AFL Preliminary Finals – Hawthorn v Adelaide: A Crows Fan’s Perspective

I don’t recall ever feeling prouder after a loss.

The Adelaide Crows have now lost the last four Preliminary Finals they’ve taken part in. All four of those losses have been painful experiences, but this one was by far the most tolerable. That may seem baffling; especially considering the margin in this one was closer than any in the other three, but there are reasons. In 2005 the Crows finished top, and when you finish top, there is an expectation that you should at least make the Grand Final. They didn’t, and it hurt. In 2006 Adelaide had got themselves a home Prelim, and managed to turn that into one of the most disastrous losses I’ve ever witnessed. That one stung even more.

This time though, no one gave Adelaide a chance. There was no burden of expectation. No one expected us to even make the finals at the start of the year. We’d finished 14th the year before, so I’d say the doubts of the wider football public were certainly not without foundation. To make the finals was pleasing, and to finish top four was astounding.

I was realistic about our chances leading into the match. I did the whole “well no one expected us to get this far, it’s been a tremendous season” spiel in my mind, but as it drew closer I was becoming more and more desperate for a win. I wanted it, badly. It wasn’t that every man and his dog were tipping Hawthorn. That’s fine. They were deserved favourites. It’s more that nobody gave Adelaide a chance. Nobody could envision a situation in which the Crows might just snatch a win. They were talking as if Hawthorn were already in the Grand Final. They were guessing how big the margin would be. How ugly it might get. I wanted to show these people up. I wanted to make them look stupid. I wanted them to feel stupid. And if I, just a lowly supporter, felt that way, I can’t imagine how the players and coaches felt. They played like it bothered them, and I couldn’t be happier. They didn’t roll over. They fought. They were supposed to rock up, let Hawthorn have a bruise free run into the Granny, and be grateful for the learning experience.  The whole game reminded me of Rocky.

He doesn’t know it’s a damn show! He thinks it’s a damn fight! 

To see my side give their all, then give some more, was uplifting. I can be disappointed with the result, but I can’t be disappointed in them. Not a single player could be faulted for their effort. They may not have won, but they stuck it to Hawthorn and every single talking head who dismissed them as fodder.

The list of valiant Crows was extremely long. Kurt Tippett chose the biggest stage of the year to remind us Adelaide fans why we would actually like him to stick around.  It felt as if he took more marks in the game than he had in all those that preceded it.  Tippett, who is the very definition of shaky in front of goal, looked anything but. He radiated confidence when lining up the goals. I felt it through my television. I’ve believed for a while now that Tippett was probably going to go. Over the past few months he’s been playing like a man who had made up his mind. He didn’t on Saturday, and as a result I have a new flicker of hope that he will stay.

Taylor Walker. Let me tell you everything you need to know about Taylor Walker. There is not a single forward I would willingly trade him for. Not even Lance Franklin. I’m not saying Walker is better than Franklin. He isn’t. But I am saying I wouldn’t swap him for Franklin. Walker was born for finals football. He was created for the big moment. He delivers when the pressure is on, and he is 22 years old. With any luck I’ll have the privilege of watching him play for the next ten years.

Adelaide should just save some time and plaster the faces of Walker, Sloane and Dangerfield on every single piece of membership advertising next season. I’m waiting for the episode of Mega Structures where they show how Dangerfield was built. There is no way he is human. His performance in the final term was inspiring. Sloane wasn’t far behind at the end, and was Dangerfield’s superior in the first half. If there was a one on one contest, in football, cooking, or a spelling bee, I would pick Sloane as Adelaide’s combatant. At worst I know he is going to make his opponent fight like hell to beat him.

Adelaide’s defence, at least when defending, was spectacular. Rutten, who was fumbly in possession, won his duel with Franklin, and it is a testament to Franklin that he can kick 3.5 in a “losing” effort. I think the pass mark for the matchup with Franklin is “don’t let him beat you single handedly”, and he didn’t on Saturday. Luke Thompson filled the void left by Talia with aplomb. No Bock? No Davis? No Talia? No worries. Adelaide’s slogan should be ‘we grow key position defenders’, but, you know, in latin. We just have to go a year without exporting them. In his last game for the Crows Michael Doughty was superb. I hope he changes his mind, as his last fortnight has been amongst the best football he has ever played. Andy Otten and Ricky Henderson plucked plenty of marks in the back half, and came third man up over the top for a spoil countless times. David Mackay, who has been a revelation since his move to the halfback line, once again provided much needed run in the back half. Likewise with Brodie Smith, who showed his finals mettle once again. He is a fantastic kick of the sherrin and makes superb decisions, perhaps the best combination of any two skills one can possess.  Mark my words; it won’t be long until Smith is mentioned alongside Sloane and Dangerfield as Adelaide’s midfield young guns.

But despite all these efforts, Adelaide didn’t win.

In the end, they got pipped by a side that has a few tremendous footballers of their own. Sam Mitchell may be the best handballer of the pill I’ve witnessed in my relatively short time on this Earth. It’s lethal. Whether he is looping over the top to a teammate in space, or firing it between three opponents and hitting a Hawk square in the hands, a Mitchell handball always seems to wreak havoc. On a day where Hawthorn was shaky in disposal and wasteful with opportunities, Mitchell stood out as being cool, calm and collected.

While we are on the topic of havoc, Cyril Rioli was electrifying. Legitimately electrifying, not “Bruce why are you salivating over the fact Rioli handballed it to an open teammate?” electrifying. If he has played a better game, I haven’t seen it. Rioli cops a lot of flak amongst opposition fans as a result of the seemingly overwhelming amount of love that is lavished his way by those in the commentary box. Perhaps he isn’t quite as good as Channel 7 would have you believe, but I think you can tell a lot about how good a footballer is by how they make you feel when you play against them.  Rioli? All I’ll say is I was nervous whenever he was around the ball. Schoenmakers? Decidedly less so. Brad Sewell was at his workmen like best, matching the efforts of the more celebrated Mitchell. Up forward, Luke Breust was very impressive.

Hawthorn did what it took to win, and deserved to do so. They won the contested possessions and smashed the Crows in tackles and forward 50 entries. Early in the third the Hawks showed how devastating they could be with a four goal burst in about as many minutes. They stormed out of the middle with alarming power. Every Hawk fan thought it was over. Brian Taylor and Luke Darcy certainly did. Adelaide looked in trouble, but to their credit and my delight they fought back. They made Hawthorn beat them and they showed the rest of the football universe that they weren’t as far behind the Hawks as presumed. When the Crows seized the lead with less than five minutes to play, I could scarcely believe what I was witnessing. My wildest dreams were being played out before me. I don’t know if I’ve ever made as much noise in my life. The Hawks snatched it back only seconds later through Rioli, and when Franklin added another I knew it was done. The Crows didn’t quite have enough, but showed they had more than most folks had given them credit for. The siren went, and I felt an odd mix of pride and disappointment. The knowledge we were so close to a Grand Final berth and denied by less than a goal was gutting, but the performance from the players was outstanding.  In 2005 and 2006 we had thrown away opportunities. In 2012 we had manufactured one nobody expected us to have, and I couldn’t be prouder of the players for doing so.

 

About Adam Ritchie

My name is Adam. I started watching football with two fellow parapsychologists in an abandoned firehouse. When we’re not watching footy, we’re running our own pest control business. What do you mean I stole that from Ghostbusters?

Comments

  1. Adam – ripper report. As an impartial viewer I wanted a close game. I didn’t care who won. At least not until the last quarter anyway. Then I found myself yelling at the TV,

    “Go Crows!”

    Strange words indeed for a Geelong supporter. I wanted them to get over the line, not just because I really like Sando as a coach and a bloke (what I know of him) but because it would have been a magnificent sporting story.

    It had a real 2007 Prelim final feel to it though the crowd was disappointing.

    The other thing that struck me very clearly was the dreadful umpiring. If I were part of the Crows hierarchy I would consider Supreme Court action. The maggots slaughtered them.

    Finally I was astounded by Clarkson’s reaction in the box when Stiffy put the Crows in front. He stood up and wanted to leave! Simply couldn’t cope with the tension. Remarkable. He finally resumed his seat but looked like he was perched on one cheek like a man trying to avoid rising flood waters.

    But well done to the Crows on a great season. 2013 will be fascinating.

    The Hawks should win next week. The shackles are off. But the Bloods will not lie down.

  2. Skip of Skipton says:

    Great effort by the Crows. Hard luck. They played a good brand of footy, also. Sando and Milburn have seen to that. No longer that dour style Craig had them playing.

    That was just about the best I’ve seen Tippett play. He’d be worth the mega-bucks he’s demanding if he produced that consistently. Hopefully he stays with Adelaide. He and the big bogan Tex are a formidable duo. God I wish Dangerfield played for Geelong. Imagine him and Selwood in the same midfield!

  3. Neil Anderson says:

    Good report giving credit where credit was due to the Hawks. I did hone in on your details about all the Prelims you’ve lost which means the Crows can now join the Bulldogs in that exclusive heartbreak-club. Just to make you feel slightly better, and I don’t have to tell you, but the Crows broke the Bulldog supporters’ hearts in the 1997 and 1998 Prelims. Not used to buying finals tickets etc in 1997, I ended up sitting behind a contingent of Crow supporters. They were quiet for most of the match and so was I…quietly confident that is. And then came the last quarter. Sean Renn ripped that big black mattress off his thigh and all hell broke loose with a little help from Jars and McLeod, and the twenty point Bulldog lead disappeared. The Crows supporters came to life and I slunk off home on the longest 250 k journey in my life. It’s always a long trip when you lose because you don’t want to turn the radio on.
    So I feel your Prelim pain. But remember, the Crows have been around five minutes compared to the Bulldogs and you’ve won one more Premiership, and looking at the side yesterday, plenty more to come in the near future.

  4. Adam Ritchie says:

    @Dips: Cheers mate! I did feel watching the game unfold that the umpiring left a little to be desired from my very biased Adelaide perspective, though I abandoned rational thought early on yesterday in exchange for an emotion-fuelled perspective. While the umpiring didn’t help the Crows, I don’t think they lost because of it either. Watching the Grand Final next week should be easier on my stress levels, but after yesterday, I just want 2013 to start already.

    @Skip: Adelaide certainly have changed their football around this season. Dramatic improvement in our contested and clearance work, and perhaps more importantly a much more positive outlook on field. We seem to try to win under Sando, rather than not lose, as it sometimes felt under Craig. I think you’re right about Tippett’s performance. Certainly the best game he has played when you consider what was at stake. Was beginning to doubt I’d see such a performance again by him in an Adelaide top. Hopefully that wasn’t the last. As for Dangerfield, if he had left I’m not sure what I would’ve done. Probably taken up poetry.

    @Neil: Thanks Neil. I wrote somewhere earlier this year that the words “Preliminary Final” and the absence of the words “Western Bulldogs” made Adelaide fans wince in pain. I’m certainly under no illusions regarding how fortunate I’ve been as an Adelaide fan. Despite several heart breaking finals performances, they’ve also given me some amazing ones. I can’t complain, and I wouldn’t trade the experiences, good and bad.

  5. Skip of Skipton says:

    Cheers Adam. This performance has a Geelong 2004 prelim feel about it I reckon. Good young outfit on the up, not quite ready to de-throne the big boys. I forgot to praise Sloane. He’s a great young player full of spunk.

    How did Brad Crouch go this year in SANFL? He’s another young gun you have to add to the mix next season. Good move last year to get him in the GWS mini-draft for pick 10. He’d have been long gone by the time your first pick comes around this year.

  6. Neil Belford says:

    Great story Adam. I went to the game indifferent as to the winner – absolutely loved it and couldn’t help getting on board with the crows scintillating footy. I was disappointed that the crows didn’t win but I was with a 14 year old Hawks supporter who was dying with stress and tension so I was doing my best not to be too pro Adelaide. I am right there with Dips about the umpiring though – Adelaide got crucified with about 5 very critical, very wrong decisions. Lionhearted effort by Crows admin, their fans in general, and Adam here to suck it up. Given the margin was 5 points I’m not so sure that the outcome would not have been different if the umpiring was fair.

    The crowd was a puzzle. do Hawthorn have shadow members? They have a published 2012 membership of 60,841, second only to Collingwood. Frankly I just dont believe that is true, and with only 69,000 fans turning up to a MCG prelim in perfect conditions at a brilliant family friendly time it has to give lie to these numbers. I think for every hundred dollars in sponsorship Hawthorn gets in, they write a bogus membership, effectively double counting the money. I would love to see an audit.

  7. Sando and Dasher, good scholars as they are, had reviewed some old Cat assignments and remembered about the Hawk “choke button”.

    They pressed it late but unfortunately did not have enough cat power to keep it down.

    No doubt the lounge suites and chairs of Hawk houses far and wide have been washed down and aired after the last seventeen second involuntary purge that left their covers looking like the Hawks top.

  8. Skip of Skipton says:

    Nice work Phantom.

    Neil B. I reckon 69,000 for a Hawthorn vs. non-Vic team is a damn good crowd.
    Well heeled leafy east Hawthorn supporters are renowned for signing up their Maltese terriers and Burmese cats as members.

    I was in Beaufort on Friday arvo doing some shopping and whatnot, and every second car coming through had SA number plates. I did notice a good contingent of Adelaide fans near the Punt Road goals.

  9. Steve Hodder says:

    Adelaide played a great game and lost. If there is to be a winner there must be a loser and Hawthorn has been on the lousy side of that logic more than a few times. You bloody Geelongites are beyond the pale! What’s this? Rivalry by proxy? Our GF record against Geelong is 2-1 in our favour. Our colors are unfashionable but proudly worn. Richmond has a blooming great yellow stripe down their back but you lot don’t seem to notice. If there was 69,000 at the ground about 50,000 were Maybloomers. Not bad! Win or lose next Saturday the Hawks will give their barrackers something to cheer about; alack, Geelong and Adelaide must purchase their Best Bets and wait for 2013.

  10. Oooops! Sorry Steve.

    I should have realised that this is stressful time for all you in the ‘Glenferrie leafy Legion’ but Lord Bogan had noted that we ‘Geelongites’ had gone quiet so I thought I had better come off the bench and have a bit of a gut run on the ball for this week.

    Exciting isn’t it. I’m looking forward to a stress free week, and Saturday, and the Cats’ VFL Flag is a tasty little h’orderve for us kitty litter srcatchers.

    “Little fish don’t always fill the bucket but they certainly displace more air than dreams.”
    (Old Jungle Saying)

  11. Hors d’oeuvre

  12. Steve – what did you make of Clarkson’s war dance in the box when Johncock put the Crows in front? Did you see it? Looked like he was walking on hot coals.

    Do you think the Hawks will be released on Saturday and play free flowing footy to beat the Swans or do you think they could tighten up?

  13. Steve, I need only regurgitate some of the rubbish put forward by Hawks supporters before last year’s GF for your comment to be deemed ‘pot and kettle’.

    If you want to know how to beat the Hawks, then it makes sense to study the game plan of the one team that the Hawks have not beaten for a few years.

    It appeared to me that the Crows were quite Geelong-like in their approach. And thank goodness for it. Stodgy footy has been all the rage for several years now, even though the one team to truly reject it has been the most successful in that period. Now the Crows have opened up, as have Sydney, and the Pies to a degree.

    It’s a joy to watch and as Saturday night shows, can be just as tense and tough as the congested, rolling mauls that have become synomous with modern footy.

  14. As much as I dislike the team that is paid up (no salary cap?) and proudly displays its effluent hued jumper, I felt that in the 2011 prelim, they were stiffed by the umps.
    Saturday’s game, however, saw the Crows robbed of a GF birth by some inexplicable decisions. Adelaide played a great brand of up the guts footy. Their defence was spectacular.
    Sando coached his team beautifully, in that they played hard and, well, beautiful footy. At one stage, Clarkson appeared primed to bully a teen aged volunteer at an under 9’s game.

  15. Steve Hodder says:

    Dips – I didn’t see the Clarko war dance until I watched the replay, as I was at the game, but there were a few of us at the ground doing our own version of “ants in our pants”. I was sitting on the 4th deck and from that altitude you could see Adelaide’s game plan clear as a bell. Through the middle, they peeled us open, like running your thumb through a pea pod. No one at Hawthorn thought it was going to be easy, Clarkson said so repeatedly. It was the media and the betting moguls who kept carrying on about a blow out, You’d never take less than even money in a final, would you? There was no choking on Hawthorn’s part; Adelaide played brilliant and tough finals footy but Clarkson’s strategy prevailed in the end. Sydney will play a different brand of footy and Hawthorn is a tough nut to crack. They can play tough and brutal too. Saturday is a genuine contest. I thought the “lime greens” were bloody woeful both ways!

  16. There was a decision in the game that reminded me of “You’ve just dropped the World Cup”.

    An Adelaide player di brilliantly to keep the ball in play with a couple of very deft slaps and one of the non-controlling umpires paid a throwing the ball from about 70 metres away, and was WRONG! Big call from such a distance!

    All I could think of was that he’d just cost himself the GF (assuming he was in contention).

  17. Hi Adam

    An excellent report, if you don’t mind hearing that from a Hawks supporter. Phew, that might not have been the great escape but escape we did. The best I can take out of that game (as was the case for the Cats in 2007) is that we won.

    Adelaide are good and will get better. I found the build up to the game absurd. How can the betting on a game where both teams finished top of the ladder at the end of the home and away season be so lobsided? Everyone read that wrong and I believe the Hawks took those tealeaves into the game. Never (never) underestimate your opponent, particularly high quality opponents.

    As for what Clarko did, who cares. It’s meaningless. I have no idea why he got up and paced the floor but it was neither the reason for why we won or what happened in the last few minutes. What mattered was what actually happened on the field. And, to the Hawks credit, their resolve did not abate. Now, to the Grand Final!

    Cheers

  18. Rick – congrats to the Hawks. They won a tough, close game.

    Looking forward to the GF.

    (Clarkson is a worry because his tension rubs off on the players).

  19. Great report Adam and like Dips I found myself starting off going for the Crows because a) Sydney had already taken them and b) I’m a sucker for a supposed underdog. Around half time though I was inexplicably into full bore support mode. If Dangerfield had wheeled right instead of going on the outside late in the 4th that might have been the winning goal. Felt bad for your boys but judging on that performance they’ll be back in contention next year. Hypothetically if you were going to show one game this year to introduce AFL to a non-supporter this one would have to be a contender.

  20. Adelaide were robbed. Not the first time I have watched a game this season with no attachment to either team, where a bias has been displayed towards a particular team, from umps and commentators alike.
    I suppose they know on what side their bread is buttered.
    You are commendably generous in your comments, Adam. Loved the manner in which Adelaide played.

  21. Adam Ritchie says:

    Thanks one and all for reading and sharing your thoughts! Skip, you mentioned Brad Crouch. I was ecstatic when we snared him last year. Coming off a pretty disappointing year both on field and off it with Davis and Gunston both leaving, he was the best news we’d had for a while. It was good to see the club roll the dice a little to get their hands on such a prospect. He showed some real positive signs in the SANFL this season, and I’m very much looking forward to seeing him representing the Crows sooner rather than later. The idea of having Crouch, Dangerfield, Sloane, and Thompson in the middle of the park, with Jacobs tapping it down their throat (and preferably not Burgoyne’s…), is thrilling.

    To the Hawk supporters who have commented, cheers and good luck for this Saturday!

    Now I’ll let you get back to the thoroughly enjoyable verbal jousting with the Geelong contingent! I’m off to work on my Sanderson shrine.

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