By Jack Bannister
VA flight 213 drifts over the Adelaide Oval. Ivan Maric sits two rows in front of me, in seat 14B.
A former ruckman in a middle seat? Ridiculous.
It’s just after nine o’clock on a sleepy Thursday morning, the last working day before Easter. The newly-completed Royal Adelaide Hospital was a constant skeleton while I was at high school. Time has moved on, though the rest of the scene below me is intimately familiar. The footbridge, the Festival Centre, the University of Adelaide’s campus, the train station. It still feels like home — just a little, just enough.
By six o’clock, we’re in the middle of a throng crossing the footbridge. A busker is murdering Pearl Jam’s Better Man. He is certainly no Brandon Flowers. This is certainly no Grand Final.
To quote Chicago Cubs manager Joe Maddon (speaking after they broke their 108-year World Series drought), “We can win again next year, but it’ll never be that again.”
Tonight, as the throng moves across the bridge, the appeal lies not in a premiership or in the breaking of a 37-year drought. And for the Crows, there can be no real revenge for a September loss, certainly not in the month of March.
There’s nothing more, or less, on the line for the throng than the evergreen possibility of seeing your footy team win. Which, it seems, is enough to sell the ground out.
Collared for the sake of tradition, and scarved in spite of the warm weather, we find our seats in the Western Stand. People peer at as us like we’re animals in a zoo.
If Adelaide still feels a bit like home, Adelaide Oval feels a lot like Mars.
It’s a relief when the umpires emerge, dressed bizarrely in a combination of fluorescent yellow and leafy green. Camouflage and anti-camouflage. Confusing. The Richmond entrance is met by reverberating boos, which are almost as loud as the cheers for the home side.
Finally, silence descends and the ball is bounced. Walker sparks a melee in the pocket with a crunching tackle. Cotchin responds, involving himself in everything.
Shane Edwards opens the scoring with a left-foot dribbler from an acute angle. His sublime finish is signalled as a goal by the total absence of noise. I can hear the clap of my hands echoing, again and again.
Rance is admonished every time he touches his opponent. One supporter goes so far as to call him a “cheat”.
‘Check his pockets for sandpaper, umpire!’
Cheat or not, Jenkins is towelling him up. The big Crow misses his first shot, bringing out loud groans from the faithful, but kicks one a moment later.
We look vulnerable under the high-ball. Conca and Corey Ellis are fumbly. The Crows, on the other hand, look considered and methodical with ball in hand, and slightly more poised when it’s in the air.
After an even opening term, the lead balloons out to 20-point early in the second. We have to steady, and we do. Matt Crouch has pinged a hammy, and as the news slowly filters through the stadium.
Caddy, Townsend and Dusty bring us back to near-equilibrium. When new Crow Fogarty whacks Caddy late, turning a difficult shot into a certain goal, we’re down by just a point.
Three moments, shared between Walker and Jenkins, swing the game in favour of the Crows. First off, the skipper beats Astbury, pushing him off with one hand and marking with the other. He goals. Jenkins beats Rance and does the same. And finally, Walker gathers the crumbs off a huge pack, dodges, weaves, and snaps on his left over the desperate smother attempts of diving Tigers. The kick is supremely difficult to execute, but it’s perfect.
Butler has a chance to cut the margin, but misses. One Crows supporter has seen enough, and asks for the siren to be blown. Right on cue, it blows. The sum of the footy adds up to a two-goal lead for the home side.
The third quarter is our best of the night, but also the most frustrating. As both sides visibly tire, Rance finally starts to intercept and drive off half-back. We improve in the air, which helps us win more on the ground. But when the chances come, we don’t capitalise.
Riewoldt kicks a behind, and shanks one out on the full. Edwards and Bolton do the same. Dusty continues to do Dusty things, but 1.5 for the quarter is ugly. At the other end, the Crows kick truly. In a cruel twist, they’re unpicking us in part because of a slow, methodical kicking game, you know, the one we used to play.
Down by 22 at the final change, we’re just a rough chance, but only if we can string it all together. We’ve just been that one step off the pace, though the contest has been befitting of one between two sides from the upper echelons of the ladder.
The telling moment that begins the last is a dropped mark from Betts in the pocket. The turnover slingshots down towards the Richmond goal, towards the very position Dusty has been dispatched into. One out in the pocket, he’s just too strong. His snap is never missing.
Our clearance is followed by a goal line scuffle. A rushed Adelaide handball is knocked down. Dusty! YEEESSS! The big man has five. He’s going to win us the game off his own boot. Or not.
This game can be aptly summarised by the side of David Astbury’s right shoe.
On his defensive fifty, the tall defender sees an option across the ground, the sort that will open the whole fat side up and possibly end in a goal.
He shanks his kick terribly and it goes sideways. When it plops down atop the fifty-metre arc, Taylor Walker is in poll position. He gathers, dodges the traffic, and fires a long drop punt on his right foot. It bounces through. Ouch.
If Walker’s got us walking the plank, it’s Sloane that nudges us off. A free-kick for out on the full leaves the blonde midfielder with a drop punt from the pocket to end proceedings. Though the pockets at Adelaide Oval are shallow, it’s still a tough kick. Sloane is never missing. A chant of “Rorrrrrry” reverberates around the oval. Jenkins kicks his fifth a moment later to finish the job.
The icing on the cake for Adelaide is a gang tackling effort on Dusty. The fend-off is tried, but fails, and three Crows drive the Brownlow Medallist into the turf.
“Ball!” — :whistle: — (Cue rapturous applause…)
For the Richmond faithful, as the umpire crosses his arms and uncrosses them again for the sake of theatre, you can only avert your eyes, remind yourself it’s round two, and gently proclaim…
“It’s just not been our night.”