I’m a simple man. I like comedy films, the music of Taylor Swift, hanging out with my mates, and travelling to all sorts of weird and wonderful parts of our world.
And I love the Showdown. There’s just something about it that I can’t quite put my finger on. I have no great affiliation with either side, despite my wife being a Port supporter, and me adding to my Zak Butters shrine every second day, yet I get the greatest joy, not from watching my own team, but two South Australian combatants that have been at war for over 30 years.
It’s no secret the Crows and Power have never liked each other. First, it was Port Adelaide trying to enter the AFL in 1990, only for the new team to sweep the rug out from under them. Then there was the famous Ramsgate incident in 2002. There were Showdown antagonists in Chad Cornes and Mark Ricciuto, and there have more on-field bust-ups than I have time to mention.
Over the past 26 years, this rivalry has grown into the best in the league, and its 54th edition promised to be one of its most important, given the ramifications for both clubs. Could Adelaide keep its faint finals hopes alive? Could the Power right the ship and solidify its position in the top two?
Showdown 54. Here’s what happened.
THE BACK STORY
It’s been a blistering season for Adelaide, but whatever expectations this club had coming into 2023, there will be a sense of failure if September football isn’t on the menu. I’m sure not many pundits had the Crows featuring at the pointy end, but the brand of football engineered by Matthew Nicks moved those expectations forward, and quickly. A few weeks ago, Adelaide was knocking on the door of the top four, but they had stumbled at the wrong time, and now find themselves on the outside looking in, with an enormous mountain to climb in the final weeks of the year.
Over at Alberton, and like their cross-town rivals, many of us had Port Adelaide barely scraping into finals, and missing September altogether seemed the most realistic scenario. Faced with unemployment in 2024, the pressure on Ken Hinkley was astronomical, and yet, despite all of that, he is arguably in the coaching form of his life, leading his side toward a top-two ladder position. On the back of career-best form from his young brigade, Port has been travelling so well this season they can afford the luxury of leaving skipper Tom Jonas out of the starting 22, as well as dropping big names like Ryan Burton, Scott Lycett, and this week Travis Boak, which is to say nothing about the injuries suffered to key personnel along the way.
Every Showdown seems to have an extra layer of spice added to it, and the 54th edition is no different, although ironically, the Crows and Port will be on the same side. Earlier in the week it was revealed that brothers Troy and Shane Bond were intending to sue both clubs, claiming that the iconic image of the brothers embracing after Showdown 2, used on the winner’s trophy and medal, was never given permission by the Bonds to be used in this manner. I won’t comment on the specifics of the lawsuit, but surely the Bond brothers were fine with the attention their famous photo received, given how involved they were when the trophy made its debut in 2018. Nevertheless, this subplot to what is shaping to be a pivotal clash for the ages was certainly an interesting talking point over here in the City of Churches.
Like most Showdowns, it was a hot footy to kick off proceedings. Needing a victory to keep their finals hopes alive, Adelaide channelled their inner Ariarne Titmus and came storming out of the gate. Sure, the scoreboard remained unaffected for the first five minutes, but the Crows were all over their adversaries, and it was only a matter of time before the floodgates opened. A Xavier Duursma and Aliir Aliir fumble gave Adelaide the first blood, and minutes later, it was Ryan Burton that fumbled, giving Taylor Walker another six-pointer. The Crows were dominating around the ball, winning the clearances by a long way, they were well structured behind the ball and had many options forward of the ball that Port couldn’t defend.
Port needed something to drag themselves back into the game, and they got it through Francis Evans with a clever snap from a stoppage. The Power settled, but still couldn’t quite handle the pressure coming the other way. Charlie Dixon benefitted from a Mark Keane error in the contest, and suddenly Port were only a goal down, despite being blown away around the ground. The Crows then took back control, and after Shane McAdam nailed an outside 50 goal after the siren, Adelaide went into quarter-time with a well-deserved 12-point advantage.
The second quarter started exactly the same way as the first, with Adelaide continuing on their merry way. Five minutes in, the margin had ballooned to 20 points, and there was carnage for the Power, with Aliir and Lachie Jones clashing heads in a marking contest, both men looking knocked out before they hit the ground. Moments later, Duursma dragged the margin back under three goals, but Port were now super stretched in defence, and with no answers in the middle.
Remarkably, and possibly recklessly, Aliir was back out on the ground only a few minutes later. Jones stayed on the bench, but no sub was made, and all seemed ok. The Crows had injury concerns of their own, with Jordon Butts going down with a foot complaint, but that wasn’t going to stop the charge. By the end of the half, Adelaide led clearances 23-17, had taken 1o marks inside forward 50 to Port’s 0, led the tackle count by 20, despite gathering more possessions than the Power, and although the inaccuracies that have plagued them all season returned, the Crows took a healthy 29-point lead into the main break.
As the third quarter began, there was confirmation that Butts had sustained a fractured foot, Jones was off with what Port had said was a migraine, and perhaps the two most experienced subs ever named, Rory Sloane and Travis Boak, were in the action.
Port needed something, anything to get them going, and it started in the middle with their trio of wunderkinds. Butters, Rozee and Horne-Francis rolled up their sleeves and got the Power back on track. Francis Evans was lively, Boak had an immediate impact, and with Port beginning to dominate the inside 50 count, they began to claw their way back.
With the margin reduced to 16 points, the Crows needed to settle themselves, and through their 33-year-old spearhead, that’s exactly what they got. Both sides had periods where they had control, but Adelaide had a focal point, and Port couldn’t buy a goal from a tall forward. As the siren sounded to end the premiership quarter, the Texan had kicked his third goal for the quarter, and sixth for the game, and for all the hard work Port had mustered, the Crows had stretched the margin back out to a commanding 28 points.
Just 68 seconds elapsed in the final term, and Walker had nailed a personal Showdown best seventh goal, and it was party time for the home crowd. Or so they thought. Less than a minute later, Port answered straight back through Ollie Wines, and the faintest of candles still flickered. But whatever comeback the Power thought they could generate was quickly destroyed, with Walker gifting Ben Keays his second for the night, Pedlar put through another couple, and the fat lady began warming up her vocals.
The Power had generated more inside 50s, but just couldn’t put any scoreboard pressure on the Crows. Evans kicked his fourth, but that was the final highlight of the night for the men in teal. Super subs Sloane and Boak were involved in comedy at the other end, with Sloane taking the worst screamer ever seen in football and putting the final nail in the Port Adelaide coffin. As Showdown 54 came to a close, Adelaide had squared the ledger at 27 apiece, to the tune of 47 points.
THE KEY PLAYERS
How can you single out a notable few players from a team that was as dominant as this Crows team tonight? Conversely, how can you find good players to talk about from a team that seemed to have so few winners?
With Tom Doedee and Nick Murray already on the sidelines, and Butts off before half time, it was time for the unsung heroes for Adelaide’s defence to step up, and step up they did. Mark Keane, in his first game for the club, and young gun Josh Worrell, were sublime in keeping Port’s forward duo of Jeremy Finlayson and Todd Marshall from making any impact on the contest. Worrell was the more damaging of the two, gathering 20 disposals, five tackles, 13 defensive rebounds and 559 metres gained. Keane had 13 disposals, eight one-percenters and seven marks. More importantly, Marshall and Finlayson were completely ineffective, with Finlayson kicking just one goal from four attempts, and Marshall failing to trouble the scorers at all.
It wasn’t completely one-sided, however, as two Power forwards did enjoy good performances in the loss. Charlie Dixon played a selfless, bullocking role, and on one leg, was at his physically dominant best, with 18 disposals, 15 contested possessions, six marks, all of which were contested, and 14 pressure acts. Francis Evans was the main avenue to goal, and his four goals were only bettered by the Showdown medallist and went a long way in keeping the Power in the contest for as long as they were.
The Power had more winners in the middle, but they were again overshadowed by their opponents. It was the dynamic duo doing the heavy lifting, and Connor Rozee and Zak Butters once again carried Port’s midfield on their backs. Butters was best on ground for the Power, with 32 disposals (15 contested), 10 score involvements, seven inside 50s, 18 pressure acts and 518 metres gained, whereas Rozee was a little more flashy and daring with his disposal, and although his stat line of 26 disposals (seven contested), seven tackles, four marks and 358 metres gained paints a beautiful picture, there were times Rozee tried to do too much with ball in hand, and it sold him into trouble.
But for all of Butters and Rozee’s efforts, and they were considerable, they were simply overwhelmed by Adelaide’s sheer weight of numbers that powered through the middle. The numbers really do tell the tale of just how strong Adelaide’s midfield was all evening. There were the two usual suspects you’d think of in Jordan Dawson and Rory Laird. Dawson was at his barnstorming best in the second quarter when the Crows made their biggest move, and he ended the night with 34 disposals (15 contested), 10 score involvements, seven marks, seven inside 50s, 33 pressure acts and 627 metres gained. Laird finished with 26 disposals, 13 tackles, five inside 50s and 23 pressure acts.
Then there were two other members of Adelaide’s midfield brigade that shone, one in career-best form, the other playing for his career. Wayne Milera’s career has been crippled by injury, so much so that at one stage, I thought his immense talent would be lost to the AFL. But in 2023, and especially tonight, Milera showed everyone that at his best, he is a damaging, line-breaking wingman/half-back capable of matching the best of them. Milera finished with 32 disposals (13 contested), nine score involvements, eight defensive rebounds, five marks, five inside 50s, and 672 metres gained.
Despite his scintillating form at state level, I and many others thought that Matt Crouch’s days as an AFL player were behind him. With Adelaide on the rebuild, and needing to give the midfield to the young brigade, it seemed that the man once considered the first picked, was on the outer for good. In two weeks however, Crouch has shown that his best is still more than good enough, and even if his days at West Lakes are coming to an end, he can still feature heavily wherever he may land. Tonight, Crouch was dominant through the middle, with 32 disposals (15 contested), 12 clearances (of which 10 were directly from a stoppage), seven inside 50s, six tackles and 22 pressure acts.
With Scott Lycett out of the side, Reilly O’Brien was left to handle the bulk of the ruck work against Dante Visentini, and the veteran Crow had the young rookie’s measure for most of the evening. It was an overall better performance from Visentini, who registered eight disposals to go with 24 hit outs, but he just couldn’t handle O’Brien’s physicality, and O’Brien was the better of the two around the ground, with 10 disposals, five tackles, and 40 hit outs.
But there can be no doubt who the star of the show was. He’s 33 years of age, but Taylor Walker is in the form of his life. Finishing with 20 disposals, 15 score involvements, and seven goals, Walker could very easily have reached double figures if not for some wayward shots at goal, and could’ve made Anthony Hudson scream THIRTEEN, had he not been so unselfish in the final quarter. Ably supported by Darcy Fogarty’s 18 disposals and two goals, Walker was the popular and correct choice for the Showdown medal, his first (if you can believe that), and with West Coast still on the horizon, a maiden Coleman Medal is still very much within his reach.
It wasn’t the nail-biter that we’ve come to expect from both sides, but Showdown 54 will go down in history, whether you choose to look at the game from a positive or negative sense. Some will recall this game for the fishy circumstances that allowed Aliir Aliir to return to the field so quickly after being seemingly knocked senseless. Others will look back fondly at the exploits of a player that is in career-best form and surging towards his first All-Australian jacket at 33 years of age.
Ken Hinkley has plenty of thinking to do, with three losses in a row, and a trip to Geelong on the horizon. The ship has holes and the water is beginning to rise, but the Power have put enough runs on the board to ensure they should still feature heavily in September.
Matthew Nicks and his men have taken massive strides in 2023, and are right on the cusp of playing finals football. They’ve had their stumbles and lost more than a few games they should’ve won, but even if they don’t make the final eight after 24 rounds, Crows fans should feel comforted by the knowledge that their team is on the right track, and success is only just around the corner.
I told you, I love the Showdown.
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