Port Adelaide 4.6 6.6 9.8 12.11 83
Adelaide 3.3 7.9 11.10 15.10 100
Port Adelaide were the team that came out true to this form in the early stages of the match – unleashing three early goals in succession to leave the Crows suddenly fighting for survival as they have become accustomed to early on in games this season. The Power finished the opening stanza looking the side in complete control - kicking 4.6.30 to Adelaide’s 3.3.21.
Adelaide would once again have to claw their way back into a contest that quickly seemed to be fading away from them. Once again, Adelaide would have to turn the screws on their slightly older and more experienced opponents, and turn the match on its head for the final three quarters.
Enter Eddie Betts, whose record in Showdowns is quickly becoming folklore – his 24 goals from 6 Showdowns heading into this match spoke for itself, and so it was the little master who stood up and pulled the Crows back into the contest just as it seemed to be escaping them.
Betts’ three goals between the 19 minute mark of the first quarter and 24 minute mark of the second ensured Adelaide regained the ascendancy in what was already an extremely heated contest. His unrivalled forward nous, body positioning, killer instinct and cool head under pressure was a calming influence for his teammates when all else was chaotic.
Betts’ brilliance up forward was matched only by Andy Otten’s own proficiency inside 50 in the first half. Otten, whose game is very quickly gathering momentum on the comeback trail from almost three years out of the game at the elite level, kicked two goals of his own and had more groundball gets inside 50 than any player on the park with the exception of Rory Sloane – not bad for a 194cm bloke coming off a couple of knee reconstructions, who supposedly has seen the speed of the game pass him by.
Adelaide would finish the second term 7.9.51 leading Port Adelaide 6.6.42, winning the quarter by 18 points and in the process replicating the Power’s first quarter haul of 4.6.30, while Port could only manage 2.0.12 for the term. It was happening all over again – the sleeping giant that calls itself Adelaide had woken and the screws were beginning to turn.
The third quarter again belonged to the Crows, as Walker began to get off the leash with two goals for the quarter, and Riley Knight worked himself into the contest with a goal of his own. Adelaide went on to kick 4.1.25 to 3.2.20 for the term – leading the Power 11.10.76 to 9.8.62 after late goals to Port Adelaide skipper Travis Boak, South Adelaide recruit Brett Eddy and Chad Wingard ignited the Alberton crowd into a frenzy.
The fairy-tale finish the Port faithful had hoped for however was not to be. Adelaide’s speed of ball movement and precise execution was the deciding factor in this epic contest, not to mention several moments of absolute brilliance in particular from its leaders in Rory Sloane and Taylor Walker.
The two Crow generals repeatedly rose to the occasion whenever Port Adelaide felt they had a sniff of victory. It was a few key moments in particular however, which will long be remembered by the record crowd of 53,968 in attendance.
Deep into the third quarter with Adelaide having kicked the last five consecutive goals, and the ball once again being delivered high inside 50, eight Port players converged on the drop zone in a pack of thirteen players, when Sloane threw himself into the air with little regard for his own personal safety, as is so often the case, and in inspirational fashion (for the second week in a row) would come down with the ball in hand, then kick truly to propel his team into a resounding 27 point lead.
It was then Walker’s turn to deliver, and boy did he deliver. With a fast finishing Port Adelaide closing the gap to just one straight kick early in the last quarter, it would be the captain who answered his teammates’ call, with not one but two match-clinching goals from beyond 50m.
The first came at the 10 minute mark – a difficult set shot from deep in the corner of the 50m zone in front of the Western Grandstand, where few right-footers would even dare to consider an attempt at goal, but the man known as ‘Tex’ leaned back and slotted truly to lift his team back from the brink of an unlikely Port Adelaide comeback.
The second and the one that will always be remembered as THE key moment in this glorious battle - with time running out late in the game and Adelaide under siege after Sam Powell-Pepper had reduced the margin to two straight kicks, Walker marked the ball 65m out on the outer side flank, wheeled around immediately and proceeded to launch the biggest missile Adelaide Oval had ever witnessed. Few at the ground could believe what they had just seen, typified by the deafening silence of the pro-Port crowd and the sheer jubilation that erupted from the Adelaide contingent.
The ball sailed 70m off just a few lumbering steps, almost taking off the goal umpire’s head in the process, and killing off any hope Port Adelaide had of snatching an unlikely victory. It was as inspirational as goals come, given the stakes and the state of play. Walker has often been scrutinised in external circles for not standing up and leading his team as would be expected of a club captain, but performances like this only strengthen his credentials as a big-game player.
His four second-half goals propelled Adelaide into an undefeated position (3-0) on top of the ladder after three rounds, overtaking Warren Tredrea (30 goals in 23 games) as the all-time leading goalkicker in Showdown history (Walker now has 33 goals in 12 games) and squaring the Showdown ledger 21 apiece while making it four consecutive wins over their crosstown rivals in the process.
His peers voted him the best captain in the AFL last year for a reason, while Rory Sloane was duly named Vice Captain in the All Australian team – two better leaders at one football club you will be hard-pressed to find.
Sloane was accordingly rewarded the Showdown Medal for his outstanding performance on the night, amassing 31 disposals of which 24 were contested - the most of any player League-wide in Round 3 (only twice has this feat ever been achieved by a Crow; Patrick Dangerfield with 29 and 27 respectively). Sloane had more effective disposals than any player on the ground and carved out 8 clearances to go with his 9 tackles, 5 marks, 4 inside 50s, 3 rebound 50s and 1 goal 1 behind.
He gained the maximum votes from both coaches in the AFLCA award, scoring a perfect 10 for his display. The current leader of the award after three rounds, Ollie Wines, was again prolific for the resurgent Power with 30 disposals and 8 clearances of his own, while he was awarded 6 points by the coaches on the night to finish the round one vote clear of Dustin Martin (23 points) on top of the leader board with 24 points.
Wines did everything he could to lift Port Adelaide over the line, but as was the story of the night for his team, too much was left to too few.
The Power’s prolific ball users on the night were few and far between, with only Wines, Boak, Ebert, Polec and Byrne-Jones recording more than 20 disposals. The tail fell off sharply at the end of the team sheet, with five players failing to reach double-digit disposals – including the mercurial Chad Wingard despite his flashes of brilliance at crucial stages, and dangerous forward Aaron Young who was largely unsighted all night.
Gun midfielder Robbie Gray was well held by his own lofty standards by the ever-improving Kyle Hartigan, playing small for the first time in his short career and proving he has more strings to his bow than first thought. The key tall defender holding Gray to just 19 possessions and 2 goals throughout the night after his 30 possession and 6 goal haul last week, while Hartigan managed to pick up 16 disposals of his own.
Ball use was also a problem for the Power at times, with only three players using the ball at an efficiency greater than 80% on the night – Westhoff, Ryder and Young. Adelaide had five players go at over 80% - Brown, Jacobs, Lever, Hartigan and McGovern.
As was the concern heading into the match – Port Adelaide’s ball use under severe pressure was its Achilles heel, while the visitors had shown their improved prowess in this regard over the previous two weeks.
Crouch, Sloane, Douglas, Laird, Smith and Lynch were all prominent for the Crows, who enjoyed a much more even distribution of players getting involved with the ball in hand. This weight of contribution was telling in the end, as the Power seemed to rely on too few throughout the night.
Going into the match Port Adelaide were clear competition leaders for clearances and contested ball, inside 50s and scoring.
By the end of the match, Adelaide had drawn closer to their rivals in two of these departments, and usurped them in the other two. The Crows smashed Port in the contested ball to end the round sitting only behind Collingwood in this category, while outscoring the Power to propel themselves into number one for this category across the League.
Adelaide now sit in top position not only on the ladder, but also in the key attacking statistical categories of points scored, goal assists and marks inside 50, as was the case last season.
Adelaide were already League-leaders for marks inside 50 heading into the contest, and this would play out accordingly throughout the night as the Crows recorded 17 to 9. Port only had one player hold multiple marks inside their forward 50m, Jarman Impey (2), compared to Adelaide’s four – Walker (4), Betts (4), Lynch (2) and McGovern (2).
Adelaide also sit top four for running bounces (3rd), contested marks (3rd), goals (2nd), behinds (2nd), tackles (4th), least opponent disposals (4th), least opponent marks (4th), team to opponent points per game differential (2nd) and team to opponent tackles per game (4th).
The Crows are fast becoming one of the standout outfits in 2017; confidence is growing high as the rapid development of its younger fleet-footed band of contributors only grows with each passing week.
One of those in particular, budding young star forward Mitch McGovern, unfortunately succumbed to a severe hamstring injury in the last quarter of Saturday night’s game and looks set to miss at least two months in a major blow for the Crows.
Adelaide has lost each one of its key tall forwards each week to start 2017, but has been able to cover these losses while still maintaining an elite level of scoring. The Crows will also be without Josh Jenkins as his rib injury will need more time to heal than first expected.
Several standout performances in the SANFL Round 1 win over Sturt on the weekend will mean increased selection pressure on the senior players this week as the likes of Brad Crouch (40 disposals in his return), Hugh Greenwood (27 disposals, 10 clearances, 2 goals), Jono Beech (22 disposals, 1 goal), Harrison Wigg (21 disposals) and Troy Menzel (16 disposals, 2 goals) all put solid cases forward for selection.