Round 3 – Port Adelaide vs Essendon: The show must go on

Port Adelaide versus Essendon

7.20pm, Friday 9th April

Adelaide Oval

By Cathryn McDonald


There was nothing bigger than Friday Night Football… until tonight’s Friday Night Football. For the first time ever, an Aussie Rules footy match was broadcast into China, to an expected audience of two million new fans. Suddenly our Friday night grudge match against the club who got two of our players banned, a game earmarked for an easy, soul-cleansing romp, became the most-watched home and away game in AFL history.


In hindsight, setting so much importance on this game was tempting fate. The WADA decision had hit us too, leaving us vulnerable to any more losses. We hit our deepest form slump since Hinkley came to the club. Then the injuries started to mount, careering towards a crisis, and all this before a game that we absolutely had to win. But the show must go on. So we handed a guernsey to the baby-faced Darcy Byrne-Jones, rocked up to the Portress and hoped the rumours of Dixon being a late out weren’t true.


There’s a moment in every Port home game where time seems to stop. On that last shouted note of Never Tear Us Apart, as the ball hangs in the air, there’s the uncertainty of which Port Adelaide is actually going to turn up tonight. Will it be panic and disarray, or the team who can ruthlessly dismantle a team at the Portress before their ears have even stopped ringing?


Tonight – to our relief – it was the latter.


Charlie Dixon was a monster in the first quarter, leaving the Bombers’ inexperienced backline in tatters. He dished one off to Boaky and snagged two for himself before the first quarter was half gone. More importantly, our backline got their act together somewhat. As requested by the fans on social media during the week, our defenders had some accountability for their opponents. Darcy looked surprisingly composed, and finally we got some rebound going. Fringe player Aaron Young fought for his spot like a madman. Jared Polec was back to his brilliant best. Toumpas showed signs of being a talented AFL player.


It was scrappy, many of our players lacked class and composure, our forward line was predictable and staid without Wingard, and our game-plan still doesn’t feel entirely secure. However, the scoreboard headed quickly towards the kind of win we expected. The quarter-time scoreline of 7-1 brought back good memories. We put the game almost beyond doubt with two quick goals in the first few minutes of the second quarter. Our boys were having fun again, and playing footy that wins the hearts of fans. Talk about the perfect first impression.


In the second quarter, Essendon arrived at the party and brought their own fireworks. They kept their fight up for the rest of the match, playing with the freedom of a team with nothing to lose. Daniher is fun to watch. I’m not sure looked more memorable on TV: his high-flying mark in the second quarter, or his facial hair attempt. Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti’s workrate is as impressive as his dreads. With his mark in the fourth quarter, Brendon Goddard gave the commentators another chance to use the newly-coined Chinese word for “specky”.


But if there’s one moment I hope piqued a few people’s interest on the other side of the world, it’s what happened near the end of the third quarter. Sam Gray and Darcy Byrne-Jones slammed into each other at full speed. The stadium groaned as their heads collided in slow motion on the super-screens. It may have prompted this comment on Weibo as reported by The Age: “Felt like if I ran onto the field myself I’d be knocked dead within a minute.” But the show must go on, and Sam Gray was soon back on his feet, to the relief of the crowd. So was Darcy Byrne-Jones, who gathered a loose ball on the Riverbank 50m arc dead in front and stabbed it through for his first ever AFL goal.


I won’t forget his salute to the crowd. The week’s drama, the injury panic and Twitter rumours: it had all led to this moment. It was framed like a classical painting, blood streaming down his face, a twenty year old debutant who’s worked so hard for this chance and who looked like he couldn’t quite believe what he’d just done. There are some footy images that stick in our minds forever. This was China’s first.


PORT ADELAIDE      7.3   11.5    14.8   17.10   (112)
ESSENDON               1.4     4.6       4.7     7.9   (51)

Port Adelaide: Young 3, Dixon 3, Amon 2, R Gray 2, Westhoff 2, Boak, Ebert, Polec, Byrne-Jones, Wines
Essendon: Daniher 2, Kommer 2, Ambrose, Goddard, J. Merrett

Port Adelaide: R. Gray, Pittard, Dixon, Young, Polec, Boak, Wines
Essendon: Z. Merrett, Zaharakis, Goddard

Umpires:  Fisher, Stephens, Pannell

Crowd: 44,601

My votes: R. Gray 3, Pittard 2, Polec 1

About Cathryn McDonald

One-eyed Port Adelaide supporter, music geek and appreciator of the "match day experience".


  1. Enjoyed that Cathryn and agree whole heartedly. Byrne-Jones has been working hard at the Maggies for a while and certainly earned a crack. Called “2 Daddies” by a couple of wags in the stand who could not understand hyphenated names at the Port! We are still a work in progress, despite media forecasts pre season of Top 4. Dixon is being under-rated for mine. Getting Tredrea’s treatment with 3 opponents hanging on to him and no help from the little green men… Has farmed out some good help, chased a long way back into defence on Friday and seems to be covering good ground for such a big bloke. Wingate and Hartlett back should improve things.

  2. Cathryn McDonald says

    Dixon did an amazing job on Friday night… given he’s our only first choice forward left standing. When Chad comes back (and hopefully Schulzy!) he should cop a little less attention.

    I don’t think we’ll be top 4 this year, but Friday was a big step towards us being a top 4 side. Depth has been our Achilles heel, but we’ve been building it. In 2014 we couldn’t win a game with two first-choice players out. On Friday we did it with eight out, albeit against poor opposition. The WADA decision set us back a bit but it’s there.

    Personally I was really excited seeing Byrne-Jones get a game. He was one of my favourites watching the Maggies last year. It’ll be amazing for his confidence to have come in under all that pressure, with the negativity and panic surrounding the club, the huge crowd, the must-win game, the two million TV viewers, and to have lifted for it.

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