Finals Week 1 – Port Adelaide v West Coast: Boots of Spanish Leather

 

Simmo rang after the Crows game.

 

“I’ve decided to make some changes.”

 

“Jeez I’ve been saying that all season, but our last two games against the Giants and Crows have been our best of the year.”

 

“I’m putting you on a wing.”

 

“I’m flattered mate, but I’ve lost a yard of pace since I fell off the ladder and did my knee.”

 

“No – the wing of a 767 – I want you out of here. Pride, Lecca and Jack are sick of the abuse you’ve been putting on them all season.”

 

“Fair cop, but what about the Avenging Eagle? She’s never said a bad word about any of them.”

 

“Tough call, but we’ve been looking into what we did right in the 2015 finals series. We play our best when you two are in a different hemisphere. There are 2 return tickets to Barcelona waiting for you at the airport. Let me know if find any midfield pace to recruit in La Liga.”

 

Friday we checked out of the Costa Brava a day early for the 7 hour drive north to San Sebastian in the Basque Country on the Atlantic coast. Ten years ago we sat in Internet cafes to listen to games. Now the cellular data on a mobile phone drags in Gerard, Parko and Sewelly’s call most of the way north across Spain. After Zaragoza the reception drops out intermittently like the Cats midfield. Around Pamplona Dusty starts charging.

 

Saturday the sunny south gives way to the wind and rain of the Bay of Biscay. We are in our apartment overlooking the fishing boat harbour in Pasaia just east of San Sebastian. The iPad perched on a coffee table after our $75 donation to Gillon for a finals subscription to AFL Global.

 

Growing up in country SA 50 years ago I was addicted to the radio. Max Hall for footy and Barry Bissel’s Top 40 on 5KA. TV didn’t penetrate more than 60 miles from Adelaide. All the houses had a 30 foot tv aerial on the roof, but it only worked at nights with the right wind and weather to bounce signals off the ionosphere. Technology is amazing – when it works.

 

I am confident we can win. Simmo has timed our preparation like a Bart Cummings two miler. Adelaide Oval holds no fears and Port are fragile. But I gave up trying to tip results half way through the season. Confidence coincided with crap.

 

Port start nervously and the Eagles silence the crowd with a 5 goal to one first quarter. With the defensive focus on Josh Kennedy in recent weeks Jack Darling has got off the chain. Priddis, Mitchell and Shuey are dominating the clearances. Port look rattled and turn the ball over frequently.

 

The game continues in the same fashion for the first 10 minutes of the second quarter and the Eagles get 6 goals clear, but Port wrest control back at the clearances and kick the last 4 goals of the term. 11 points the margin at half time. Game on.

 

The third quarter is all Port by possessions and all Eagles by defensive grit. The Global app starts going haywire and rewinding spontaneously to the second quarter. Rewind, reboot, restart, repeat. When it finally starts playing the match video is a couple of minutes behind the live action. I’m in the kitchen chopping the baguette and iberico jamon lunch; refreshing the score on the AFL live app; and listening to the delayed description from the Global app.

 

“Damn” (the knife slices a chunk of finger while I was distracted hitting the refresh button). “What’s wrong?” asks AE. “Port scored,” I lie – shoving the bloody evidence in the sink. Should I be telling her the real time score, or maintain Gillon’s fiction of “live” overseas coverage? Last change and we are 3 points ahead on the scoreboard, but the balance of play feels like 3 goals behind.

 

Last quarter and the dam eventually breaks. Charlie Dixon and Robbie Gray have dominated for 2 quarters and now it starts to show on the scoreboard. The Global video has caught up to real time, but now the audio is 5 seconds behind. Like watching the cricket while avoiding Slats and Heals commentary via the radio. We are 15 points down and the Avenging Eagle can’t take it any more, retreating to the bathroom to relieve the pressure.

 

I am frustrated but keep the faith. I’ve seen this before when Adelaide kicked goals early in the last quarter to put us out of the finals on percentage. It seemed to ignite a spark. Some dogs need another to chase to do their best. Priddis goals from a clever Shuey pass to lure AE back from her cave. Petrie mark and goal and we’re the little engine that could.

 

The game becomes a blur. Port choking on gettable shots and then with the scores tied EMac Leigh Matthews the point post to keep the deadlock. Smart and brave.

 

It’s that sort of team effort with even the beaten players playing their parts. Only LeCras and Duggan and Partington (both in their first finals) haven’t offered much. Like the Crows game Jetta has materialised in the last quarter to charge off the square. Priceless run and hope when all seemed lost.

 

Port have the stars of the game but they can’t stake the Eagles brave hearts. The 5 minutes each way of extra time starts with goals to Sam Gray and Wines, but Dixon falls off a simple set shot to slew it right. There’s a pulse if not a heart beat.

 

With 20 seconds on the clock from the restart after the Wines goal, Jetta charges through 3 flailing defenders and banana booms for Kennedy to Messi into the bottom corner of the net. (I hate video reviews – just faux bullshit to feed tv commentators). We’re back pumping now.

 

Vardy to Josh again after the restart and he nervelessly slots the penalty. WE CAN WIN THIS.

 

More importantly – PORT CAN LOSE THIS. Charlie marks in the same position as 5 minutes before. Somehow I know he will over-correct (its a golf thing), and his slice becomes a hook. Wingard chokes a point (is there a more over-rated player?) and Boak from a tougher spot. THEY ARE KEEPING US IN THIS. Is there time? Is there time? We can. But how? How?

 

We all know the denouement. Ryder chokes the wrong play to the wrong position. His mental fragility has blighted his talent all game. More time complaining than creating. The Eagles strategy of double teaming in the rucks has worn him down late in the game, just as it did against Jacobs in Round 23.

 

Polec panics and Shuey converts.

 

Commentators video interminably dissects the number of pinheads on angel’s shoulders. Yawn. My take is that after the first 15 minutes, the home crowd won Port 25 free kicks to only 12 for the Eagles. Both early in the last quarter and again in extra time Port had repeated easy chances to put the game beyond reached. Put simply they choked and were beaten fair and square by a tougher, harder and more resilient Eagles team.  Allan Scott was right. Team trumps talent.

 

The Eagles now have the softer side of the finals draw and in a season where all teams have their flaws and frailties we have as good a chance as any of winning through to another Grand Final. My biggest concern for the GWS final is backing up from what is effectively a 6 day break as we could not fly home until the Sunday morning (and what player could have slept in a hotel room with that much churning adrenalin?)

 

It’s notable that Matt Priddis’ best 2 games for the year were after a week’s break in Round 22 and again in the first final. Can he and Mitchell and Petrie back up again? Petrie has been remarkable all year. A player I never rated as a CHF because he never kicked goals on Glass or Mackenzie has done it all as a mobile ruckman this season. Makes me wonder if North didn’t misuse him.

 

Which brings me to the final Joker in the pack? All season I have said you couldn’t play a 115kg giant off limited match practice. Petrie and Vardy have done an outstanding job of countering opposition rucks and both have been more than handy around the ground.

 

Naitanui’s highlights reel belies his real value which is as a shock and awe running and tackling behemoth – not a marking ruckman. In a game where our vulnerability is around lack of pace, it’s time to inject some.

 

Be bold and roll the dice by playing him. Vardy will be unlucky, but faint hearts…

 

We match up well against GWS and won at their dung heap last season when they were full strength.

 

We’ll be watching from the Douro Valley in Portugal next Saturday lunchtime.

 

The winter of my discontent made glorious summer… by Spain and the Eagles.

 

Read more coverage of the Port Adelaide v West Coast game here.

Comments

  1. You had me right there Mr B. In Spain & the PAO. What a finish? What a match? A couple of decisions that will be talked about for the rest of the season, and well into the next. In slowmo, the elbow was raised. The tell in real time should have been the theatrical throw back of the head and the gargled aargh from the practiced throat of a serial offender. If you were travelling a little further north they’d tell you about the little Boy Who Cried Wolf. Which is were Maggot Central should send their senior umpires for a fortnight in the pre-season.

    And the other one? Kick the ball 50m down the ground under pressure and it rolls/bounces the wrong way and makes the line: deliberate. The eMac sees the ball sitting in play beside the behind post and pushes it over the line. A quick thinking hero? No. Deliberate.

    But it’s all water under the bridge now and we move on to Semi Final Week – Week II of September 2017.

    Regards to the AE. That woman deserves a medal.

  2. PB, as someone who knows rural Australian technlogy, I marvel at what is available now. Those tall antennas existed on the Downs – not that they did much. We had ABC TV and DDQ10 Toowoomba. Brisbane was a far-off place with newsreaders like Don Seccombe and celebrities like Jackie from It’s a Knockout. Even when I went ot uni in Brisbane it was a stretch to get VFL/AFL coverage – although the Saturday afternoon live match was a joy.

    How the Eagles won that is beyond me. They were gone a few times.

    I don’t think Wingard is over-rated but he misread that moment. I reckon he thought he had a clear passage. Normally he would have propped and snapped with the non-preferred.

    Who got the tap to Shuey?

    McGovern was immense.

    Naitanui would have to have significant spells on the bench – even more than Clark keating. I think Vardy has been excellent. He has shown poise at the end of matches this season. And he did again on Saturday night.

    I reckon you’ll give GWS a real run.

  3. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says:

    I preferred Bill Page to Barry Bissell. But KA was always that smidgeon cooler than AD, except on Sunday nights when they had live broadcasts of the service from Maugham Church (and Father Bob-gulp). Big Rod McLeod for the KA footy was my introduction to footy on the radio “on the Woodies scoreboard”. Not sure that the Velvet Underground ever got a run on KA though, even if Bob occasionally slipped through.

    With Mumford out, your mob could probably ruck Sam Mitchell and still win.

  4. I hope so. The Weagles on The G would be delicious.

  5. Yvette Wroby says:

    Spain eh? Explains no answer to my congratulatory text!!

  6. John Butler says:

    You certainly sound happier with the Eagles than when we last spoke. Amazing what a couple of wins can do. :)

    I too would give NicNat a miss. Finals need match hardened bodies. With no Mumford, it’s less of a factor in any case.

    That was a win for hardened, professional attitudes over youthful promise. All the old blokes with finals experience stood up when counted. But even then you still pinched it.

    Nothing about GWS’s last two performances would suggest you are without a chance once more.

    Say g’day to AE for us.

    Cheers

  7. Not a bad location to almost watch a match. Loved the different antenna towers of the different regional cities in SA. Pirie and Lincoln covered in them because they were close enough to Adelaide to get a reasonable signal. Many fewer in Port Augusta, the desperate and/or wealthy only. One in Mount Gambier a (slim) chance of picking up Adelaide and Melbourne.

    West Coast are as good as chance as any… if winning the premiership didn’t involve two trips to the MCG. If you think 40k rabid Port fans can milk a few frees (which they did) wait until (if) you come across 80k Richmondites.

    Jetta was outstanding – while the rest of your midfield had reverted to handballing in a phonebox, he broke the lines with ease.

  8. Great opening dialogue PB. A few short years the global AFL app was change from $100 for the entire season.

    Like Bill Bryson’s constant amazement that electricity doesn’t leak out of the socket, living in England I was always astonished how I could wake up on the weekend and entire games of footy had happened while I was asleep.

    Travel well. Enjoy Portugal.

  9. Superb PB.
    This world really is incredible.
    Hasta la vista.

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