As an Adelaide fan, I’ve been quite fortunate throughout the duration of my football fandom experience. They’ve won two flags in my lifetime, and made the finals more often than not. There has never been a season where there was a total absence of hope, at least not since I’ve been old enough to understand and appreciate what that means. I’m sure supporters of other teams look to Adelaide, and its fans, and think it must be a comfy experience. And in reality it has been, at least relative to the woes of some other supporters. They probably doubt we know what pain, in a footballing sense, is.
But I do.
For ten years now, I’ve seen the Crows repeat the same experience come September, and it is never a good one. I’ve never been punched in the stomach, but I imagine it feels the same as watching Adelaide throw away opportunities again and again. The ’02 Preliminary Final against the Pies (winning at halftime, lose by 28), the ’05 Qualifying Final against the Saints (Finish top of the table, lose at home by 8 points), the ’05 Preliminary Final against the Eagles (we finished top and turned it into an Prelim away from home), the ’06 Preliminary Final against the Eagles (leading by more than the Eagles had managed to score at halftime, lose at home by ten points), the ’07 Elimination Final against the Hawks (Franklin on Massie), the ’09 Elimination Final against the Pies (Jack freaking Anthony slots a winner “right in front of me”). If the Crows can do anything well, it’s find innovative ways to lose come finals.
The qualifying final against the Swans had all the hallmarks of an Adelaide finals throwaway. An overwhelming bout of fumbleitis and a complete lack of thought. The Crows lose their head in September. They lost it against Sydney, just as they’ve lost it in nearly every critical final of this century. Poor decision making is their modus operandi. The effort is there, it’s always there, but the brains are not. The fact Adelaide had 59 inside 50s to Sydney’s 37 exemplifies this. Typically such a differential points toward the victor, and it did again on Saturday, just not in the direction you’d assume when faced with that statistic. Adelaide’s forward entries were mind-numbingly dumb. Get ball, pump it as high and as far as you can, hope for the best. Again and again the Crows would send the ball forward in this manner, and again and again a loose Swan would pick it off, or a swarm of red and white would crowd a lonely Crow and punch the ball away. They panicked. They rushed. Nobody took a second to think before sending it forward. They played right into Sydney’s hands.
With extra men in the back half, the Swans would simply mop up and run the ball out with ease. Those extra men meant the Swans forwards and midfielders were working with large vacant spaces. While Adelaide’s forward arc was more congested than peak hour traffic in Los Angeles, Sydney’s had more open spaces than the car park at Red Rooster. The Swans exploited this space like they exploited their opponent’s stupidity. The Crows were mauled on the counter repeatedly. The Swans had an astronomical 51 rebound 50s to Adelaide’s paltry 26. In the middle of the park, Adelaide’s midfielders, who had dominated contested possessions and clearances throughout the season, were stifled by their Sydney counterparts. They weren’t given any space, and had to constantly battle for breathing room. On the rare occasion they managed some, they blasted the ball forward, once again into the waiting arms of the swarming Swans. Occasionally, and I mean occasionally, as in 6 marks from 59 entries level of occasionally, Adelaide would manufacture a mark inside the forward fifty. Then it would be time for squandered set shots, another defining trait of the Adelaide Crows. Once again, they butchered their set shots. Taylor Walker, usually a magnificent kick, missed several easy ones. I’m sure Tippett would’ve as well, had he managed to touch the ball. Watching your forwards miss gettable goals repeatedly is painful, but it is even more painful when you just expect them to miss anyway. Adelaide could only manage a solitary goal from their eight set shots, while the Swans were the definition of clinical with five straight. The Crows have been making these same mistakes for ten years now; I really should be used to it.
While Adelaide lost the game thanks to their seemingly ingrained finals traits, Sydney won it thanks to theirs. The Swans’ exemplary work rate was on show yet again. The support they had in congested situations was incredible, to the point where you could legitimately wonder if they had more men on the field than their opponents. They gave Adelaide no space, and when they won the ball, they worked hard to create space. Adam Goodes looked every bit the two time Brownlow Medal winner, crushing the inexperienced Sam Shaw up forward and whoever else was thrown at him around the ground. Ryan O’Keefe and Josh Kennedy won the ball with infuriating repetition, exceeding their regular season efforts while their Adelaide counterparts could barely reach their own. Ted Richards punched everything. Late inclusion Mitch Morton looked like a world beater on the day, and was constantly dangerous when around the ball. I can tell you it is an odd feeling seeing Mitch Morton cut your team apart, in a qualifying final no less. I can’t say I’m terribly surprised though, as I’ve illustrated, I’ve gotten used to such things happening in September. Daniel Talia breaking his wrist in the last term just about summed up proceedings. It could’ve been worse. At least my television survived the day.
I don’t hold out much hope for next week. Primarily because my calendar still says it is September, but also because Fremantle mirror the Swans in their industrious nature. Their relentless pressure early made the Cats look utterly inept in the opening quarter, and seeing as going to water when the pressure is on isn’t a trait of Geelong like it appears to be in Adelaide, I’d hate to see what effect it would have on the Crows. Still, you wouldn’t be a fan if you didn’t try to talk yourself into your chances. Fremantle slowed down over the course of their match. The immense effort it took to slay Geelong, as well as the considerable amount of travelling, may, at least I hope, result in Adelaide facing depleted Dockers this Friday night. Players like Kurt Tippett and Jason Porplyzia couldn’t possibly play worse either. I think.
Despite this, my head tells me it isn’t looking that great for the Crows, and it points to the previous ten years of Adelaide finals as evidence. My heart, my foolish heart, tells me that not only can they win, but if given the chance, they are capable of a miracle against Hawthorn the following week. My head points out that I am dreaming much too big, and that all this will just end in me being burnt once again, but my heart just responds with “but what if it doesn’t?”
My stupid heart wins. Logic says there is absolutely no way the Crows can win the flag, and that the odds of the team you follow winning in any given year are so remote that by merely supporting a team you are essentially inviting pain upon yourself. But I knew that when I signed up all those years ago, when I allowed myself to connect on an emotional level. I knew what I was getting into, and I willingly jumped on board anyway. So I take the pain, and will continue to do so, because when it comes to sport, the heart always beats the head, and if you reach the point where your head beats your heart, then you’re not connected like you once were. The lows won’t hurt as much, but the high won’t feel nearly as good. I want that high, so I’ll cop the lows in the meantime.