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Round 19 – Adelaide v Essendon: Dons’ Party or Don’s Party?

l and s

And a polite patter of applause is hird (sic) for Crows coach Don Pyke on defeating Essendon. Congratulations to Don on another first in his debut year.

Like the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man in Ghostbusters, the spectre of the disgraced 1996 Brownlow Medallist looms large. With which metaphors do we now designate this fallen figure? Is he a cultic prophet who fabricated his own Waco? Macbeth is probably too obvious a motif, so could the golden one now be the spectral illuminatus?

But, he was an astonishing footballer. When the Bombers stole a flag in 1993 I became a fan. However, it wasn’t until this millennium when I finally watched him at Footy Park that I became certain of his genius. His grace, immaculate skill, and tellingly, preternatural vision made him among the best I’d witnessed.

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Roy and HG once considered the sledging skill of a rugby league player, who’d run around with the Lithgow Shamrocks, under the gruff tutelage of Grassy Grannall, expertly baiting his opponents, while using subordinate clauses.

The boys and I begin our afternoon on the Northern Mound at the Adelaide Oval, a secular temple of colossal beauty. We’re adjacent to the heritage scoreboard. With its elegant lines, and yellow and white lettering evoking Bradman and Chappell and Ebert, it’s a majestic icon. I hear no insults of lexical prettiness.

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Despite the negligible obstacle of being delisted in 2009, a disappointment is that former Crow Robert Shirley isn’t in the side to tag Bomber Jayden Laverde. Who wouldn’t love the match-up of Laverde and Shirley? Happily humming, “Making Our Dreams Come True” I skip to the bar and request refreshment from Milwaukee’s finest, the Shotz Brewery, but instead am presented with a West End Draught.

Adelaide gets one within thirty seconds courtesy of McGovern, but then the footy is marooned for six turgid minutes in the Bombers forward line. It’s much like spending Christmas in Iron Knob: unexpected and increasingly disconcerting. Then, out it pops, and Eddie is scampering across half-forward and the crowd response is customarily seismic. He bounces thrice and goals.

Former Norwood boy Orazio Fantasia replies and Essendon are away too. The early period is characterised by a tussle before the Crows begin to assert themselves and the inevitable occurs. Watching Adelaide mechanically dismantle their opponents is largely joyless. Among the many negatives of the Essendon drug saga is the loss of narrative. It’s difficult to locate a compelling story.

But, footy fights back and presents Joe Daniher. With his moustache and oddly laconic dial, he looks like he should feature in the slow-motion action of a Carlton Draught advertisement. He takes multiple contested grabs, and must be the Bombers highpoint in this most wintry of winters. With less grace than the sacrificed buffalo in the last scenes of Apocalypse Now he stumbles on the grass, but somehow goals. Daniher’s high marking is exhilarating, but his kicking is more Travis Cloke than Travis Cloke.

At the other end of the paddock Charlie Cameron is also generating joy for his club. Like David Cameron his last month hadn’t been flash, but unlike the Tory lizard Charlie triumphed today with clear public approval in getting four majors, and keeping us in Europe.

The last quarter is forgettable until Josh Jenkins- he’d been quiet, possibly fiscally pre-occupied, marks assertively and goals. A dreary Festival of Fifty Metre Penalties ensues, but only the umpires have bought tickets. Eddie earns a free and handballs to ex-Magpie Paul Seedsman who again converts from the arc with a penetrating spear. Thank you Collingwood.

Tomorrow’s a school-day for the boys, and Escape to the Country is due to soon begin, doubtless featuring a smug empty-nester couple from Middlesex who’ve convinced themselves that they really do need seven bedrooms, so we start our Riverbank Stand descent towards basecamp. The Bombers get three late goals and the Crows remain outside the top four. It’s an evening carved with Baroque shapes.

scoreboard

 

 

 

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Finals Week 1 – Western Bulldogs v Adelaide Crows: Disco-Tex and His Sex-O-Lettes

Tex

It was a moment of unfussy beauty.

At home and at the MCG we were looking at the goals, and dared to hope that he’d kick it straight. The distance wouldn’t bother him. But then Jenkins rushed forward, and we were fearful that the footy might go his way. He’d hardly touched it all night.

So why wouldn’t he have a ping? Minutes before, from a set shot, he’d brutalised a goal from sixty, in a statement of daring and confidence. Our game affixes much currency to the physical, to risk-taking, to muscular magnificence. And many would have rightly expected this from a swaggering centre-half forward. We could have expected a captain’s goal.

But we want our leaders to see what others can’t, and to show the way with the brain, and not only their brawn.

Until this point the camera had ignored Charlie Cameron, and then he appeared just beyond the goal square. It was an exquisite stratagem. With a low, spearing pass Tex found him, and he goaled. Done.

Taylor Walker has displayed enormous bravery in this season of unspeakable tragedy, his first as captain. He has moved from lovable country lad to a figure of purpose and clarity. On the field, in his debut final as leader, with only moments remaining, this is his finest effort. It wasn’t a pack mark, or inspirational goal, or brutish bump. It was an act of intelligent selflessness.

It was an act of such clarity that I wonder if Tex had recently read Sun Tzu’s Art of War.

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About the only Latin I know is the phrase in medias res which means, “in the middle things” and it’s often used with reference to a story that begins in the midst of action. If the Roman satirist Horace was at the footy Saturday night he’d have recognised this in the explosion of dramatic events beginning with the opening bounce.

South Australia has again debated switching to the Eastern Standard time to align with the bulk of the nation’s population. The Crows were similarly uncertain about their clocks for they were their customary five or so minutes late in taking to the field. In that period the Bulldogs kicked four of the five opening goals.

Eddie Betts then occupied that rarefied space in which we all knew that no matter how many opponents were between he and the ball, no matter what cruel trajectory the Sherrin took before or after it bounced, that he would welcome it into his sure hands, and kick a goal. I was reminded of the Frank Zappa song from Just Another Band From LA fittingly titled, “Eddie Are You Kidding?”

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Red dirt and whirly-whirlies and haunted, silent pubs. Broken Hill was our first stop on the road to Queensland. We wandered about the Living Desert sculptures just out of town. It is a place where sky and sand and heat and people connect. In the hot morning sun we started pulling up the tent pegs prior to the long drive across to Cobar.

Our caravan park neighbours were packing up too, and the woman made me think of the diverse country this is. She was handsome; on the cusp of middle age, but wearing a blue bikini, and although it was 2001, she was smoking a pipe. I hadn’t seen anyone smoking a pipe since my primary school principal, who’d patrol the corridors, leaving an olfactory, if not educational impact.

Until Tex arrived I’d thought little about Broken Hill and the Bikini-Clad, Pipe-Smoking Woman. But I like that Tex similarly brings a singularity of unique thinking to his game, influenced by the place that gave us Pro Hart and Wake in Fright and the Flying Doctor.

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Neither side could outrun the other. At various moments Stringer, Dangerfield, Dahlhaus, Sloane and Dickson all seemed to charge into the straight with the baton a pumping, and the finishing tape mere yards away. But then the opponent would surge, and we’d gasp.

It was unrelenting entertainment. It was a Tarantino movie, a Ramones album, and it concluded in a Flemington photo-finish.

Finally, with a clever dispatching of a Bulldog on the wing, Tex seized the footy like a chalice, ran methodically, bouncing twice, before approaching the fifty metre arc.

With his sure disposal honed by long afternoons dominating kick-to-kick at Willyama High School, and then among men at the North Broken Hill footy club, he took an inward breath and sent the ball inward to Cameron.

Our captain had just won the match.

Broken Hill

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Round 17 – Adelaide v Gold Coast: A Pillar of (Chicken) Salt

chiko

Sporting teams are rarely singular, and often present as splintered groups, but wearing the same uniform. Australian cricket is illustrative. Bradman’s leadership caused edgy subtexts between the Catholics and Protestants, while under Ponting and Clarke the dressing room was less camp fire cosy than front bar brawl.

The Gold Coast Suns is a peculiar ensemble. In one corner, gathered in pre-bounce worship, there’s the Gold Coast Sons (of God). Led sermonically by Gazza, the son of another God, they’re a puritanical enclave. And in a night-clubbish nook, under strobing lights, with UDL cans and thin boundary lines of white powder (not the type used at ancient footy ovals) we’ve the Gold Coast Sins.

This is our family’s first footy match. We’ve been back in Australia for a few weeks, and today our boys make their Mitani Chicken Salt Adelaide Oval debut. We take the Glenelg tram in.

For the first time the Crows have three Rorys in their side, but Gold Coast jump early with two brisk goals. Kade Kolodjashnij gets the ball across to Nick Malceski, and I wonder how local commentator KG Cunningham might have managed that with his exotic pronunciation. Soon after the Crows find some fluency with a neat sequence of disposals and Walker gets us away. The scoreboard’s level at the break.

Exploring the revamped Adelaide Oval’s eastern side I discover the Garry McIntosh Bar. In the pit of winter I once saw the iconic Norwood hard man in a Parade pub. Alone on a stool, wearing shorts, singlet and thongs, he looked as if he’d come from the cricket. He wasn’t having a drink, but a large cigar.

I then cross the Graham Cornes Deck, and think it well-named given that there have likely been many who’d merrily deck Graham Cornes.

The golden match-up of Tom Lynch v Tom Lynch hasn’t happened, but Betts is vibrant and slots the stanza’s first. Reminiscent of Nathan Burke with his black helmet, Rory Sloan provides his usual grunt.

It’s a bright and breezy afternoon, and monolithic Sun Chaz Dixon then takes a contested, one-handed grab. But we have Charlie Cameron, a fleet fox in our forward line. Confidence growing, he runs onto a loose ball, collects it and converts.

Our boys enjoy the footy. They clap and cheer and inhale food like Merv on twelfth man duties. The wife gets a chiko roll. It’s disappointing. I think she’s right. Conceptually great, but ultimately an inadequate vehicle for bad cabbage.

Some officiating decisions appear inconsistent, and the crowd boos like we’re at a Christmas panto. They have a point as you’d expect a better affinity between umpires Farmer and Hay.

Behind the grandstand at half time I spot a menu

Entree

Portions of lightly pan-fried fritz speckled with chicken salt

Main

A proudly upside-down meat pie submerged in swampy pea soup, tomato sauce and buried by chicken salt

Dessert

Sponge cake sculpted into the shape of a frog’s head and bejewelled with cream and green fondant icing*

* May contain traces of chicken salt

For the Crows Lever and Laird have been impressive in defence, against the Suns’ behemoths. In his breakout season Laird is magnificent. He’s a solid mark, and composed decision-maker.

Jenkins goals, but he’s got the chassis of a Leyland P76, while under his bonnet is a misfiring lawnmower engine. Mercifully, at the other end Charlie Dixon line is astray, with his kicking affected by the swirling gusts.

At three-quarter time we have a double substitution. Our youngest is done for the day, and he and his mum head to the tram. Both have played well.

Sixteen seconds into the final period, Douglas dashes to half forward and with his deceptively long kick he goals. Harley Bennell has been good in his first game back, but yet again the loss of Ablett is telling. Without the son, the Suns are eclipsed.

Young Crow Knight goals tidily to conclude the game, and just misses the Mitani Chicken Salt hoarding on the Riverbank Stand. If he’d struck it the entire crowd would’ve received a lifetime supply of chicken salt.

After the siren we’re siphoned across the Torrens footbridge to the canary yellow tram. We’ve had a top afternoon in Row X of the Gavin Wanganeen Stand.

It’s great to be home.

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