Tuesday 13 May 2008

Match Preview: Melbourne vs Adelaide

Preview the Adelaide vs Melbourne game they said. Ok, I replied. You may as well write a full match report on Lions vs Christians for all the good it's going to do us.

If you'd been locked in Guantanomo Bay for the last few years and were released just in time to turn the TV on for the second half of the Melbourne vs Fremantle match two weeks ago (has it really been so long? Thanks Novelty "Everyone vs Victoria" game!) you'd have been forgiven for thinking that Melbourne was the greatest team ever to have taken the field. Or that Freo were the worst. Ignore for a second the fact that we were about a thousand points down at half time after serving up some of the most putrid football seen since, well us the week before actually, and concentrate for a minute instead on the improbable comeback. Even better, just watch it http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lA110Y3TS2Y. I almost threw up at the final siren. There has never been anything like it (if you choose to ignore the 1950's like I do) and there's precious little chance anyone is going to forget it.

Now, reality. We were absymal in the first two quarters. At half time we'd kicked three goals. Consider this, in the first seven rounds we have kicked 11.16 in first quarters TOTAL. In the last quarter of this game we put on 9.2. What changed? What went right for once? I'd like to think that it was all down to our much maligned (and that's being generous) game plan of handballing in circles for four quarters finally finding some purpose and run, giving us the opportunity to finally put some pressure on an opposition team and get some decent delivery to our forwards and that's definately part of it. But let's not overlook the fact that Freo are like a Hollywood starlet who has lost her looks, gone flaky and now wanders Sunset Boulevard offering blowjobs to German tourists. Our comeback was not so much premeditated murder as assisted suicide. They wanted to lose, we did our best to help them.

It was glorious, but let's not get ahead of ourselves and think that it's the start of a great revival. We looked better, and one day we might look back and go "ahh, that's where it all started" but the renaissance is very much in it's infancy. Mark Harvey had probably never even heard of Austin Wonaeamirri before the young lad tore his purple heart out in the Punt Road end goalsquare, but Neil Craig is hardly likely to offer him the same courtesy. For the first time in his promising career Austin is going to be under heavy scrutiny, and one of the stories of the day from our perspective will be how he copes with it. The most important thing is that his emergence frees up Davey to go into the middle of the ground whilst still retaining some pressure inside the attacking 50.

There were 20,000 people at the MCG that day (hey, it's 19,000 more than will watch the game on the Gold Coast this weekend). In the future all 21,000 Melbourne fans will claim they saw it. Such is the stuff of legend, and to be frank I'm still not quite over it yet. Wonderful eh? Loves conquers all? Well, briefly but let's not get too excited yet. Had the third quarter not happened there's everybody possible chance this this preview would be darker than Leonard Cohen doing Sylvia Plath covers down a tin mine. Hell, had Freo not completely dropped their bundle in the last few minutes when we amazingly gave them a sniff, we might be talking up heroic failure and an impending 0-8 record.

Our major downfall this season, as you would have seen if you'd watched even five minutes of one of our matches, has been a lack of ball skills. Fairly crucical for an AFL footballer you'd think, but apparently not down at Demonland. Despite a few pastings the backline has battled gamefully in the face of relentless pressure. Obviously if the ball goes down there enough you're going to cop a beating. Stopping the opposition from getting it first hasn't been the problem, it's what we do with it once it hits the deck. Cue an endless comedy montage of handballs to the wrong person, mid-punches of the ball when there's no opposition players within ten metres, comical kick-ins and balls sliced so far over the fence that they're in danger of smashing windows in the car park. I'm far more concerned about Burton, Porplyzia et al doing us damage than I was of a Freo side that consists of Pav and not much else (Chris Tarrant? You're having a laugh! Hold on, what do you mean we now employ the man who did that trade?)

[b]Adelaide vs Melbourne fun facts[/b]
Matthew Collins had the best tatt in AFL history and Peter Vardy was the reason I was so good at AFL 2004 on the Playstation. And that's about it...

The forwards have similarly been handicapped by abysmal delivery inside the attacking part of the ground. Despite being slaughtered by pretty much everyone for being past it and 'not trying' Russell Robertson remains a dangerous option up-front when actually given the chance to get the ball. When it's hacked from the pack at a million miles an hour in sheer panic (I'm looking at you Brent Moloney) to a 3 on 1 with no crumbers you wouldn't expect anyone to kick goals. At last he got some decent service last week and, along with Brad Miller playing his most commanding game ever at CHF, the forward line looked a lot better. However, ask yourself exactly what Freo's defence was doing to stop them. Not freaking much. Compare that to the likes of Rutten and Bock and it's a completely different story. Possibly in the horror genre. For mine we can't kick a winning score. Matthew Bate (the Ranga, for those of you who have come in late) will be a million times better for the run last game. In his first half of the season he was, frankly, unwatchable. Five touches and six clangers in one of the most Supercoach-unfriendly performances in living memory. He was, however, integral to the wild comeback. I'd expect him to chip in for a couple of goals here and there over the weeks. Brad Green has also been handy for a few this season as well as playing a vital role in our midfield. In fact he's probably shown more leadership this year than anyone in our played-voted leadership group - what does that say about us?

[b]Random Trivia Corner[/b]
I went to school with somebody who decided he was an Adelaide fan in 1991. Then suddenly after you won two flags he declared himself a Hawthorn fan. I suggested he should be thrown over a cliff. The next time they beat you in a final find him and hit him repeatedly in the head with a tire iron if you see fit.

Then there's the midfield. You may as well have Jekyll and Hyde on opposing wings considering what we've seen this season. There's a reason why the handful of people at the G erupted when we got a centre clearance the other week - it had been a quarter and a half in the making. Guess what? It lead to a goal. Bugger me sideways there's a novelty. Our ruck division have battled manfully, but like everyone else have been coming up with bugger all reward. Paul Johnson (or to you Adelaide fans "Who?") was in career best form before he busted his hand, and even had some questioning whether he was about to leapfrog Jeff White for the top job. White himself has been solid if unspectacular, and despite being a magnificent servent of the club for the last decade must be starting to see the writing on the wall and pumping his fist in glee that Jolly and Simmonds both walked out all those years ago. Mark Jamar (hey, there's a big South Australian footy name. Let's make a deal!) did a good job last week negating the human giraffe that is Aaron Sandilands, but he'll have to string together more than one performance to get any love from our fans. We also traded for some bloke called John Meesen who, as far as I can work out, is a purely fictional character (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Taro_Tsujimoto).

On the end of the occasional tap to advantage have been a midfield which, on paper, are pretty good. James McDonald tenacious as always, Nathan Jones ruthlessly throwing himself at everything, Brock McLean punching German backpackers in the face but it hasn't always come together like it should. Turnovers have been the order of the day, and for every piece of outright Jones magic he seems to turn the bloody thing over twice more. McLean gets a lot of it but there's precious little sign of the smarts and silky skills that has us hailing him as a future captain, Brownlow Medallist and Pope at the start of last year. Green and Davey have chipped in with effective cameos, but you can't expect them to carry the side. Moloney is... Well, I want to say misunderstood but even I'm not sure anymore. Ill-disciplined is probably a better way of putting it. Then there's Colin Sylvia - he's such an interesting character that Grant Thomas went on radio and said that he'd heard a hot tip that he wanted a trade back to Adelaide. Which is strange because Sylv is from Mildura.

Compare and contrast to the experience and poise in the Adelaide midfield. If we're to have any chance of getting up we need to at least break even here. The most bitter pill of all will be getting stitched up by Scott Thompson. Nobody here has any problem with him going home - which says it all about how passive we are, we should be throwing full slabs at him - but it says it all about being in a one or two team town as opposed to the crowded Melbourne market. When ST wanted to go home you only had to roll one team for his signature, when Chris J**d decided to come back (and there's a man I would throw a slab at) he decided he couldn't possibly sign for the team he supported as a kid because we didn't have any facilities and Dick Pratt gave wicked head. It's not unfair, it's reality - but it's painful.

No matter what happens you've rolled us in the comic name stakes by naming somebody called Jarrhan Jacky. How's anybody supposed to top that without Rochford Devenish-Meares (http://stats.rleague.com/afl/stats/players/R/Rochford_Devenish-Meares.html) coming back from the grave to line up on a flank?

So, form says we're going to get porked. How about history? Apparently since 1991 we have won just five games at Football Park. Notable highlights amongst the 18 losses include,

* Getting tipped over by Port by 89 points last year.

* Racking up a grand total of 46 against the Crows in 2005. But hey, Shannon Motlop kicked three and you don't see THAT too often. Or indeed anywhere else ever.

2004? Flogged by both local sides. IN A GOOD YEAR.
2003? Lost both games. You may as well rename the place The Bermuda Triangle as far as we're concerned. Remember Ian Perrie kicking four in the first quarter? Chris Lamb sure does - he never played another game.
2002? Guess what happened? And I'll ask you not to mention the finals either.

Yes, you have to go right back Round 2, 2001 for the last time we won a game at Football Park. http://stats.rleague.com/afl/stats/games/2001/011120010407.html Sure, that was the wild match which featured Andrew Leoncelli kicking a goal with two seconds left to win after we'd surrendered a four goal 3/4 time lead with a few seconds left. It was Darren Jolly's debut - he's done well for himself since despite not getting a touch. In fact even if you take into account our remarkable knack for trading or delisting future premiership players (Bishop? Armstrong? Ormond-Allen?) he's the only person who stepped out for us that night that has ever lifted a Premiership. I know, I'm as shocked as anyone that Ben Beams and Steven Pitt never achieved the ultimate honor.

Some may also remember Neale Balme getting the arse after we kicked 3.9 against your beloved friends the Power in 1997 (http://stats.rleague.com/afl/stats/games/1997/111319970523.html). Leigh "Juice" Newton with two goals on the night. Look out for him having a kick during the warmup in his new role as a member of staff. Don't bother looking for his namesake Michael "Juice" Newton, because he's kicked on from taking Mark of the Year to doing nothing in the 2's.

As you can see even in a year where we're competitive you can almost bet your house on us not getting within five goals over there. In Melbourne it's a different story. Then we're competitive. God help us all we even beat you at the MCG last season. Before that we were robbed out of at least a draw on the Gold Coast by 'questionable' goal umpiring. Cross into the Central Time Zone, however, and suddenly we're beaten to a pulp. Why is it so? Does this mean we'd still lose if the game was held in Broken Hill? And how would you feel to be a Melbourne fan in Adelaide who only gets to see two games a season and knows we'll get flogged in both of them? Personally I'd move.

[b]Coaches Corner[/b]
Dean Bailey returns to Adelaide at 1-6, but he's still stoked that he doesn't have to put on his resume that he was in the coaches box when Port lost the Grand Final by twenty goals.

Neil Craig has a gleam in his eye like a headmaster who particuarly enjoys beating students with lengths of wood. I like that in a coach, and I wish the man well, but nobody can ever take Dean Laidley's place in my heart as the AFL coach most likely to be found with bodies under his floorboards. Why do you think I lobbied so hard for us to sign the Junkyard Dog after we sacked Daniher?

Anyway... If you want to know the real story about why the Crows will win handily this week you just had to watch the Gimmick Challenge Cup on Saturday night. Adelaide had half of their defence down there AND Burton up front. We had... Paul Wheatley sitting in his loungeroom. Jeff White was in the original squad but that said more about the rubbish ruck stocks of the Big V rather than anything we've done this year. I'd make a case for Jared Rivers, but that's because he's my favourite player. And guess what? He's a South Australian! At what point does he get frustrated at being the defensive lynchpin of the footballing equivalent of the boat from Gilligan's Island and demand a trade back to Adelaide to join Scott Thompson in the latest installment of the "sucked in hard" club of former MFC players to win Premierships elsewhere.

Someday I'll be invited to write the match preview for a game that I think we're going to win. This isn't the week. Crows by 50 - and this time there will be no comeback.

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