, he’d wound up in a marking contest with diminutive Crows forward Ned McHenry, and the visual impression this created was akin to the BFG stooping to pick up Sophie in Roald Dahl’s classic kids’ book.
He again tears the ball from the ruck contest as the seconds tick down, but Sloane and Keays wrap him up, prompting yet another stoppage.
Finally – incredibly – a goalside Reilly O’Brien wins the tap from the ball-up, and the ball falls to Seedsman, who sends a wild, desperate kick to McHenry.
But Melbourne’s helmeted henchman Brayshaw gets a hand in the way, dives on the ball and sends it flailing back to the goalsquare.
A mess of bodies pile in and the ball spills off hands – back to the galloping Seedsman, who races out from the congestion towards the boundary, fires a final, frantic handpass back to McHenry, and…
Ned boots the ball triumphantly into the erupting crowd and, reader, your humble correspondent duly loses his proverbial shit.
As far as I recall.
It was, in splendid isolation, arguably the greatest non-final victory the club’s had.
As unlikely as that Round One win over Geelong, which I thought at the time was about as good as it got. This was better.
Better, because rather than build a big margin and then grimly defend it, we had to fight back from 16 down with eight minutes on the clock.
Indeed, it feels reductive to judge the game merely by its final seconds, because it was a tight, seesawing classic even before the denouement.
But in the normal order of things, when Clayton Oliver’s bomb went over the line from outside 50 to put us almost three goals down – after an arm wrestle all night – that’s the ball game.
You can almost feel the life suck out of the game like an exploding balloon.
“I think that’s it for us,” I stoically whispered to my nine-year-old sitting beside me.
It’s important to prepare them for disappointment in life, particularly since it’s also important to indoctrinate them into following your perpetually disappointing football team.
“Why?” he puzzled.
“We only need to kick three more goals in the next few minutes and stop them from getting any.”
Ah, the impetuousness of youth.
I felt kinda sorry for the lad: after all, he’s yet only really experienced a small slice of the feast of sorrow he’s yet to endure as a Crows supporter.
Give him another 20 years, and he’ll know better than to apply such po-faced ‘best-case-scenario’ logic to a situation when years of bitter experience tells you to steel yourself for an ‘oh well, at least we pushed them to the end’ defeat.
And yet, for once in our endlessly frustrating fortunes, the best case scenario actually played out.
As unlikely, and rare, as that other great post-millennial one-point victory, when Jared Petrenko toe-poked the sealer to cap a 40-point comeback against North in 2013.
As a friend put it to me in a celebratory post-game SMS: “In my experience as a Crows supporter, nine out of 10 times we would be in the Demons’ shoes tonight: 16 points ahead with a few minutes to play, more scoring shots for the game but go on to lose by one.
“It feels amazing to be the winner in that scenario because it’s so rare for a Crows supporter to experience it.”
And it’s amazing what a one-point win against a theretofore undefeated juggernaut can do not just for your disposition but for your entire perspective.
For example, I had spent the preceding two and a half hours reflecting on the quality of the umpiring in a manner that would make Damian Hardwick look like Mahatma Gandhi.
However, in the magnanimity of victory I decided that the match officials were in fact nothing more than diligent professionals simply doing their job to an extremely high standard and that we should all just lay off them, or possibly even buy them a present of some sort.
Of course, it’s been argued that there were a couple of obvious missed frees against us in the dying minute or so that could have produced a different result, and I’ve given those points very careful consideration and come to this important conclusion:
After all, when Melbourne lost their first nine games in 2007, they duly beat us in Round 10 – so I’d argue it’s only fair that they get to lose to us after winning their first nine this year.
So let the Melbourne media pundits whip themselves into a lather of indignation. As for me:
And anyway, putting aside everything I said before about not expecting this result to happen, I actually always knew that this result was gonna happen.
The stars were aligned: we were considered soft prey for the marauding Demons before they faced their real test against the Bulldogs this Friday; they were coming off nine straight wins, we were coming off five straight losses.
But in the last of them, against West Coast in Perth, we showed something.
And moreover, the Dees may be good, but they’ve recently not been good, and they’re not a side that often leaves the confines of the MCG, where they’ve had six of those nine wins, with a seventh across town at Docklands.
Their only wins on the road were against North, which doesn’t count, and GWS, which at least was in Canberra, somewhat neutralising the Giants’ claims to a homeground advantage.
There’s a bit to be said about this.
Indeed, even Essendon in 2000 would probably not have been the juggernaut they were if they’d had to travel occasionally.
They only played four games outside Melbourne that season – and it was a year in which only one non-Victorian side, Brisbane, was good enough to sneak into the eight, so the competition wasn’t fierce when they did.
But, I digress.
There’s no point trying to re-write history, because of course – that’s Port Adelaide’s job.
The Power played Collingwood yesterday, so naturally they had to spend a chunk of the preceding week embroiled in a guernsey controversy.
In a twist, however, it wasn’t the old black’n’white ‘prison bars’ jumper that was causing them grief, but rather their planned kit for next week’s Sir Doug Nicholls Indigenous Round.
Not for first time this season, Port had to come to grips with the fact that their jumper design was actually the intellectual property of somebody else – in this case, an Aboriginal artist named Elle Campbell who sensationally revealed that the school student whose design had been chosen had in fact lifted her own work from the internet.
In the end, Port managed to deftly handle the fracas, with Campbell graciously allowing them to not only wear her design regardless, but to sell it on their merch – as long as the proceeds went back to their Aboriginal programs.
Which is admittedly a fairly tidy outcome, although I still preferred my solution, whereby Port would simply wear a different jumper for Indigenous round but change into the plagiarised one to sing the song at the end if they win.
Although, speaking with my ‘objective reporter’ hat on, I must admit that Port are most accommodating to deal with when they’re having a controversy.
So, by extension, they should probably have more controversies.
After all, the old ‘prison bars’ debate has evidently left a sour taste for Magpies supporters, as evidenced by their cheer squad banner which, frankly, was unambiguously the best thing Collingwood has produced all season.
They almost produced something even better though, skipping out to a four-goal lead over a stagnant Port, and almost stealing the game – despite the visiting side’s insistence in the lead-up that they had a point to prove, having been dubbed ‘flat-track bullies’ by all and sundry after a series of capitulations against top sides.
So upset were they by this tag that defender Darcy Byrne-Jones was moved to launch a strident defence of his team in a mid-week interview with SEN, in which he declared: “People in the media will come out and say that, but we’ve been beaten by three of the better sides in the competition this year [and] we’ve probably not been at our best during those games.”
Which is, of course, literally what flat-track bully means.
A GWS win yesterday, by the way, also nudged Richmond back into their formerly-traditional ninth spot on the ladder, which is significant for two reasons.
One, because we might be nearing the end of the interminable speculation about when the Tigers will stop playing average football and win their third flag in a row, as their season continues to plummet.
And two, because as of yesterday, Port is yet to beat another side currently in the top eight.
Still, unfortunately Collingwood’s recent strategy of trying to kick their entire score for the game in the first quarter once again failed to yield a decent total, allowing the Power to duly come home with a damp sail and pinch a win by, yes…
So does it also seem reductive to judge the Port win merely by its final seconds?
No. The rest of the game sucked.
And, with my ‘objective reporter’ hat on, I can safely say that while our one-point victory was a glorious testament to the guts and determination to which the human spirit can aspire, Port’s one-point victory was more of a flukey embarrassment for a team whose greatest consolation is that they’ll be back on their proverbial flat track this weekend.
As it turned out, though, a loss wouldn’t have made any difference to their ladder position in any case, thanks to their delightful percentage of, yes…
And then there’s this.
PORT the 119th team to win a V/@AFL match when only scoring one point in the first term
— Swamp (@sirswampthing) May 24, 2021
But on current form they’re looking less and less likely to lose another Grand Final by a record margin any time soon, and really should have lost yesterday had they not been playing the worst side in the league that’s not Hawthorn or North Melbourne.
So Port may not win a flag this year after all, but at least they got to talk about guernseys a lot.
As for the rest of us – we won by a point, but so did Port.
We were within a kick of it being the most perfect of footballing weekends.
But on the other hand, we were also within a kick of it being a complete and utter, epoch-defining Leoncelli-esque disaster.
So, this one time, I’m all about the positives.
After all, we haven’t had a win in a while.
And this win – this final minute, one-point victory against the top-of-the-table side – was one the likes of which we may never see again.
Touch of the Fumbles is InDaily’s shamelessly biased weekly football column, published on Mondays during the AFL season.
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