Showdown 49. It’s football’s biggest rivalry. The ledger is all square at 24 apiece. We’ve been treated to some recent classics, but we all knew in our hearts that this wasn’t to be one of them. Two teams at the complete opposite of the premiership spectrum – Port Adelaide were more concerned with what they’d be wearing than their opponents. With both teams coming off their worst loss of the season, this promised to be a fierce contest, and it delivered… for a half.

Then the experienced Power took control, winning Showdown 49 by 49 points. Here’s how it happened.

 

THE BACK STORY

Things are looking very nice at Alberton. Port Adelaide starting the season as one of the favourites to claim their second premiership, having gone to the trade period seeking, and landing, the last pieces of the puzzle, key defender Aliir Aliir and goalsneak Orazio Fantasia. The Power’s five wins thus far have been ultra-impressive, but cracks have been exposed at times. Port’s injury list is longer than they’d like, and with Butters and Duursma on the sidelines, a certain spark is missing. Adding to the cracks is Port’s ability to beat quality opposition away from home, evidenced by their two heavy defeats at the hands of West Coast and Brisbane.

Meanwhile, over at West Lakes, Matthew Nicks’ second season in charge of the Crows got off to the perfect start. After Round Four, Adelaide were 3-1, led by a resurgent Taylor Walker. However, since then, the Crows have fallen off their perch, and came into the Showdown on the back of three consecutive losses, the worst of which being their last outing, a 67 point humiliation at home to the Giants. Missing Talia for the whole season to date, and Sloane for an extended period has also hurt the Crows, with young players needing to step up before they’re 100% ready.

 

THE GAME

How else would a Showdown typically start? Right from the word go, the key factor in the contest was pressure. After eight minutes, the score was dead set even, with goals to Charlie Dixon and James Rowe. What came next was 15 minutes of back and forth, pressure filled football, and neither side could manufacture a score. Port looked the better side going forward, and Adelaide’s defence held together strongly. At the other end, the Crows continually drove the ball long, and Tom Clurey and Aliir Aliir had no trouble cutting off forward entries.

Time on came, and still no score, until the 24-minute mark, when Fantasia finally got on the scoresheet, albeit just a behind. Just before quarter time, Port were rewarded for their hard work, with Dixon nailing his second goal on the trot, and Port went into quarter time with a well-earned ten-point break. There was trouble for both sides in the first quarter, with Ned McHenry subbed out of the game under concussion rules after a Scott Lycett sling tackle. It was clear that McHenry didn’t even know his own name when he got to his feet, and Lycett is very likely to spend the next couple of weeks on the sidelines. More issues for the Crows on the injury front, with Lachlan Murphy sustaining an ankle injury, leaving Adelaide two short for the rest of the game.

The second was a continuation of the first, with both sides bringing intense pressure. Watching on, it is clear that Nicks knows that his team won’t win a skills-based contest, and needs to rely on pressure to keep them in the game. Two minutes into the quarter, Sam Berry kicked his eighth behind of the season (he has only kicked one goal all year), and Port took full advantage at the other end, with two goals to Marshall and Drew. The ball lived inside Port Adelaide’s half for most of the quarter, even though Adelaide won the inside 50 stat. The difference is that the Power kept the ball at their end with fierce pressure, and every time the Crows went forward, Aliir and Clurey once again cut off momentum and drove the Power back their way.

Led by their senior players, Port made sure Adelaide got no easy ball in their forward line, and every shot they had was either a rushed kick, or from a tight angle. Port’s two goals were enough to extend their margin out to a handy 20 points, and they held the Crows to just four behinds for the quarter. Despite only kicking one goal for the quarter, Adelaide were far from out of the game, as they managed to hold the Power to four goals in the same period. Port had another gear to go, but the Crows were hanging on for all they had.

The Crows came out after half time determined to not only keep themselves in the game, but prove they could hang with, and overrun, a premiership contender? Through their prized draft pick Riley Thilthorpe, Adelaide got the first goal of the quarter, pulling the margin back under three goals. The Crows dominated the inside 50 count, leading 12-5 halfway through the quarter, but couldn’t penetrate the scoreboard and put any pressure on the Power. Goals to Fogarty and Marshall held the margin to 15 points, until some poor defending up the ground left Jake Kelly vulnerable on Mitch Georgiades. Kicking two goals in three minutes, Georgiades pushed the margin out to 27 points, and seemingly now out of Adelaide’s reach.

Thilthorpe’s second goal of the game came soon after, and with Dan Houston sustaining a shoulder injury at the hands of Darcy Fogarty in a fair bump, Adelaide just held onto hope that if they could get another one back before three-quarter time, the game could be there for the taking. Port’s army of vicious on-ballers ensured it wasn’t to be, controlling the clearances so that Adelaide couldn’t get another look at it. Todd Marshall kicked his second, and right on the siren, Kane Farrell landed the fatal blow from outside 50. Port had kicked four of the last five goals, taking the margin beyond the Crows reach at a commanding 35 points.

Two down on the bench, and with little hope of securing a victory, Adelaide went into their shells in the final quarter, and Port did what it needed to do to keep the margin healthy. Wanting to prove that last week was simply an outlier, Port kept their foot on the gas, and if anything, lifted their pressure to a level the Crows couldn’t handle. For the first 12 minutes, Port didn’t do any more damage to the scoreboard, and Adelaide needed to at least keep the quarter level. Even though they got the first goal of the quarter through Rory Sloane, Adelaide had run out of gas.

Two minutes later, Orazio Fantasia finally kicked his first goal of the game, and right as time on ticked over, Connor Rozee joined the party. With the margin now at seven goals, the Power officially put the cue in the rack. It was very obvious that both teams were now simply going through the motions, knowing the result was beyond doubt. Skill errors became the norm, and anything that happened now won’t mean too much to both coaching groups. Having said that, Port will be praised for their consistency in applying pressure, and still trying to do more damage on the scoreboard.

When the siren sounded, Port had fittingly won Showdown 49 by 49 points, taking the lead in the ledger 25-24.

 

THE PLAYERS OF THE MATCH

Where do we start? This was about as complete a team performance as it’s possible to conceive, and honestly, and Port player not mentioned here would be entitled to feel slighted. I can’t name everyone and usually I’d go position by position, but even that seems unfair given how broadly the contributions came from.

Let’s start where it all matters, in the middle. Scott Lycett took Reilly O’Brien to the cleaners, running all over the ground and dominating in the ruck duel. Whilst fairly even in the hitouts, it was around the ground that Lycett shone, gathering 18 disposals, five score involvements, six tackles and three each in inside 50’s and defensive rebounds. However, Lycett will be spending some time on the sidelines for a dangerous sling tackle on Ned McHenry that will rightfully come under scrutiny.

Underneath Lycett, three men in particular were excellent and deserve praise. One of those will be mentioned later, but we’ll start with two young guns, Connor Rozee and Karl Amon. Playing in the middle of the ground proved a good move for Rozee, who had his best performance of the year. Finishing with 23 disposals, Rozee was everywhere exactly when he was needed, with seven score involvements, six tackles, four clearances, and five inside 50’s. On the wing, Karl Amon continued to show why he’s one of Port’s most important players, finishing with 27 disposals, six marks, six tackles, and 547 metres gained.

In defence, Port were too strong all night, and it was led by their two key men, Aliir Aliir and Tom Clurey. For every forward entry the Crows were able to generate, it was just as quickly cut off by Port’s pillars. By midway through the second quarter, Aliir and Clurey had worked out Adelaide’s “kick long” game plan, and set themselves accordingly. Both Aliir and Clurey were excellent interceptors, but they were also just as good as keeping their direct opponents quiet. Along with skipper Tom Jonas, Aliir and Clurey took Taylor Walker and Elliott Himmelberg completely out of the game, with neither Crows forward ever being a threat in front of goal.

Venturing forward, although they didn’t have it all their own way, Port’s array of forward options proved too much for Adelaide’s young defenders. No Power forward truly dominated, but each had various moments of brilliance. Charlie Dixon was a constant presence, and if he didn’t mark the ball, made sure it came to ground. Todd Marshall kicked a game-high three goals, and Mitch Georgiades benefitted from pressure further afield to get Jake Kelly in two winning one-on-ones to put the nail in the coffin in the third quarter.

But the best afield was undoubtedly Travis Boak, who claimed his third Showdown Medal in an astonishing display. Utilising Lycett’s strong presence in the ruck, Boak was a beast in the middle, and like Rozee, was everywhere the Power needed him.  Like a fine bottle of Penfolds Grange, Boak is still getting better with age, and tonight was no different. Gathering 28 disposals (10 contested), seven score involvements and six clearances, Boak was a worthy winner, and now sits second on the tally (behind Robbie Gray’s five) for Showdown Medals.

For the Crows, although too much was left to too few, there are certainly some that will walk off the ground knowing they did all they could. Ben Keays is having an outstanding season and it continued tonight, with 20 disposals and eight tackles. Lachie Sholl also worked his way into the game, running up and down the wing to collect 21 disposals and five inside 50’s. Paul Seedsman was also excellent on the wing, gathering 29 disposals, nine inside 50’s and six score involvements. However, his disposal efficiency was only 42%, and he had seven clangers. But Adelaide’s best player by a fair margin was Rory Laird. Gathering 36 disposals, Laird was a beast in the midfield, and a staggering 21 of Laird’s possessions were contested. Laird also had six clearances, six score involvements and five tackles, in a complete four-quarter effort.

 

THE NERVOUS MEN

This was a complete performance for the Power, and every player who touched the ball played their role brilliantly. Only one player wearing teal will be doing more work on the training track this week, and that’s Orazio Fantasia. Everything else in his game was excellent tonight, but Fantasia couldn’t kick a goal to save himself. Earning a consolation goal in the last quarter, Fantasia missed the big target on five occasions. No doubt this would’ve been punished at the other end, and Fantasia can thank his teammates for helping to wallpaper over a poor performance in front of goal.

For the Crows, we all know they’re a very young side, and will build into something special. It’s one of the things we often struggle with; knowing when to coddle a young player and when to hit them between the eyes. Reilly O’Brien is in his third year as Adelaide’s number one ruckman, and has performed admirably since taking over from Sam Jacobs. Tonight, however, he was soundly beaten all over the ground by Scott Lycett, and although he registered eight tackles, he did next to nothing when the ball was in his hand.

The Crows forward line was also badly beaten, and aside from Riley Thilthorpe, no Crow stood up and made their inside 50s count. Taylor Walker has faded badly since his blistering start, failing to kick a goal and only touching the ball six times. Elliott Himmelberg also didn’t get near it, both men being taken to the cleaners by Clurey and Aliir. With Murphy off the ground, the role of pressure small forward all fell on James Rowe’s shoulders, and the first-year player often struggled. Having Tom Jonas for company, Rowe wasn’t able to spark his team, although he was involved in five of Adelaide’s scores.

 

It was a game that, if you took away the fact that it was a Showdown, turned out exactly the way you’d expect it to. The plucky young side gave the premiership fancy everything they had, and stayed in the game for two and a half quarters. Then the experienced team took control, and squeezed the life out of the young side, eventually cruising to a comfortable victory.

Both Ken Hinkley and Matthew Nicks will be happy with how their respective teams responded after poor performances last week. Hinkley will also be happy to bank another win, knowing this is a long campaign and the four points will be valuable come season’s end. Nicks knows that his team is very much a work in progress, and it will be some time before the fruits of their labour start to fully flourish. As any young team does, the Crows had good patches, but simply couldn’t sustain it for long enough.

Finally, the winning song. I wasn’t going to leave out the symbolic middle finger the Power threw up when they all changed into the famous prison bar guernsey to sing their club song. After being denied the opportunity to wear the prison bars during the game, Port found a loophole, and I’m sure a certain former Collingwood president will use his various media spots to bitch about the final gesture for many days and weeks to come.

I don’t know about you, but I loved it.

 

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