AFL Round 1 – Melbourne v Port Adelaide: What was that?

Round 1 – Melbourne v Port Adelaide

Sunday 31 March 2013

MCG

 

By Chris Weaver

 

The week before this game, I  meet my father for lunch. He’s become disaffected by Melbourne’s recent years of struggle. Although he retains his club membership, his passion is clearly dulled.

 

At one point, he ponders an article on the back of the new tabloid-format Age. Colin Sylvia’s fist-pump greets us, his arms bulging like a condom packed with walnuts. My father claims that the previous day he looked at Melbourne’s list and only recognised three names.

 

He was exaggerating in his own gruff manner, but the point remains – this is the team that’s been through more rebuilds than Sam Newman’s cheekbones.

 

Mark Neeld’s side turned over 14 players following an abject season in 2012. Seven of those players are on display today; three of them (Jack Viney, Jimmy Toumpas and Matt Jones) are making their AFL debuts.

 

Melbourne hasn’t featured this many new faces in a game since Round 1, 1966. The omens aren’t great – that side contained numerous fresh-faces plucked from the under 19s, who were in turned feathered and tarred by a St Kilda side marching onwards to its only premiership.

 

New Port Adelaide coach Ken Hinkley has been slightly more circumspect. Power welcome five new names, including Oliver Wines – Viney’s best mate. The Echuca youngster’s thighs and calves are as solid as those of a rugby flanker. He looks as strong and reliable as a Murray paddle-steamer.

 

The Demons haven’t won an opening round game since 2005, when the club was mourning the passing of South Australian defender Troy Broadbridge – drowned on honeymoon by the tsunami that devastated south-east Asia.

 

Today it is Port Adelaide’s turn to mourn. John McCarthy’s Las Vegas death cast a pall over the Power, who had so visibly welcomed the cheeky Victorian defender during his short time at Alberton.

 

Broadbridge was 24; McCarthy 22. Two young men were lost well before their time and a long way from home. Their absence leaves a void across two states and many families.

 

Port Adelaide’s players appear on the ground ten minutes before the Demons. It takes just as long for Melbourne to catch up once the game starts, as the Power eviscerate us with hard running and hard heads at the contest.

 

Hamish Hartlett kicks the first goal of the game, a sweetly timed 55-metre kick on the run. The Power on-baller has had a torrid time with hamstring injuries in recent years, but today he’s humming like a Mustang. He is consistently loose at the contest, where he links up easily with Brad Ebert, Kane Cornes and former Swan Campbell Heath.

 

Port Adelaide soon register more scoring shots than the Demons have possessions. Things are looking scarily familiar for those of us used to slow Melbourne starts.

 

Melbourne reply with two goals from Mitch Clark, back from a ruptured tendon in his left foot. The heavily tattooed behemoth looks sharp, marking and goaling first from a long Viney pass, then from a floating Jack Grimes pass into the pocket.

 

Port Adelaide settle quickly, entering the first break 14 points to the good. The gap blows open in the second term although goals to Viney (from a well-read snap) and an acrobatic grab on the goal line by Pedersen give us hope at the main break.

 

Let me be more specific – it gives some of us hope at the break. The players are booed off the ground, more loudly and furiously than at any time I can remember.

 

Our hopes of a fight back are soon proven groundless. Melbourne’s third quarter is insipid, as listless a surrender as any pockmarking the last six years.

 

Where Port Adelaide’s midfielders run hard into space, ours are static. The Power use a crisp short passing game to own the corridor; the Demons spread wide, but rarely forward.  Our game-plan personifies the movements of a crab – awkward, slow and forever sideways. The nadir arrives shortly after half-time, when Tom Gillies attempts to switch play across the defensive goal, only to float his kick through for a rushed behind.

 

There is no question that we miss Jack Trengove, our co-captain. In his first two years, Trengove did not exhibit any obvious weakness. Last year was a disaster, with his goal-kicking, high-marking and power running all but disappearing amidst rumours of a groin complaint.

 

Trengove’s return has been checked by a stress fracture in his foot. He is our fittest player and a superb field kick. He is what I call a ’70-metre player’ – the type who runs his full measure, then spots up a target with a 50-plus metre pass. Without him, only Viney consistently breaches the Port Adelaide defensive zone.

 

Trengove’s Port Adelaide namesake provides a scare, tangling legs with Clark deep in the forward pocket. Clark battles on, but is wisely retired from a lost cause soon after.

 

Port Adelaide remove half-forward Angus Monfries at three-quarter time, following an impressive display. I know I’m not alone in decrying Monfries for milking free-kicks, but today he has been superb – his courage and running faultless. He nets 3.3 – an excellent return for an undersized forward asked to provide an alternative option to the taller Jay Schulz.

 

The intensity noticeably drops in the final stanza. Wines’ continues to stay strong over the footy, while Schulz adds a fourth goal. Melbourne’s National Draft dilemma focused on whether to select the hard-bodied Wines or the fleet-footed Toumpas, a player whose balance, speed and finishing would be fillips to a one-paced side.

 

Today Toumpas struggles with the intensity and precision of AFL football. He is far from disgraced, but his is a garden-variety debut compared to the vintage displays of Wines and Viney.

 

Boos ring loud as our players depart. We have seen some awful displays in recent years, but this one smells particularly pungent. The Redlegs haven’t just been beaten on skill – they have been outrun by an even younger side that they narrowly defeated in hot conditions in Renmark just four weeks ago.

 

I receive a text later in the evening claiming that it was the ferociously driven Viney who addressed the players in the rooms afterwards. The youngest player on our senior list is asked to lift spirits after also being our best player. It doesn’t sit well with me.

 

The latest rebuild is already feeling the pressure on its green foundations.

 

Port Adelaide 5.3 11.7 16.13 19.19 (133)
Melbourne 3.1 7.2 7.3 8.6 (54)

 

 

Malarkey Medal:

3. Hamish Hartlett (PA) 2. Brad Ebert (PA) 1. Travis Boak (PA)

Comments

  1. Peter_B says:

    Very balanced and insightful piece Chris. Don’t know how you could watch your Demons and retain that balance/sanity.
    All teams go through troughs, but I can’t see anything in club, coach or players for the Demons to rebuild on. It all seems a bit shallow and ‘going through the motions’.
    By contrast Kenny from Camperdown seems to be channeling the old Foster Williams mongrel “us against them” to get the most out of their list. Good to see.
    Was it my imagining but I thought I heard a lot more pre-game talk of Port Adelaide rather than Port Power. I’d love to see Port running out in the Port Magpies traditional ‘prison bars’ jumper against everyone but Collingwood. Eddie would have apoplexy, which would be wonderful.
    Hartlett could win a Brownlow if he could keep his hammies together for a season. He’s a beauty.
    Thanks for your piece, Chris. I hope you find the strength for another.

  2. Chris Weaver says:

    Thanks, Peter

    It wasn’t a good day. It’s made all the harder knowing that while Hartlett (pick 4 in 2008) was playing a super game, Jack Watts (pick 1) was hiding away from contests.

  3. Richard Naco says:

    I love and respect you, Chris, for your loyalty and balance. Fans like you are truly the noblest and bravest of us all.

    The tactic I used to impart of my (basketball) players when things weren’t quite working as they should was to look on the bright side of things. This being that there are over a billion people in the Peoples’ Republic of China, and not one of them saw that game.

    I hope that the booing ends real soon.

  4. There’s no such thing as ‘Port Power’. There’s ‘Port Adelaide’, with the Magpies in the SANFL and the Power in the AFL.

    Beautiful piece, really captures the sheer distaste left in the mouth of Melbourne supporters by the pathetic efforts of a bunch of pretenders.

  5. Great piece, the AFL really need a relegation & promotion system for everyone’s sake.

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