I have felt a little privileged over the last couple of years writing about footy based in Melbourne.
Let’s face it – Melbourne gets the Grand Final every single year, the “biggest home and away game of the year” in the ANZAC Day clash, the TV schedule is constructed around when the Victorian audience can watch the most footy, and with ten teams in the state, you’re never short of a football story, or a football audience to read it.
But there is one time every season (twice, actually) that I want to pack my bags, jump in the crappy car I wish I didn’t have (long story) and hightail it over the border. And those times happen to coincide with when the Crows and Power square off in the twice-annual “Showdown”.
I don’t know what it is about this clash, but it always seems to hold more genuine feeling and passion than its West Australian equivalent. Whether it is the residual effect of the Ramsgate incident, the tight finishes in recent years, or the frenzy that envelopes all Port and Adelaide supporters when these teams go head to head, I am drawn to it like a moth to a flame…only with much less chance of getting burnt.
I mentioned the “biggest home and away game of the season” above, and I have it in quotation for a reason. You see, as good as the ANZAC Day game is, and as much as it means for a variety of reasons, no two teams generate as much passion, anger and pure malevolence toward each other as the Crows and Power. The game seems to walk a knife’s edge between legitimate athletic contest and a form of football warfare as the momentum ebbs and flows. In recent years, the script between these two teams seemed as though it was written by a motivated George R R Martin, the plot rarely playing out as you’d expect, and a lot of chapters leaving people with their feelings hurt.
Irrespective of ladder position, the Showdown is an undoubted highlight of the AFL season. Caroline Wilson rightfully attacked the AFL for not fixturing this spectacular event for a Friday night, and not giving it the stage it deserves, but really, this could be played at 3am in Dubbo and I’d tune in. Regardless of how the AFL views this clash, and how the organisation as a whole treats it, true fans of footy know good value where they see it, and in a season devoid of great games to this point, and in a competition full of robotic personalities, the Showdown always embraces the Avant Garde, revelling in the special, the significant and the extraordinary.
While other games have threatened, the Showdown has delivered.
Whether it is Steven Motlop’s last gasp goal on the run to give the Power the win, or Josh Jenkins’ shot that definitely (didn’t) hit the post… the drama that a showdown generates is unlike anything anyone in Victoria can hope to experience in the modern national competition.
Carlton v Collingwood? Maybe once upon a time. Hawthorn v Geelong? Hmmm… maybe on the occasional Easter Monday, but on pure passion, aggression and additional drama, nothing beats a Showdown. Nothing even approaches.
With that in mind, we enter Showdown 46 with the deck stacked in favour of the Crows. The Port Adelaide on-field leadership is in tatters, with both co-captains sidelined. After the preseason from hell, Ollie Wines finished last week’s game with a broken ankle. He joins Tom Jonas, and four-time Showdown medallist, Robbie Gray on the sidelines in what looks to be a near-fatal blow for Port.
They have relied heavily on the heroics of former captain, Travis Boak in 2019, who has failed to reach 30 disposals on just one occasion this season… and even then his 23 touches when the game was there to be won were good enough to earn him the three votes from the Mongrel Punt on the day. As spectacular as he’s been, he had to have breathed a sigh of relief when Wines made his long-awaited first appearance for the season. And now, just like that, he’s gone again.
The Crows have been quiet achievers this season, with the Brothers Crouch working their way back into the form that helped propel the Crows to the 2017 Grand Final. Matt currently sits right at 33 touches per game, and Brad not far behind him on 30. Though not as damaging as Boak, they have provided the Crows with a stable midfield coupling, and are extremely difficult to move off the ball at stoppages. With Rory Sloane by their side, they'd be eyeing midfield dominance in this one.
Port will need big games from the enigmatic Sam Powell-Pepper, who continues to threaten to tear games apart, only to disappear for stretches a little too long for my liking. They’ll also need Tom Rockliff to continue channelling his 2016-self as his career renaissance gathers steam, but it is a matchup of the big men that may well determine the fate of the game.
Reilly O’Brien has stepped up his game in the absence of Sam Jacobs – let’s face it, he had no choice but to step it up. For so long he was relegated to the SANFL, unable to get his opportunity as the durable Jacobs kept a tight stranglehold on the number one ruck spot. That was the case up until a few weeks ago when Jacobs went down with injury, and O’Brien grabbed his chance with both hands.
In last week’s contest, O’Brien made the top ten rated players in the Mongrel Punt’s Player Power rankings – the only ruckman to do so. His performance against Fremantle was pivotal in the Crows win, and at long last he is beginning to get the opportunity to perform at the highest level.
But all good things must come to an end.
This weekend, O’Brien faces the Port Adelaide two-headed monster, and after they were slain by a rampaging Brodie Grundy last week, they’ll be hell-bent on revenge. Scott Lycett and Paddy Ryder started the season with a bang… and a crash, and a wallop, beating down Melbourne’s Max Gawn to the point where commentators were openly questioning Gawn’s ability to overcome close attention. They’ll be looking at repeating the dose against the inexperienced O’Brien. How will he respond?
This ruck contest, both at stoppages and around the ground could turn out to be the combustionable element in this clash. For the first few weeks, I thought the Ryder-Lycett combination was the perfect complementing duo, but against Grundy it was all brought undone, to the point Ken Hinkley had plenty to say to Lycett about his efforts at the quarter time huddle. Those words will still be ringing in his ears as he stands across from O’Brien. I expect some legitimate bash and crash ruck work in the first quarter to have a big say in how the game unfolds. O’Brien needs to weather that storm in order for the Crows to reign… oh, nice wordplay there, Mongrel... clap, clap, clap.
Moving to Adelaide’s defence, things have started to gel for the Crows down back. Alex Keath has shocked the footy world as Adelaide have managed, for the second year running, to unearth a wonderful replacement for a gaping hole in defence. They did it last year when Tom Doedee gleefully accepted the role left vacant by the departing Jake Lever and made a fist of it, and now with Doedee hurt, Keath has stepped in.
So good has Keath been, that after seven rounds he occupied a spot in The Mongrel’s Rolling All-Australian team. But is has also been the return of Brodie Smith that has given the Crows a boost in defence. With Wayne Milera and Paul Seedsman battling injury, the run and carry of Smith has torn both St Kilda and Fremantle to bits at critical points of the games in the last two weeks. He sits fourth overall in metres gained, and has been a huge part of the Crow resurgence.
Much has been written about the Port Adelaide youngsters, and they’ve deserved the praise they’ve received. Connor Rozee, Zak Butters, Xavier Duursma and Willem Drew have lit a fire under the Port Adelaide team, and that fire has warmed the hearts of Port supporters. Unafraid to have a dip when it’s their turn to go, any of the four could play the role of x-factor to turn this game on its head, if Butters makes the cut (currently listed as an emergency).
The Crows had a welcome return to form from Cam Ellis-Yolmen in round seven, and Elliott Himmelberg was the best forward on the park in the first half against Freo. If they get a repeat performance from those two this week, it could be enough to get the Crows over the line against the undermanned Port.
Yes…the undermanned Port. You know, I like hearing that – it’s another way of saying the Power have got nothing to lose.
Port will be going hell for leather in this one. It’ll be up to the Crows to match them. It’ll be up to Tex, and Lynch, and Eddie to do what they’ve done so many times and stand up when it counts. It’ll be up to the Hoff, Clurey and the returning Matthew Broadbent to match them, and beat them, elevating their team in the process.
If you’re a casual fan, you may be tempted to miss this. I mean, it’s Saturday night… your options are probably endless. You could play scrabble, you could have an early night, maybe you haven’t quite progressed as far in Red Dead Redemption as you may have liked, but for footy fans who love the game and love the pure contests, there is only one option for your eyeballs this Saturday night.
It’s Showdown round. It’s Port Adelaide and Adelaide renewing acquaintances in the best rivalry in the game, bar none. It’s a wounded Port Power dragging itself up off the mat to take on the Adelaide Crows. Both teams are gritting their teeth, and they’re up for the fight.
ANZAC Day is great… you’ll never hear me disparage the feeling around the Collingwood v Essendon game, but even on a Saturday night, or a Saturday afternoon for that matter – even in the middle of nowhere with no one in attendance, this is the game I want to see.
This is Adelaide v Port Adelaide
This is Showdown 46.
And this is the best home and away game of the year.
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