Sunday 7 April 2024

Holiday Road

Who knows where we're at in the cycle between good and not embarrassingly awful, but I know I'll never come to terms with being certain of beating anybody. This might have been a second away game in a few days, with injury clouds galore, and a full house of opposition fans howling for free kicks, but Adelaide was also winless, scoring at 1921 pace, and with a raft of inclusions who you couldn't pick out of a lineup and I was still worried they'd run down our five goal lead. In a best-of-both-worlds scenario, my paranoia was justified and we still won.

Like Geelong, Sydney, and (until recently) West Coast, Adelaide feels like a club who are never out of the limelight too long. In reality, they haven't played finals since 2017 so apparently it's no Jake Lever, no Crows. I respect their ongoing disdain for him, but it must be disappointing when somebody legs it from your club in controversial circumstances, then adds flag to shitloads of money. Our Carnival of Hate target only got half that, but I reckon it was the half that meant most to him. Unfortunately for upset Crows fans, Jake has won on every metric. And if that's not worth posting this all-purpose reaction shot I'm *consults list of obscure Adelaide players* Myles Poholke.

The opportunity to rumble two South Australian teams in a week came from 'Gather Round', which joins the 'Tasmanian JackJumpers' as proof that you don't need a good name to be successful. Sadly St. Kilda beat us to doing the Adelaide Oval version of the Doomsday Double in 2020, but we're the first to beat both with full crowds, a five day break, and every unaligned malaka in Australia barracking for the upset. You may choose to throw in umpires, but we did pretty well despite them until the final quarter.

We'll never be rid of this round so may as well embrace it, but no matter how much enthusiasm you can muster it will never reach the "look at how much fun we're having, THIS IS SO MUCH FUN" frenzy of Channel 7, who treated a perfect ordinary game like the colonisation of Mars. North Korea puts out more subtle propaganda broadcasts, and I'm not against joining in if somebody slips me a reasonably sized bung by next season. For the right price I'll attend the games, do the stadium roof climb, and roam the Veale Gardens. Send offers via DM.

For now, apologies for not going right over the top for this. There will be plenty of opportunities in the future, like Big Bash League, it's gone so well early that the organisers are preparing to go too far and stuff it up. For now, all the effort is pointed at South Australia, right down to suck-up commentators talking about the Adelaide Oval like it was the first time footy had been played there. Imagine when somebody from Saudi Arabia with unlimited money accidentally stumbles upon the AFL while flicking through his TV channels and they end up selling a round to Riyadh.

Even if you've still got the joy of life, it must have been hard to get into the spirit of things when we were drawn against a side we've played in Adelaide practically every year since 1991. As far as atmosphere goes it was better than losing to Essendon in a half-empty ground last year, but scored 0% for novelty value. As long as we get paid the same I'd rather play North at Norwood Oval, Mt. Barker, or the Rundle Mall at 5.10pm on a Friday next year.

The advantage to playing the locals in succession is that scientists and people who just want to hang shit on South Australians can compare the pair to see if Crows fans did the same sort of mad, anti-social theatrics as Port. We didn't have as many shots from the boundary line, but I saw less vigorous waving of middle finger with teeth hanging precariously. One neckbeard had a go but you could tell he was putting on an act for TV. Maybe Adelaide management is better at directing people who carry on like deros in public away from the cameras. 

A trip that might have turned into National Lampoons Vacation ended in near-universal positivity. The first part was an us against the world experience, including families, and footage of an emotional Goodwin speech that made you appreciate how much this all means to him. This was often-tedious struggle where we did enough in a short burst that the last quarter was the equivalent of winning a test series by blocking for 90 overs of the fifth day. They can't all be classics, so I'm happy to be paid in cold, hard wins.

Had we cocked this up, and we've got form for either losing to or barely beating Adelaide in recent seasons, injury drama would have been the runner-up excuse behind umpiring. Steven May was playing with various cracks, one of Clayton Oliver's hands was basically a prop, and off a short break Ben Brown played like he could have done with a spot of 'managing'. We chose to play them all and got away with it, so happy days. I expected Crows players to go after May before the bounce, revealing his chest protector a'la Jeff Farmer 2000 Grand Final or D-Lo Brown Summerslam '98. Instead Taylor Walker hugged him, sensibly realising that his image rebuild is going well, so best not derail it by punching on with an indigenous player. 

It wasn't just real-life player concerns, I went unexpectedly mystical and fretted that the dormant MFC Media Curse would return to poke Alex Neal-Bullen in both eyes. Now that he's been discovered 150 games in, the Bullet's profile has expanded to where he represented us the pre-match press conference. It helps that he's South Australian, but if that was the criteria they could have invited Chandler, Goodwin, Petty, Pickett or Sparrow. Even Jack Viney qualifies to play internationals for them through his dad. To make it more dramatic they should have staged a run-in from an NWO-style faction including Jace Bode, Alex Georgiou, and the Cockatoo-Collins brothers.

Neal-Bullen has come a long way in the four years since we declined to try and downgrade his over the top suspension for accidentally bouncing an Adelaide player like a basketball. Maybe we couldn't afford it due to COVID, shame our incumbent president couldn't put his legal training towards a heroic, last-ditch effort to save ANB from missing a quarter of the season. To be fair to the alleged curse this wasn't his best game, but considering the publicity it's a step up from the expected total permanent disablement. He did his bit, everyone did. It was the kind of win you wish was more decisive at the time, but come to appreciate once the points are in the bag.

It wouldn't have mattered if this was Gather Round, Pride Round, or United Nations World Peace Round, I was in zero condition for a Thursday night game and just wanted to go to bed. Even worse when the expected 7.20 bounce was actually 7.40. Many would have given up and watched on delay in the morning. Or, more sensibly, woken up, checked the score, gone "as expected" or "christ, that's unfortunate", and moved on with life. I'm not there yet, and likely never will be. Then the last quarter woke me right up, I couldn't sleep, and Friday was a write-off. Thanks for the primetime coverage, back to 1.10pm Sunday thanks.

Because Adelaide came dressed like a right-wing militia, we were back in the disco jumper. It's still got that god-awful monogram but I'll accept that they haven't been home to change it yet. I'd cynically auction them off as 'Fortress Adelaide Oval' commemorative items, stuff any leftovers down the hotel laundry chute, and go back to the old design.

In the grandest MFC tradition, we were easily getting the ball inside 50 in the early minutes for no reward. Windsor became our first deserved Goal of the Year nominee last week, before balancing the ledger by booting one OOF here. It was one of his rare missteps, as he swept around the ground gracefully like a 100 gamer. No rational person expects him to do more than this after five games but he's going to rip a game to bits eventually. 

We finally got some reward when Harrison Petty put on a demo for the team that will soon park a truck full of money outside his house, juggling a mark long enough for the defender to lose control and grab his arms. This is why making a contest inside 50 is so important. We may never be the most efficient attackers in the league, but the more times you make a side defend in the air on the ground, the more you'll get results. Certainly better than just sticking the ball down a defender's throat and relying on him to flub the exit kick. 

This is where Brown comes in handy, if he doesn't have to travel too much distance to the contest. He didn't do a lot here, and is on pace for a world record for 'most times baulked', but plays a part in the overall picture. Somebody else might come along and do it better, or the eventual introduction/reintroduction of McAdam/Melksham might alter the mix, but if we can keep him upright long enough he can contribute in big moments. His bringing of ball to ground won't be any help to Kysaiah Pickett next week, who was rubbed out again for a less-than-subtle bump. There was a bit of Brayden Maynard-related whinging about it being part of a failed smother, but the problem was more the bit where he stopped trying to smother and stuck a shoulder into his opponent's head. It was a silly thing to do, and will look even worse if our forward line reverts to Round 1A style impotence in his absence.

Our forward entries weren't great, but they were light years ahead of the slop Adelaide was dishing up. They kicked more home and away goals than anyone in 2023 (for all the good it did them) but have been comically bad this year. They eventually got lucky by blundering into a spot where our old chum Rankin Wankin' could snap the first. He's the perfect Crows player, because like the club he always threatens to do serious damage but rarely does. I wonder if he thinks fondly back to debuting against us, in front of a suspiciously round figure 250 people at the Sydney Showgrounds? 

Four years is a long time in football, but departed from our team that night are Bennell, Brayshaw, Hannan, Harmes, Hibberd, Jetta, Lockhart, O. McDonald, vandenBerg and Weideman + Melksham. And amongst the departures from Gold Coast's team... Rankin. I'm sure he'll have a long and lucrative career, but it would be Nathan Brown at Richmond level funny if the Suns made finals while he was trying to make shit into salad at the Crows.

Adelaide ended up with a shot directly from the next bounce. It missed, but the rest of the quarter wasn't nearly as fun as the first five minutes. They were stealing our gimmick, making movement of the ball a traumatic ordeal. It took a combination of the top shelf talent to restore the gap, with Petracca fully extending to make the most of an ordinary kick on the boundary line, then Pickett kicking the sort of lovely checkside set shot from an obscure angle that we'll probably be sorely missing next week.

This would have been death for neutrals or anyone expecting us to romp to victory on a five day break. Sorry Channel 7, you can't put us on twice in a week and expect both games to be entertaining. As far as opening ceremonies went, this was on the same level as Diana Ross at the 1994 World Cup. Not that you'd know it from the broadcaster, who paid off Bruce Lehrmann's expenses bill by having the time of several people's lives. The token sensible commentator parked tried hard to keep some gravitas in his contractually obligated excitement while shrieking buffoon BT interchanged 'fun facts' and off-the-cuff shite.

Things never looked like getting away from us, and the Crows were kicking for goal as if drunk, but we were worryingly ordinary at breaking through their lines. Despite this we would have gone into the break at worst level if not for a rotten piece of DemonTime play. Trent Rivers may have had a homesick leg because he spent the first half turning everything over. He obviously missed whatever novelty placard the bench was holding up to indicate that the quarter was nearly over, turning over an excessively ambitious kick, leading to another end of first quarter goal in the same pocket as last week. I still had faith we'd win as long as their forwards didn't get going, but we felt a bit off.

The only post-goal highlight of the opening term was May playing through obvious pain, including a heart-in-mouth collision that left him looking like somebody had gone his ribcage with an icepick. He survived, and overcame the physical handicaps to play another quality game. What a man. We all know about him and Lever as a duo, but how good has McSizzle's second coming as a defender been? And if you've had enough of me fawning over the big defenders, let's have some Judd McVee chat. There wasn't much excitement when he was picked for Round 1 last year, but what a success story. He's ice cold in the contest, and has a level of decision making/disposal skill that nobody expects from us. It's almost at the point where forwards need to defend him.

Any mockery of the Crows for not kicking straight went to pieces when we booted a bunch of behinds to start the second quarter. The worst was Billings running into the most open of goals and missing. After recovering from a shaky start to score votes on his full debut, his last two weeks have been average to shizen. Never mind, I remember Jake Melksham was written off in his early weeks before he returning as a key part of the side, spending a couple of years being written off again, then launching a solid career revival that left people genuinely distressed about his major injury. Probably time to give somebody else a go. Taj Woewodin spent his week in Adelaide coming on for two last quarters and didn't do much, but how are you meant to judge dinky cameo performances like that? Give him a full game and see what happens.  

It looked like we may never kick a goal again, until what I can describe without exaggeration as one of the all-time greatest smothers. It lacked the context of Heath Shaw in a Grand Final, but should be included on the relevant Wikipedia page in place of Jayden Hunt and a frighteningly young Christian Petracca from the day Jack Watts dicked Collingwood. Sparrow might be hoping that once the bank truck is finished with Petty, it will roll back over the border at the end of 2026 when he's free to pursue enormous buckets of cash.

A decade ago the most used terms on this site were "farce", "shambles", and "farceshambles", now it's some variation on "we couldn't get rid of [opposition team]". Just when you thought the breakthrough goal would lift us to bigger and better things Adelaide got two in response. The reply to the response was a beautiful set shot by Chandler, who then offered the retort to the reply to the response by giving away a downfield free that would have led to his own goal being wiped out immediately if a toe-poke from the square hadn't just missed. The marking forwards were nowhere to be seen, but for another two and a bit quarters we had Pickett to chip in.

Don't turn off a Melbourne game in the last couple of minutes of a quarter because somebody will probably kick a goal. This time it was us, when JVR took his first good key forward mark of the night and Baron Von Crow copped a 50 for telling the umpire to watch the replay. There was probably a massive block by Brown, but it's not going to help whinging about it. However, at another point during the game an Adelaide defender grabbed his arm after a goal to indicate he'd been held, which provoked a video review because they thought he was claiming to have touched it.  

I thought he was unlucky to be pinched by the sudden reappearance of the dissent rule, but the Dockers getting done in even more controversial circumstances two days later suggests there's a crackdown on. Next, they'll start paying 50s for moving on the mark again, after five weeks of players tiptoeing through the tulips while on the mark. The Freo fiasco showed me that once you've conceded enough from the 50 that the player can't get any closer to goal, you've got until all clear has been signalled to say whatever you like to the umpire so let's see somebody test that theory. Just keep giving away token 50s until you get reported for time wasting. Teams can't get players to come off the ground at the best of times, imagine them trying to get somebody from goalsquare to bench while he's constantly running over the mark. Then an opposition player gets frustrated, throws him on the ground, the free is reversed, and we have a new greatest moment in the history of footy.

The late goals set up a 17 point lead at the half, and that should have been enough against opposition who'd only scored 3.8.26 in a half. I was fanging for a surprise 12 goal to nil quarter so I could go to bed safely knowing the win was in the back and watch the rest in the morning. This looked half a chance when Fritsch got the first, but after Brown missed his opportunity to lay the boots in, they got one in the other direction via a block on May that was almost as good as the one that provoked dissent. We held our tongue, they kicked the goal anyway, and this was staying competitive too long for my liking. Enter spontaneous goalkicking specialist Fritsch for two more, and if a burst from the middle hadn't narrowly been touched through we might have done enough. Alas no, but not before we got a chance to laugh at their fans for being mid-bronx cheer of a missed set shot when van Rooyen marked for his second. 

Nothing was coming easy, but we dragged the margin beyond five goals on the way to three quarter time. Even after giving one back there were multiple chances to restore a margin that sensible people would have been comfortable with. Gawn spun the ball out of his hands before starting his run-up, Billings won a free kick at close range, but they both missed and we were left defending a 28 point lead at the final change. If I'd known Adelaide had never come back from so far behind the last few minutes would have been even more agonising. Famous last words, but other than the famed Chris Sullivan Line game, the only comparable collapses are 38 points vs Geelong in 1936 and 28 vs Richmond in 1972. None of which had a cracker of relevance to what was happening here, but I still reserved the right to shit my shorts about being run down. Probably helps that for about five decades combined we were too shit to be ahead at three quarter time let, alone by this many points.

I'm still not sure if BurgessBall is a real thing, but with him now at Adelaide I was a bit spooked about them running us down due to the short break, half-fit players, and 'noise of affirmation' from their fans that was louder than a Airbus A380. Enter 30 minutes of us hanging off the ropes while they hit us with the equivalent of rolled-up newspapers. 

Matthew Nicks is on the Brendan Bolton scheme for arriving as a senior coach full of cheer and departing with the haunted look of somebody who has lost their life savings to a pyramid scheme. He gave up on coaching from the sidelines, but you could see why he's avoided the Adelaide coaches' box this long when forced to sit in front of a 'Rite Price Heating Cooling' sign that looked like it was made in MS Paint for the right price of free.

Putting cameras on coaches mid-match is ridiculously intrusive, but if you don't care about making somebody uncomfortable in their workplace it's good for comedy content. Like when they cut to Nicks staring intently at his laptop, causing him to look away when realising everyone was about to Photoshop screenshots of him looking at Fortunately, this happened just before they launched their great revival, stopping it from achieving peak meme status.

It probably only needed one goal to put them away, but we were back to carpet-bombing the goals for no reward. The good news is they were too, and in a red-letter quarter for spectacle, both sides combined for 2.11. Our problem was that they got the two, leaving us holding on for dear life in the final minutes. It never got to 100% panic mode, but it was close. They'd just kicked one, and burst out of the middle for what would surely have reduced the gap to single figures with plenty of time left, only for some hapless fool to get ahead of himself and spoil a kick that was heading directly into the hands of a reigning 70+ goalkicker. They never got another chance, and thanks to more top defence - including May going all out for a spoil despite his skeleton only tenuously holding together - we ran the clock down long enough to make sure of it.

You wouldn't watch the replay - and the season to date probably only qualifies for an extended highlights package - but what needed to happen did. If last week was the big up yours to everyone who is not us, this was a professionally done investment in our future ladder position. There should be more of it. But more accurately, there should be more of having games won so early that you can put your feet up and enjoy them instead of nearly having a spew on the couch.

2024 Allen Jakovich Medal votes
5 - Christian Petracca
4 - Judd McVee
3 - Steven May
2 - Tom Sparrow
1 - Max Gawn

Apologies to Chandler, Lever, McDonald, and Windsor

After five games we've got a spread of votes around the ground, for young and old, but sooner or later there will always be a midfielder at the top of the table. And here we are, with Petracca extending the gap. No alterations in the minors, except for Gawn being on the verge of provisional Stynes status by mid-April.

14 - Christian Petracca
11 - Steven May (LEADER: Marcus Seecamp Medal for Defender of the Year)
8 - Alex Neal-Bullen, Jack Viney
7 - Judd McVee
6 - Max Gawn (LEADER: Jim Stynes Medal for Ruckman of the Year),
5 - Clayton Oliver
4 - Bayley Fritsch, Tom Sparrow
3 - Jake Lever
2 - Kade Chandler
1 - Jack Billings, Blake Howes (LEADER: Rising Star Award), Tom McDonald

Aaron Davey Medal for Goal of the Year
It's got to be hat trick hero Fritsch for the mark-turn-goal on the run in the middle of his treble. I liked it enough that it goes beyond one of Viney's and onto the leaderboard but we're still waiting for an absolute ripper to take control of this contest. 

1st - Kysaiah Pickett (Q4) vs Footscray
2nd - Jack Viney (Q2) vs Port Adelaide
3rd - Bayley Fritsch (Q3, #2) vs Adelaide

Next week
It's Brisbane, fresh off an easy drought-breaking win over tomato can opposition. Here's hoping they get excited at beating nothing, fall out with each other over rogue rooting again, and let us build some more buffer going into the bye. Probably not, even if we have beaten them comfortably a couple of times in recent years. We won't get away with playing like we did against the Crows, but should deservedly start favourites. 

Bad luck if you were thinking about basing your changes on a VFL game, because the competition shut for a week after Round 2 for a state game. Hooray for not letting the Big V down, but if there's anything that drives me to wanting a national reserves competition ASAP it's slamming the brakes on the second tier comp a few weeks in so a bootleg 'Victoria' team, featuring a bunch of Southport players could lose to SA at something called 'Stratarama Stadium'. Get stuffed. Would have been a good opportunity for the no longer injured Lachie Hunter to have a run, instead he's left twiddling his thumbs so the spirit of Ted Whitten can live on through Boyd Woodcock.

With nothing else to go on, I'm landing on Andy Moniz-Wakefield as a random first gamer. Then later Kynan Brown, then Marvel Cinematic Universe's own Koltyn Tholstrup. Any of the above will be fine, I'm ruining their debut by making them sub anyway.  

IN: Woewodin, whoever
OUT: Pickett (susp), Billings (omit)
LUCKY: B. Brown
UNLUCKY: Anyone robbed out of putting themselves in the frame by the bullshit state game

Final thoughts
We're home with pockets full of points and hopes raised of being amongst the best in the league again. Like the Griswolds reaching Wally World, we'll probably go through all the pain and suffering of the trip to the finals and turn up to find them shut, but until then you can only beat who they put in front of you.

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