Ah, the Showdown. From a pure football perspective, is there anything better?

We’ve been treated to some recent classics, but tonight one of the teams failed to deliver us the effort we expect from the most hostile rivalry in the competition. In a game that 2,000 lucky fans got to witness, Port Adelaide steamrolled their cross town rivals, reminding the rest of the AFL that they are a force to be reckoned with, in a 75-point annihilation of Adelaide.

It was an insipid display from Matthew Nicks’ men, and showed that since the 2017 Grand Final, this club has completely fallen apart, both on and off the field. So where to now for the Crows? Are Port Adelaide the biggest threat to the competition’s heavyweights?

Here are the main talking points from Showdown 48.

 

THE TALKING POINTS

 

IS THIS THE FLAG SLEEPER?

Time and time again in the last two seasons, Port Adelaide has been equal parts brilliant and mediocre. One week they’d look like world beaters, the next it’d be 2011 all over again. Will the real Port Adelaide please stand up; they’d say! Now, I know the detractors will point to the opponents the Power have faced, and tell everyone that this group from Alberton is yet to beat anyone of any great power; pun obviously intended.

But this feels different.

This feels like the start of something very special for Ken Hinkley’s men. After doing enough to get past the restarting Suns, and remaining on top of the table for 10 weeks while the season was halted, Port came into the Showdown with pressure on their shoulders to prove that they could finally deliver on so much potential. We all know that these Showdowns are always tight, spiteful contests, and ladder position of so often irrelevant, but tonight it was status quo, and then some.

The Crows started well, and kicked the first two goals in a hurry. Then the switch flicked, the tide turned, and the Power put their foot firmly on Adelaide’s throat, not letting up even for a split second. From midway through the first term, it was all Port Adelaide, with damning numbers suggesting Matthew Nicks’ young charges barely gave a yelp.

Yes, Port played with a fire and venom that their supporters haven’t seen on a regular basis for quite some time. But this level of bruise free fury is easy to accomplish when the team you are facing becomes a set of traffic cones so quickly. At quarter time, the inside 50 count was 13 apiece. By the end, it was 57-30 Port Adelaide’s way. Ahead slightly in some stats (plus eight in clearances, 10 in hit outs), and absolutely dominating in others (363 disposals to 259, and ahead 105 to 39 in marks), the Power were also much more furious in their hunt for body contact, with Port hitting 16 more tackles despite clearly finding more of the ball.

This team seems to have no obvious weakness, and is growing in stature and confidence in every facet on the field. Their young core has given Port Adelaide a spark, and with Wines to return, and experience like Watts, Mayes and Sutcliffe ready to step in and play a role when needed, this might just be the year that everything clicks. If they can emerge from their hub still near the top four, Ken Hinkley and his team have a real chance to deliver the club a piece of silverware that, on potential, they should’ve won a lot more often than they have.

 

GIVE NICKS TIME

This is going to be a long haul for everyone at West Lakes. The scars of 2017 run deep, and it’s clear now that Matthew Nicks has a massive job on his hands to resurrect a club that has completely fallen to bits. Having lost so much experience from the 2017 decider, this Crows outfit is now officially in perhaps their first full rebuilding phase. Yes, tonight’s numbers were damning, and a far cry from what this great club once produced.

But in reality, Nicks needs to keep persisting with his young players, and even move on some more of the old guard to give his side another injection of youth. Fischer McAsey should now take priority over Kyle Hartigan, Darcy Fogarty needs to step into the “big chested warrior” position once held by Tex Walker, and their midfield needs to be rejigged to give it an element of speed and vibrancy.

Players like Gibbs, Mackay and Hartigan are fully on the way out, and it may be in the Crows best interest to get active at the trade table, not just for players looking to leave, but perhaps those with significant value on the open market. Their big three midfielders, Sloane and the Crouch brothers, look like the same type of player, and when the middle of the ground, the place where everything gets going, looks so one dimensional and easy to shut down, changes need to be made quickly. But it still needs time to fully develop.

Matthew Nicks still needs to be fully trusted with the task of fixing this club. He won’t allow prolonged years of mediocrity. But in the short term, there will be more pain. It isn’t going anywhere right now. But hopefully, with more list changes still to come, a new era can begin to grow at West Lakes.

 

THE KIDS ARE ALRIGHT

Let’s talk a little more about the rag-tag bunch of kids. Specifically, the three selections in the 2018 NAB draft; Connor Rozee, Zac Butters and Xavier Duursma.

This is the new generation, and this trio in particular are quickly ushering in an enthusiasm, confidence and abundance of talent that will have Port Adelaide fans salivating for many years. Rozee was terrific early – his eight clearances a game high. Duursma was prominent all game, his efforts netting him a nice a new TV courtesy of Cameron Ling and Channel 7, but it was Butters who was the standout of the three, his consistent brilliance all game coming very close to earning him the Showdown Medal.

All three of these young guns’ ooze talent out of every pore, and if Port can keep them together, they have the capabilities, both on and off the field, to lead the Power into the next phase of its history, hopefully netting a few flags along the way.

 

REAL CROWD NOISE; IT’S A THING OF BEAUTY

Round One was odd to watch wasn’t it! No noise from the stands, no atmosphere, and it felt like watching a practice match. Part of that had to do with the uncertainty surrounding the AFL and indeed the globe, but putting that aside, it became blindingly obvious just how important crowd noise is to the spectacle.

Fast forward to Round Two, and broadcasters decide that with crowds still not allowed to sit in the stands, they will pump in some “fake noise” to make the game easier to watch. I for one, was sceptical, but watching the Thursday and Friday night games was so much more enjoyable with at least some noise. Yes, there were parts that were laughably fake, but it was better than no noise at all.

But here in South Australia, rejoice!! Having done so well in eradicating COVID-19, 2,000 lucky fans were given access to Showdown 48. I wondered if such a small number would be enough to produce enough sound that the fake noise wasn’t necessary. I must eat my words, because from the pre-game Never Tear Us Apart, to the final singing of the song, the lucky fans in attendance provided the Showdown with a beautiful background soundtrack unlike anything we’ve heard this year.

Cries of “BALLLLLLL” were clear as day, the cheering was consistent and loud, and more importantly, there were boos, which we encourage to a certain level, and is only made the whole spectacle so much more authentic. We’re heading in the right direction, and the fake noise certainly helps, but tonight showed that more than ever, the sooner we can get patrons back through the turnstiles, the better the product will be.

 

THE PLAYERS OF THE MATCH

It was such a masterclass from the Power that so many players put their hands up for the title of best player. Starting from the back, and there honestly wasn’t a lot for the defenders to do, such was the dominance further afield. Two players in particular deserve praise for their efforts, that being the ever reliable Tom Clurey and dashing runner Darcy Byrne-Jones. Clurey was a beast both in the air and by foot, and every time the ball came in long, there was Clurey to cut off a Crow forward thrust. Byrne-Jones on the other hand was the team’s resident attacking threat from the back half, his 25 disposals a team high, and an efficiency of 84% was telling in the manner that Port were able to attack.

In the middle, it was a dual for the ages between Scott Lycett and Riley O’Brien. O’Brien was clearly his teams’ best, but it was in part due to his defensive running, and while his aerial work on the last line of defence was brilliant, perhaps if those around him had stood up, this wouldn’t have been necessary. Of the two big men, Lycett was better in the middle, and his work gave the midfielders underneath him ample opportunity at first use. Given, as we’ve said before, that the Crows midfield brigade is too one dimensional, Hinkley was able to rotate so many different options through the guts, and Adelaide had no answer.

Zac Butters was best afield, and while he was narrowly pipped at the post for the Showdown Medal, his 21 disposals, seven marks and eight tackles showed the AFL world that he should never be overlooked in the conversation surrounding the 2018 draftees. Connor Rozee was particularly strong in an area of the ground he hasn’t been asked to venture, his eight clearances obliterating his previous best of two.

Elsewhere, Travis Boak was his usual influential self, Steven Motlop ran amok up and down the wing, and gave the crowd a highlight with a flying mark, and Tom Rockliff just kept on keeping on. All three of these players registered 24 touches, each of them bringing something different in their disposal.

Up forward, and it was clear that the sheer weight of ball was going to give Adelaide’s defence issues all night long. Charlie Dixon didn’t have his best night, but he still managed three goals, and his strength to get the ball to ground so the mosquito fleet could mop up will please Ken Hinkley. Justin Westhoff bobbed up with three goals and ran up the ground to give the defence a tall target to kick to, but Port Adelaide’s best forward was without a doubt Xavier Duursma, who played with his usual youthful enthusiasm for the game, a trait that he should hang onto for the good of the game. He also kicked three goals, and was a constant threat that Adelaide could never contain.

You’ll see I haven’t spoken about many Adelaide players, because other than O’Brien, it was difficult to find any Crow that beat his opponent one-on-one. So many of them were downright second rate in both their effort and execution, and they will rightfully be sweating come selection night, which brings us to the next point.

 

THE NERVOUS MEN

We all know where this is going. Far too many players from the Crows had poor showings, and they deserve to feel nervous about losing their place. Again starting from the back, and Fischer McAsey still looks a little out of depth, but should be persisted with for now, and Luke Brown and Tom Doedee had to fill the hole that and injured Jake Kelly left. Opposed to Gray and Duursma, Brown and Doedee barely survived, and while Gray wasn’t his usual dominant self, it was still clear that Adelaide’s defence had no answer for the Port steam train.

In a midfield that lacks both the flair and size to trouble the good sides, only the two Crouch boys can hold their heads high. The list could go on forever of the players that Nicks rotated through the middle only to be cast aside when it didn’t go as planned. Rory Atkins, Paul Seedsman, Chayce Jones, Ben Keays, Wayne Milera and Brodie Smith all floated through the middle or on a wing, and that group has more than enough experience to put forth a better effort than they gave. Too much was left to too few, and when Rory Sloane sustained a corked thigh, the avalanche only got worse.

Venturing forward, and it was unfortunately a repeat of past performances. Taylor Walker is a shell of his former self, with the unburdening of the captaincy doing nothing to get the big Texan back to his best. Now you could mount a case that as a key forward, if the ball isn’t getting there then Walker is hamstrung to have any noticeable impact. This is somewhat true, but Walker used to get on his bike, venture up the ground and throw his weight around to get himself going. This element of his game is completely gone, and I wonder whether it will ever return.

When the ball went to ground in Adelaide’s forward line, there was just no pressure to keep the ball locked in. Players like Lachlan Murphy and Ben Crocker are employed to be the tackling machines, but at no stage did it feel like they were going to get their hands dirty to keep the ball inside 50. The forward group of Murphy, Crocker, Walker, Ned McHenry and Darcy Fogarty only laid a measly eight tackles between them, which in anyone’s book is a condemning statistic that Nicks will be most embarrassed by.

 

It was Port Adelaide’s biggest winning margin in a Showdown. It was also Adelaide’s lowest total score ever recorded in South Australia. A game that highlighted just how big the gap has grown between the two teams. The Crows are still battling their mental demons, and have more years of pain to come, but the Power are surging, and with the pressure lifted off Ken Hinkley’s shoulders, this group finally appears ready to deliver on so much potential. Matthew Nicks has problems, and they will take time to fix, and Ken Hinkley will now need to keep a lid on growing expectations, both internal and external, of the immanency of their next wave of success. But for now, footy’s back, the crowds are starting to return, and it seems like the dark cloud of COVID-19 is slowly but surely appearing behind us.