While Port Adelaide captain Travis Boak has been spruiking the Showdown rivalry has gone out of the window, Adelaide champion Patrick Dangerfield has delivered the reality – it’s game on again.
The cruel and touching farewell to a great man in football in Phil Walsh has been finalised and he will never be forgotten with the naming of a Showdown match medal in his honour, but today is really the first day of moving forward.
Dangerfield said the Crows were not just going to rock up and link arms and all smile. “It’s war,” he said on local radio. “We’re going there to win.”
“We need to get back to that really aggressive mentality – that’s what we’ll be doing this weekend and that’s what I think our supporters want to see. We have to get back on the horse, we have to look forward because there’s a lot of footy to be played still this season.
“This side is good enough to playing [finals], so it’s about us playing good football for longer, which is what Phil often talked about.”
And while the clubs and fans have been saying “we play as one”, Boak and his teammates will be just as desperate to win the tough ground-ball contests that Walsh so often talked about. Forget the notion of him apologising to Scott Thompson when he bumps him over, or Jack Homsch contesting a mark with Tex Walker and saying: “Oh, you go first Taylor.”
This promises to be one of the most intense and fiercely contested of the 38 Showdowns so far, of which Port has won 21. It will be about releasing all of the hurt, anger and frustration and taking the level of intensity to extremes.
With the utmost respect given the circumstances, this is very much about demonstrating which one is prepared to play the Phil Walsh tough but fair brand better and harder than the other. No Josh Carr sniping; no Mark Bickley unsuspecting jaw-breaking punches; just hard-nosed football non-stop, potentially making it one of the most memorable and fitting performances seen in this game.
Given the emotion that has consumed everyone within the football family, especially the Crows players, they more than Port may relish the opportunity to simply get everything out of their system, especially after last Saturday night’s incredible pouring of emotion at the end of the West Coast game.
The cricket community eventually moved on from the tragic loss of Phil Hughes. There isn’t an established AFL player who has not worn a black arm band at some stage. You grieve, respect, and while the pain may never subside you meet a point of needing to move on. Today is that day for Adelaide.
As much as this game will be intense, tough and without “excuse me’s” it will ultimately get down to what every great game is about – which side has the most players that can perform their skills under the pressure. The unknown factor is which Adelaide side will play – the one that turns the ball over repeatedly and clogs its own inside-50 and cannot hit targets, or the one that plays with ferocity and incredible pace and does what Walsh always pleaded … just get the job done. Expect the latter.
The emotion allowed Port to rediscover their best form against Collingwood here, so it will be close. The midfield, as usual, will play a big part. To win the Crows must curtail the brilliance of Ollie Wines and Robbie Gray, and have the mental and physical strength across half-back should they break from the centre bounces. Adelaide just cannot rely on Dangerfield to lead the charge, and when he has control he and every other Crow needs to control the kick.
There will be a lot of “if onlys” after this game; if only players hit targets and were accurate for goal. If only a tackle here and there stuck, and someone didn’t give away a foolish free.
It is nice to get back talking about an actual game, but still looming is the difficulty Adelaide and Port players face in trying to console each other. At the final siren they will cry as one, and as they walk off the ground and get on with life, may they paraphrase brilliant lyrics by Barry Gibb: “This game may end, not you and I”. May the mourning then be silent.
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