Round 1 – Adelaide v Geelong: An afternoon of fine theatre





I’m not sure how AFL HQ found out Family Harms had moved to the Barossa but it was very good of Gillon (who comes from just around the corner up Mt Pleasant way) to schedule our Cats to play at the Adelaide Oval to kick off the 2021 season. And against the wooden spoon favourites, the struggling Crows, just to help alleviate the bitterness of last year’s Grand Final. We were expecting a walk in the park; the whole world was.


Oddly enough, I flew into Adelaide on Saturday morning after a few days back in Melbourne and the Footy Almanac’s Blessing of the Season Lunch at the North Fitzroy Arms Hotel. It was a cracking afternoon with Merv Keane an outstanding guest.


Once through the (very well-organised) checkpoint at Adelaide Airport and on to the bus, the face mask came off and everything seemed back to normal. I found myself walking along North Terrace, that most South Australian thoroughfare, past the railway station on the King William Street corner (with the Torrens and Adelaide Oval down the hill to my left), past the Museum with its big dinosaur skeleton and its nods to the ancient geology of the dry state and to Antarctica, past the stone grandeur of the University of Adelaide, and towards the eastern side of the city.


A glorious morning. An Athens morning. Still. Slightly cool. Ahead of me, Joel Selwood, Tom Stewart and Isaac Smith (who might have the skinniest legs in footy) were out for a stroll. Tom Hawkins had just peeled off towards the city. I resisted the opportunity to wish them all the best. There was no real need. They were talking quietly, about someone dropping chest marks (at training the evening before, I suspect). They blamed the sunscreen. (“Made the balls really slippery.”)


By the afternoon, the city – that would be the city of the Crows, the Port supporters couldn’t have given a rat’s apart from delighting in the prospect of their rivals getting flogged – was in full footy mode. All roads led to the Adelaide Oval. A couple of sharp ales with P. Flynn at the Queen’s Head (wasn’t I just having a beer with him in North Fitzroy?) and everyone around was chatty. Fraternal. Convivial. Warm. Open. The couple next to us didn’t give the Crows a chance. The women in all red (a hen’s do I suspect?) looked unlikely to make it down the hill to the ground, unless they entered an uncontrollable roll, which would have deposited them at the fag-end of the scoreboard.


Inside the ground, people were getting organised. Sun screen. Hats out of bags. Sips of water. I bumped into Mike Sexton, one of Adelaide’s finest story-tellers, whose recent Almanac story about tennis champion Mal Anderson was prompted by a reference to Queensland’s antbed tennis courts and a comment which which a tennis coach in Swaziland had added. Very Almanac.


I sat with old friend John Kingsmill who has designed every Almanac book, and all of our other publications, and his friend Rob Brookman who, John had told me, was the director of the Adelaide Festival for many years. As Crows’ fans, they felt they had no hope. “We’ll get smashed,” JK said. “It’ll be one of those games: we’ll be competitive early through sheer enthusiasm and your lot will steam-roll us.”


The ball was bounced and was pinged around in the perfect sunshine, although the gentle swaying of the Moreton Bay Figs suggested a flukey breeze from the east. Shaun Higgins, more than a superannuant I hoped, had the footy early. But the Cats had no time.


I was surrounded by Crows and, like me, some were reaching for the Footy Record. “Who’s 25? Who’s 21? Which one is James Rowe? Who did he play for in the SANFL? Who’s the big bloke across half back?”


We were in front of the hill, on the last seats before the concourse which, with the sun over our right shoulders, afforded us a superb view of the game unfolding. The stage was perfectly lit. All credit to the lighting department.


The Crows swept forward and in the contest right in front of us we could hear the smack of bodies. The footy fell to Tex Walker who emerged from the pack and caressed a left foot snap from the pocket. Goal! “That’s a good sign,” they said. Questions were being asked about Tex, the veteran from Broken Hill (a colony claimed by South Australia).


Indeed, a lot of questions were being asked. How would this side of young nobodies handle the might of perennial premiership contenders, a team of hardened pros who could dismantle your game with Chris Scott’s bureaucratic system or dismember you with laissez-faire run-and-gun talent. How had Matthew Nicks prepared his Crowlings?


“I just hope a few of them have those early-career games where they get the footy a dozen times and do a few things that are worthwhile,” someone said, to collective agreement. “They need three years.”


The zippy youngsters hounded the Cats. They tackled and tackled and halfway through the quarter they were on top. The crowd was curious. Encouraged. The Cats were having to turn and chase. Tom Stewart was having to do his best organising in defence.


Shane McAdam took a screamer in front of us. Tex was running Kolodjashnij around, and marking out in front, and kicking huge drop punts. The home side led at quarter time and received a standing ovation.


“Can they do it again?” we were all asking.


Well, they could. And more. Goals to exuberant youngsters lifted spirits ever higher throughout the second quarter – on the field and in the stands. The Cats were frowning. Reilly O’Brien was jumping over Rhys Stanley and the Crows were swarming. Then, the drama revealed its villain: Patrick Dangerfield did more than hold his ground as he was on a collision course with Jake Kelly. He bumped, with force, and the defender was knocked out, and in a bad way. As the medi-cart was disappearing down the tunnel, Tex thumped one through from 50 metres. He was the crowd’s warrior-hero again. The Crows authority was not challenged. They continued to break through and the Cats did not have the will or the energy to turn and chase. As the players left the turf, the crowd was ecstatic. Genuine hope had been revived. But was five goals enough?


The Cats opened the second half powerfully, but every time they edged closer, the Crows kicked a steadier. The Geelong victory would not be secured easily – but the feeling was that it would still be secured.  “They’ll flick the switch soon,” someone said.


Rob Brookman and John Kingsmill know drama – and this match was becoming more and more dramatic. The script was building. Many questions. What should the Crows do? Continue to attack? Or defend the four-goal lead? Had self-doubt consumed the experienced Cats? Their inevitable challenge was mounted. The Crows were hanging on and the crowd lived every second. They went into clapping mode. Every spoil applauded. Every corralling of the ball to the boundary line applauded. Every tackle applauded. Just one more minute. The Cats had their chances but the Crows were doing enough – it seemed. Rory Sloane led impeccably.


Siren! The Crows held on. The Adelaide Oval went nuts.


The city was rocking. Revellers enjoying the final throes of the Festival mixed with the victorious footy crowd in the streets. Footpath diners celebrated. The pubs were full.


It was too much for me. I snuck away, to ponder. And made my way, eventually, back to the Barossa.


I found it hard not to like the Crows. (What!) The game was an affirmation of the possibilities of footy.


I didn’t agree with the Cats fan in front of me who said, “Well, it’s good to have a loss before going into the Grand Final.”


But he did make me smile.



Read more of John Harms’s Year in the Barossa HERE



ADELAIDE    4.4    11.7    13.9    15.13 (103)
GEELONG     2.3     5.5     10.8    13.13 (91)


 Walker 5, Rowe 2, Frampton 2, McHenry 2, Lynch, Murphy, McAdam, Schoenberg
Geelong: Parfitt 2, Hawkins 2, Smith 2, Stanley, Rohan, Menegola, Blicavs, Guthrie, Dahlhaus, Miers


O’Brien, Walker, Sloane, Laird.
Geelong: Guthrie, Smith, Parfitt


Votes:  3. O’Brien   2. Walker    1. Sloane




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About John Harms

JTH is a writer, publisher, speaker, historian. He is publisher and contributing editor of The Footy Almanac and He has written columns and features for numerous publications. His books include Confessions of a Thirteenth Man, Memoirs of a Mug Punter, Loose Men Everywhere, Play On, The Pearl: Steve Renouf's Story and Life As I Know It (with Michelle Payne). He appears (appeared?) on ABCTV's Offsiders. He can be contacted [email protected] He is married to The Handicapper and has three school-age kids - Theo, Anna, Evie. He might not be the worst putter in the world but he's in the worst four. His ambition was to lunch for Australia but it clashed with his other ambition - to shoot his age.


  1. Good for football. And football writing. Hats off to Hocking. Enjoying the footy despite myself. The “leave the rules alone” mob deny the reality of vastly fitter, faster, stronger players with tightly scripted and ruthlessly executed match plans. Less like rugby. Time and space is making a comeback.

  2. PB, I left the footy analysis aside. But, I agree, Adelaide found time and space and exploited the statue rule. By contrast the Cats did not respond – to my eye, did not respond at all. Looked like they were intent on playing the game slowly and retaining possession as much as they could. Until they had to go for it. That’s a common observation with C. Scott’s Geelong. As we’ve said before, best way for Geelong to win is to give the opponent a 4-goal lead. Would make for better footy too.

  3. Trucker Slim says

    There’s footy and then there are observations that sparkle, like this: “the sun over our right shoulders, afforded us a superb view of the game unfolding. The stage was perfectly lit. All credit to the lighting department.”

    Apart from the loss Harmsy, what a terrific start to footy in 2021 for you. The Almanac lunch, landing in Adelaide, players strolling along North Terrace, Adelaide Oval, good friends and the weather gods getting it right. This is a beautiful piece, tapping into the heart of footy fans, whatever the result. May it be a great season of all of us coming back to the game.


  4. Mark ‘Swish’ Schwerdt says

    I was descaling my coffee machine, half listening over the shake-swoosh-judder-judder. Not much point renewing Kayo I thought. But not for long. I hope that Tex doesn’t go back through my Twitter feed.

    Looks like I’ll be going to the Gold Coast game on Good Friday after all.

    Ripper John.

  5. Terrific summary of a (shit) game for the Cats. I’m not certain that the Cats were beaten or if they were BEATEN. The Crows looked very sharp. An impressive unit.

    Sounds like Sleepy Hollow (2) is treating you well Harmsy. Wine, Mediterranean sun, witnessing countless barrels from outside 50.

  6. Daryl Schramm says

    “It was too much for me. I snuck away, to ponder. And made my way, eventually, back to the Barossa.”
    A penny for your pondering JTH? I had a ticket, but didn’t go, preferring to stay put at a cricket semi final that was reaching an interesting stage. I’m a bit with PB. The footy round 1 was actually worth watching. Ri v Ca, Co v WB, E v H, A v G. Didn’t see and haven’t seen much of Rd 2, and may not get around to it, once again preferring to follow cricket grand finals. Rd 3? I’ll be back! An enjoyable read JTH. Thanks

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