How's your heart? Smashed your television set with six minutes to go and missed the finale? Incredible stuff. Having beaten Adelaide and Brisbane unexpectedly (on pre-season predictions) and lost to North and the Eagles we were pretty much level with my expectations of where we'd be. Now with that gutsy, but altogether too nerve wracking, win we've nudged back ahead of the ledger.
Our first premiership match in Darwin had the potential for disaster. We hadn't won interstate for nearly four years (but let's be frank we've barely won in Victoria in that time either), we were coming off a listless and shithouse performance on our home ground against a rubbish side and Port had four games worth of experience playing at Marrara against our one NAB Cup match in 2006. Port have been playing decent football as well, far better than most expected them to serve up this year anyway.
Either way I've been conditioned to expect low scoring first quarters, so it was a surprise when we had two goals on the board in the first couple of minutes. First was Watts, mocking my decision to back him as first goalscorer last week, with a nice finish from a set shot before Miller (remember him?) got his first. Two goals from free kicks, but given the amount of farcical frees we've been on the end of recently I won't be giving them back.
Watts was in absolutely everything early. He had two goals, was making contests and laying off slick handballs for teammates. Got rumbled a couple of times by bigger bodied players, and as the game went on he looked more like a 5th gamer again but bloody hell the upside is enormous on this one. Miserable arseholes like Leigh Matthews might soon be called upon to issue retractions. After appearing on The Bounce Matthews must know all about being part of a high priced failure. The only difference is that Jack is going to play 200 games and The Bounce got axed after five episodes. Sorry Lethal, right now I'd rather be chained to a radiator listening to the best of Dwayne Russell and Tony Shaw than to hear any more of your bollocks.
Err, moving on. One move that looked absolutely inspirational almost immediately was the late change to bring Nifty Nev Jetta in for his first game of the season in place of The Spencil. They argued that Spence's back "hadn't come up", but whether or not that's true (and who am I to claim it's not?) or whether as later suggested they thought it was going to rain and wanted to go shorter he paid off like a faulty poker machine. His defensive pressure was a highlight early, and Watts' second goal was directly from him chasing hard. Easily his best game for us yet, and I'd suggest that he's probably here to stay for the near future.
At the risk of Adam Goodes naming and shaming me in his next column, do you think Bailey has been taking notes from the success of Carlton's Yarran-Betts-Garlett indigenous trio over the last few weeks? Jetta, Wona and Bennell could play a similar role - and when you throw in Davey's forward cameos as well we've got something potentially special down there. Maybe even magical? Bad luck Adam, it's the truth.
The returning Wonaeamirri and Morton were both slow to get into the game, but as the match went on they seemed to get the hang of things again. There was one moment early when Wona didn't chase but you'd have to think he copped a bollocking from the coaching staff for it because he was hard at it again after that. Even kicking a well taken goal from a set shot in the second term. No celebrations, but it did take his career record to an actually quite ludicrous 25.4. But back to the second quarter later.
Just when it looked like we might be onto something, three goals in front with Miller booting set shots, aided and abetted by Brett Ebert missing a criminally easy kick from straight in front Port got back into it through the second best J Trengove in the AFL. Green got one back from there on in it was all Port all the time. Only a bloody good set shot from Bennell after the siren restored any comfort to the scoreboard. Either way we were looking pretty good, the movement through the corridor was back even if both teams were indulging in an epic game of fumbles.
We got the first three goals of the second quarter, both featuring Watts the Wonderboy, and it was looking a lot like the first term all over again. More importantly one Bradforth J Miller esquire was on three goals. Who saw that coming? It became even more like the first quarter, though, when Port stitched us up towards the end of the half. Still, we were looking bloody good - and with Jamar dominating the middle I was fairly confident we could go on with how. How is the connection he's got with Moloney this year? Those two are running their own personal Psychic Friends Network in the centre-circle. No wonder we rarely bother with a second ruckman these days.
The third quarter was where we really did the damage. With the likes of Trengove running around mopping everything up, Jones playing an unfamiliar role as a tagger on Pearce and doing a fine job of it, and Frawley stitching up Motlop in what originally looked to me like a ludicrous matchup (but what the hell do I know?) we ran all over them. Almost didn't start well when Schulz kicked a point that almost got paid as a goal. Thank christ for the umpire who made the point of saying "If you're not sure then it has to be a point". Unlike the goose in the Bulldogs match who proudly announced that he was guessing this guy clearly knew that he was miked up for the world to hear. Lucky they did pay it a point too given that it clearly missed. Every possible chance that I would have kicked the TV in if we'd been rorted by another goal decision overrule. Didn't help that Schulz (and really, when you've been sacked by Richmond it might be time to give the game away) showed absolutely no interest in the decision whatsoever. That's how much it missed by - not that you'd know from the people who are paid to make decisions. From there on it was a procession, Port got one in the middle of it all but the real story was Miller getting five. In years to come people will ask "where were you when Brad came back from Casey and kicked five". He was great, but this guy has been reborn more times than the Dalai Lama. Even though he got a couple of cheap ones he was pretty bloody good, and I'm not expecting five goals every week but to quote White Men Can't Jump "the sun even shines on a dog's ass some days". WE WANT MORE. At least he did it mid-season and not right at the end of the year when his contract was up.
So, well in front at the last change and it looked pretty good. Williams kept his side on the ground in the 27 degree heat and 88% humidity, while we adjourned to a cool room. You'd think that would have had some impact on keeping some sort of fitness advantage for the last term, but by christ you'd be wrong. Suddenly Port decided they wanted to play, and suddenly the likes of Motlop turned up for the match. Cue a wild scramble that gave me horrible Vietnam War style flashbacks to that day when Essendon did the 48 point turnaround at the MCG.
They got the first two goals and you started to wonder if we could possibly "forget how to win" so badly that we'd hand over a five goal lead, then Green kicked his third and it looked like everything was going to be alright with the world. Then came the ultimate proof that we cannot possibly allow Jamar to go around single handed again this season, even if it means The Spencil or Johnson getting a game. Poor Colin Sylvia who has been absolute plums for the last three weeks, but had started to find his touch again - nearly pulling in two Mark of the Year contenders along the way - before he was thrown into the ruck. The Russian had run himself into the ground, and three times Sylvia contested for what turned out to be three goals for the Power. He did bloody well considering how much of a disadvantage he was at, but it was clear that we had to get MJ back in there even if it killed him in the process. Rivers stuffed up a punch to gift Motlop a goal, before Ebert, Hitchcock (who looks like a bit of a crunt let's be honest) and Rodan added more to put them in front.
At this point we looked absolutely out on our feet, and like Ivan Drago beating the living bejesus out of Apollo Creed (deservedly too may I add) while Rocky refused to throw in the towel we were clinging desperately to a margin of under a goal. If they'd got another one there we would have been absolutely stuffed, but all of a sudden it seemed like Port hit the wall as well. With ten minutes left it seemed like they were going to beat us by five goals, but all of a sudden a pissweak attempt at a spoil in front of goal by Brogan (another cruntesque figure) gifted Bennell his fourth goal of a great performance and we were back in front. Didn't last long, but Port were no longer teeing off on us for target practice anymore. Suddenly there was a belief that we could get back into it, and when Green kicked the clutch goal on the run to level the scores with just a couple of minutes left I was just about ready to do a David Parkin and let rip with the big vom. Can't even remember when it happened but how about the Scully HTB when the ball ended up behind his back and somehow he was deemed to be in perfect control of it?
The last minute is simultaneously crystal clear in my head and an absolute blur. Jamar took that mark in the goalsquare and it looked like we were home, only for it to be paid touched and a ball up called for. A'la Russell Robertson against Hawthorn in 1999 somebody (ok it's not THAT crystal clear to me. Was it Trengove?) jumped up and whacked the ball through for a point to put us in front. All well and good, but we'd just spent the best part of the last twenty minutes with Port slicing and dicing us all over the ground so it wasn't like they weren't well equipped to kick out and go coast to coast - as the kids say - down the other end for somebody to pull another miracle goal out of their arse.
Then two all beef patties from Port completely stuffed up the kick-out and we were gifted a bounce at the top of the square. How often do you see that happen every year, four or five? What a time to do it. The commentators called on them to whack through another point to reset for another kick out, and there's no doubt they would have done it under the old rules - but surely, SURELY there would have to be some question from the umpires about whether or not you're under pressure enough to rush a behind from a ruck contest. Would have almost made up for the Jamar debacle if that had happened, but to keep things 'interesting' Port cleared it via Morton getting pinched for HTB as far as the wing for the throw in. Jamar, now sporting the look of the guy who ended the Hawaii Ironman crawling over the line, won the tap to Davey who roosted it forward blindly. Port get a mark from what looked like a fair case for a push in the back against Miller and go forward. With under five seconds left the ball goes inside fifty, hits the deck from a contest and gloriously spins away from the Port player who could very well have thrown it on the boot and at least kicked a point. Siren, players on the floor, me on the floor, everyone on the fucking floor. Unbelievable ending. 35 minute final term too, imagine if you were at the game and didn't know how much time there was left?
And what was with everyone punching Colin Garland in the guts tonight? More importantly how did we not get a free for the second one when it was right in front of the umpire? Peanutry all round.
Tony Shaw was significantly less annoying than usual, but what is it with Foxtel showing replays in slow-mo after a point has been kicked. Did they miss the AFL memo that said players don't have to wait for the flags to be waved?
Also there was very nearly violence when the TV stalled with the screen stuck on Bennell after he kicked his fourth. If I'd missed the end of the game Foxtel would have died. Just came back in time to see Port knife us out of the centre. Wow thanks.
One thing I do rate on the Foxtel coverage is the boundary rider work of Leigh Colbert (and thank god they haven't resorted to referring to him as a "sideline commentator" like Seven do for Tim Watson). His interview with Jamar sitting down after the match was classic - especially enjoyed the Russian tempting fate by questioning that touched decision.
2010 Allen Jakovich Medal Votes
Some immense performances tonight. Bennell and Jetta played undoubtedly their best ever games for us, and Miller did what most of us doubted he could ever do and kicked a moderately sized bag of goals.
Special mention to Jamar though. Awesome performance for a guy who only had one kick. Not only is his ruckwork killing it, but his ground level pressure is awesome. Hopefully he at least gets shortlisted for All-Australian selection. He doesn't get enough kicks to force his way into the populist bullshit AA sides, but his contribution this year is immeasurable. If he gets injured we're rooted.
5 - Jamie Bennell
4 - Brad Green
3 - Brad Miller
2 - Neville Jetta
1 - Mark Jamar
King sized apologies to McDonald, Trengove, Davey, Frawley, Watts, Sylvia, MacDonald and Jones
18 - James McDonald, Brad Green
13 - James Frawley (Leader: Marcus Seecamp Medal for Defender of the Year), Mark Jamar (WINNER: Strawbs O'Dwyer Medal for Ruckman of the Year)
9 - Jack Grimes
7 - Aaron Davey, Jack Trengove (Leader: Jeff Hilton Medal for Rookie of the Year), Matthew Bate
6 - Colin Sylvia, Brent Moloney
5 - Ricky Petterd, Tom Scully, Jamie Bennell
3 - Jordie McKenzie, Matthew Warnock, Brad Miller
2 - Neville Jetta
1 - Jared Rivers, Joel MacDonald, Cameron Bruce
No way I could eat after that. Hedged my bets by hooking into chocolate nervously throughout the last quarter.
I think it's fair to say that the winning streak stops at one. Geelong at Kardinia Park should be much too strong, but it's a good test of where we're at - especially considering that we've nearly rumbled the Pies and Dogs already this year. Prepare for an afternoon of cold and misery sounded by 20,000 people who should be thrown off the mainland of Australia. See you there.
Are Bate and Bruce ready to come back next week? I know they will, but I wouldn't even pick Bruce. Thought Joel Mac was pretty good tonight. If Warnock is good to go then I'm going to ditch one of Garland or Rivers for him, and Miller's form makes it hard to find somebody to throw out in order to bring back Bate. Moloney is reported, but surely he's not going to go for THAT is he? I also want one of Spencer or Johnson, and I'm going to plump for Spence just because he's younger and we need to know sooner rather than later what he's all about. Hard times at the selection table, but I'm sure there will be random general soreness style injuries coming out of nowhere that will make things easier to work out.
Didn't Carlton throw an entire season from four wins at this point once? Not required.