It’s a match that means more than any of us will truly understand. Showdowns have always felt bigger than life itself over here in the City of Churches, and this time around was no different. Port Adelaide have had their battles against top eight teams, but have well and truly bullied those teams in the bottom ten. Adelaide meanwhile, have been giant killers at various points of the season, with victories over both Geelong and Melbourne, but have struggled as the season has gone on, and now find themselves right in the hunt for the number 1 draft pick. So what happened this time around? Would Port do another number on a lesser team? Would the Crows kill another giant and square the Showdown ledger? Here’s what happened in Showdown 50.

 

THE BACK STORY

The biggest question surrounding Port Adelaide all season has been their inability to beat anyone around them on the ladder. Sure, they’ve only lost five games, but those games have been against the Bulldogs, Geelong, Melbourne, Brisbane and the Eagles. On the other side of the ledger, the only finals bound team that has tasted defeat against the Power are the Swans, and every time they come up against a top four team the question will continue to linger until Port grows some balls and takes care of business when it matters most. The Power are starting to get all their first choice players back, and if they can continue on this trajectory, a top four berth could be theirs.

Over at West Lakes, it has been one hell of a week. Adelaide started with season with so much promise, but as with any young outfit, the wheels have started to wobble. But that’s not what everyone has been talking about for the last seven days. I’ll only touch on it briefly, but Taylor Walker certainly didn’t win over anyone in the indigenous community from his comments in the quarter time huddle of Adelaide’s SANFL game. It will take a long time for Walker to win back the trust of his teammates and the wider community, and his six game suspension and $20,000 donation to an Aboriginal Torres Strait Island charity is only the beginning of the long road back.

 

THE GAME

Right from the first bounce, it was clear the Crows had come to play. Determined to put a disappointing week behind them, Adelaide’s young players refused to be overawed by the occasion, and took it right up to their more experienced opponents. Led magnificently by the likes of Sloane, Laird and Lynch, the Crows brought ample pressure to the contest, and in doing so, denied Port any space to move the ball with precision. As with most recent Showdowns, immense pressure from both sides meant that scoring was at a premium, and when Zak Butters nailed the first goal 10 minutes into the game, Adelaide answered straight back through Elliott Himmelberg.

It became clear that there were two contrasting styles on show, with Port Adelaide trying to play too cute, and not showing their less experienced opponents enough respect. Adelaide, on other hand, knew coming into the game that they couldn’t match the skills of the Power, and turned up the pressure, which meant Port’s cute football couldn’t get going. For all Adelaide’s forward entries, they had no answer for Aliir Aliir, who consistently came off his direct opponent to cut off an Adelaide forward thrust. By the time the siren had sounded to end the first quarter, neither side had reached double figures, although the Crows were ahead by the smallest of margins.

Port came out of the huddle breathing fire, and matched Adelaide’s pressure in the second term. However, the Crows also came out determined to keep putting the Power under duress, and deny their ball users space to do their damage. Darcy Fogarty was sent to Aliir to keep the Power defender occupied, and Adelaide found their forays forward a lot easier to manage. The Crows identified that Port’s midfield was its key, and set about getting on top in the middle, a task they soon accomplished.

Scoreboard pressure was the highlight of the second quarter for the Crows, as Darcy Fogarty got them going early in the term, and as time on came, Port had not yet answered back. All over the ground, the Crows got on top of their opponents, and they were rewarded in red time, with two goals to Ned McHenry to pile the pressure back onto the Power. When both sides were heading off the ground for half time, Adelaide was 19 points ahead of their cross-town rivals, Port had only managed the solitary goal for the half, and an upset looked well and truly on the cards.

Port once again came out the stronger side after the break, only this time their hard work was rewarded. Two minutes in, and Mitch Georgiades had his first goal of the game, and it was clear the tide was beginning to turn. Port were peppering the goals, but could only manage three behinds, before Ben Keays nailed a settler, to give the Crows some breathing space back. This was a much more fruitful quarter from a scoring perspective, as both sides took the game on far more than they had in the opening half.

A goal to Ollie Wines brought the margin back to 10 points, before David Mackay produced some magic with undoubtedly the goal of the game, swinging around his body and curling the ball across the goal face and through the big sticks. Adelaide were answering every challenge Port were throwing at them, but the Power were starting to find a lot more avenues to score, and the Crows needed to keep getting goals at the other end. Very late in the quarter, and play needed to be stopped after Brodie Smith’s head cannoned into Scott Lycett’s knee, leaving the Crow worse for wear. A Riley Thilthorpe behind on the three quarter time siren put the margin back to 10 points, but the Crows were now a player down, with Smith quickly subbed out under concussion protocols.

Orazio Fantasia got the Power going just seconds into the final term, but his goal went unnoticed, due to another nasty incident involving a Crows player. Nick Murray, in trying to defend the incoming ball, crashed into teammate Will Hamill, knocking him clear into the middle of next year. Murray was ok, but Hamill was clearly not, and needed a stretcher to get him off the ground. With Ben Davis already activated for Brodie Smith, Adelaide would now be down to three on the bench for the remainder of the game.

With the game in the balance, and this being a Showdown, both teams rose to the occasion and went hell for leather to secure the four points and bragging rights. It was a tight, pressure filled quarter that went from end to end, but after 20 minutes of play, only Ollie Wines had added any score to Fantasia’s goal. This would be a long quarter due to the injury delay, and Sam Powell-Pepper finally put the Power in front at the 22 minute mark. Adelaide were desperate for a goal, but they conceded another, this time to Charlie Dixon, and it felt as though the Crows were nearly out of legs. Needing two goals in the final few minutes, Tom Lynch kicked truly with three minutes on the clock. As you would expect from a game like this, both sides refused to give an inch in the dying stages, and the Power managed to hold out their rivals, recording a four point win for the ages, taking the ledger to 26-24.

 

THE PLAYERS OF THE MATCH

How do you judge this match?

When making my list of players worthy of this section, I came up with more from the losers than I could the victors. Let’s start with the Crows, and I was most impressed with their younger brigade. Harry Schoenberg was Adelaide’s best player, and showed that if they miss out on Jason Horne at the draft, they already have an uber talented midfielder ready to step into the shoes of the elder statesmen. Schoenberg was excellent in the trenches, gathering 31 disposals, six clearances and three inside 50’s. Schoenberg, along with Rory Laird, who gathered 31 disposals and eight tackles of his own, won the midfield battle over their more credentialed opponents and went a long way in securing victory for the Crows. Forward of the ball, and Tom Lynch was excellent, stepping up to cover the absence of Taylor Walker. Lynch was in his familiar role as a high half forward, and provided the perfect link between defence and attack, finishing with 22 disposals, six marks, six score involvements and three inside 50’s.

In defence, and it was more excellence from the younger cohort. Jordan Butts was magnificent opposed to Charlie Dixon, taking Port’s leading goal kicker completely out of the game. Not only did Butt restrict Dixon to just seven possessions and one goal, but Butts also did well going the other way, finishing with 16 disposals, four marks and three defensive rebounds. Chayce Jones was also excellent, and like Butts, did the job both defensively and offensively. Jones was opposed to Robbie Gray, and Jones was the clear winner in the one on one battle. In his new, career saving role as a half back flanker, Jones not only kept five-time Showdown medallist Gray quiet, but also rebounded superbly (save for the last kick of the game), and finished with 19 disposals (at an excellent 89% efficiency), five tackles, four defensive rebounds and four marks.

For the victors, Port Adelaide had more than a few players that had their moments of brilliance, but also didn’t have as many that stood up consistently all game. Travis Boak was his usual midfield maestro, running himself into the ground. Boak finished with 27 disposals, 15 contested possessions, five inside 50’s and four clearances. Port’s midfield was beaten for the majority of the night by Adelaide’s army, but Boak (and Wines, although he wasn’t as damaging with ball in hand) was one of the main reasons the Power slowly got on top in the middle of the ground.

Right from the get go, Port’s trump card was its defence, and most of its main contributors set up the victory. We’ll start with Miles Bergman, a player who somehow is still yet to receive a rising star nomination. That could all change after this week, however, as Bergman was excellent across the half back line, finishing with 23 disposals, 11 contested possessions, four marks, four inside 50’s and four clearances. Ryan Burton was also wonderful, gathering 26 disposals (11 contested), 10 marks and nine defensive rebounds. Burton was unopposed for most of the night, and in the second half when Port were making its charge, Adelaide needed to match someone onto Burton to stifle his influence in the back half.

But the star of the show was undoubtedly Aliir Aliir. Adelaide has no answer for Aliir, who was simply magnificent all night long. Aliir was an intercepting machine, and was always in the right place to take the defensive mark. Aliir finished with 21 disposals, including 17 kicks, 11 marks (five contested), and six defensive rebounds. There was really no other player worthy of the Showdown Medal, and Aliir is clearly the missing link Port needs to win the premiership.

 

THE NERVOUS MEN

This was a tough match to grade from a negative perspective. Adelaide’s young charges gave everything they had, and matched it with a top four team all night long, only falling four points short in a game they very well could’ve won. It was therefore extremely tough to grade anyone from the Crows poorly, but that what I’m employed to do, so here goes.

I’ve only selected five players, and two didn’t play out the full game. Riley Thilthorpe was the man charged with keeping Aliir occupied, and it became clear early that the young Crow wasn’t up to the task. Thilthorpe doesn’t yet have the strength to go with Aliir, and halfway through the second quarter, Matthew Nicks made the change to save face. Thilthorpe only touched the ball six times, took just one mark, and went goalless. Without Taylor Walker, Elliott Himmelberg also struggled to get into the game, and while he did manage 12 disposals, Himmelberg lacked the presence a key forward needs, and Trent McKenzie played him out of the game. Himmelberg failed to take a mark all game, and only kicked one goal. Another forward who didn’t have it all his way was Lachlan Murphy, who should’ve benefitted from the crumbing ball. Murphy only registered nine disposals for the match, but didn’t bring either aspect of a small forward’s game that is so desperately required; goal-kicking, and forward pressure. Murphy failed to trouble the scorers, and only laid one tackle for the game.

The other two Crows players I need to mention are Will Hamill and Brodie Smith. Hamill is only a young player still learning the craft, but he only managed six touches in the first three quarters before being concussed. We don’t like to shoot down a player still learning the ins and outs of AFL football, but perhaps a spell back in the SANFL would do Hamill a world of good. Then there’s Brodie Smith. Like Hamill, Smith didn’t play out the whole game. But remember, he was concussed just before three quarter time, and before that, Smith had only touched the ball four times. For a player of his standing, that is completely unacceptable, and Smith himself would be fully aware this wasn’t one of his best efforts.

For the victorious Port Adelaide, it seems almost inconceivable that for a top four team that had to work so hard to secure victory against a team ranked 16th, I found it surprisingly difficult to find many players deserving of this entry. Karl Amon didn’t have his usual impact, well beaten by Paul Seedsman, Robbie Gray only had patches of good play, but that’s expected of a 33 year old coming back from injury, Orazio Fantasia came in and out of the game, but his pressure in the forward line was always very good, and Sam Powell-Pepper was a bull at the stoppages, but could only manage 14 disposals.

The two players most disappointing from a Power perspective were Charlie Dixon and Darcy Byrne-Jones. Dixon had a first year defender as his direct opponent, but Jordan Butts was excellent, Dixon was barely sighted for most of the contest. It seemed unfair when Dixon kicked his first and only goal of the game, as Butts deserved to go goalless. This is consistent of Dixon, who either dominates and bullies his opponents, or is ineffective. There needs to be a middle ground. Key forwards won’t have the luxury of dominating every time they step onto the field, but Dixon at least needs to make himself more of a presence.

Now we come to Darcy Byrne-Jones, a player who looks a shell of the man who won the John Cahill Medal just last year. The usual assuredness that Byrne-Jones plays with has completely deserted him, and he is completely devoid of confidence when he has ball in hand. Sure he managed 18 disposals and had moments of fortune, but whenever he had ball in hand, he fumbled, didn’t give a handball when he should’ve, and was worn down by Adelaide’s midfielders. I think now it might be best to give Byrne-Jones a spell at the lower level, just to get his confidence back to the level it once was.

 

Coming into this game, Adelaide were the biggest outsiders of the round. With all the negative press surrounding them, Taylor Walker on the sidelines, almost everyone expected this young team to be flattened by the resurgent Power. But this is a Showdown, and Adelaide produced an excellent display of pressure, taking it up to another top four team, only this time the result didn’t go their way. Port Adelaide did what they needed to do, and were made to work a lot harder for it than anyone associated with them would’ve liked, but in securing the four points, and with Sydney falling to the Saints, Port has one hand on a top four berth.

Adelaide showed enough to suggest they will be a force once they get some experience under the belts, but Port showed that they can stand up to pressure, and have the composure to win when not at their best. It was about as good as either fan-base could’ve hoped for. And that’s all you can expect, from a Showdown.

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