ADELAIDE is in a preliminary final. Say what you like about its cosy draw, its limitations and its dim prospects against Hawthorn, for now, that is all that matters. The Crows, 14th last year, are in the top four.
Against Fremantle in last night's semi-final, they did it their way, which is to say the hard way. In three of the four quarters, they conceded a rapid brace of goals, and fell as far as five goals behind the Dockers early in the second quarter, and again slipped behind at the start of the last. But they worried away at the Dockers, until at last they buckled.
The single difference was Taylor Walker, who kicked five imposing goals, and made another for Kurt Tippett.
Packing a punch: Jason Porplyzia celebrates with Nathan van Berlo after kicking one of his three goals last night. Photo: Getty Images
Last week's feather duster was this week's rooster, complete with comb. The honourable mention is Ben Rutten, who kept Matthew Pavlich, last week's behemoth, to one goal.
Fremantle, as much of a surprise as Adelaide this year, lost only two matches in the last three months of its season, but both were to Adelaide. It is a record that brooks no argument.
But even usually rabid Adelaide appeared ambivalent about the bona fides of its team and this final. The crowd was less than 32,000, of a possible 51,000, and the stands were pockmarked by vacant blocks. ''19th man, let's make some noise,'' the scoreboard screen implored, but seemingly the 19th man was still on the rubdown table from last week.
The match began with a nicety, a minute's silence for the late John McCarthy, but the Crows took the concept of respectful observance too far.
Fremantle started this week as it did last, bristling with intent, with a goal inside a minute, another before Adelaide had touched the ball twice, and six of the first seven goals of the game in all. In dewy conditions, the damage was wrought not by Pavlich, but by busy beavers Chris Mayne and the silky Michael Walters. When at last the Dockers' buffeting eased, Adelaide worked its way into the match, but Walker criminally wasted opportunities; this also was a reprise of last week.
Three minutes into the second quarter, the Dockers led by all but five goals. Then, they were both harder at and smarter with the ball, and more withering of mouth, too, thanks to Hayden Ballantyne. The Crows made only plodding progress down the ground and kicked high to their forwards, fodder for a Ross Lyon-coached back line. But at length, Fremantle began to look travel-weary, and Adelaide's almost Calvinist work ethic began to pay virtuous dividends. Walker's angled goal on the siren was a call to arms: the crowd rose to its vocation, now heartily booed the umpires from the ground.
The momentum had swung. From the Dockers' high tide, Adelaide kicked six of the eight goals. The enigmatic Walker kicked three, all from powerful marks, made one for Tippett by single-handedly shrugging aside a pack, but also made one of Fremantle's two, giving away a spectacularly ill-thought-out 50-metre penalty. Adelaide's weakness, its single-mindedness, now became its strength: it would and could not be budged. Fremantle wilted. When Stephen Hill missed, was given another shot, and missed again, a slant was upon this match.
Again, Fremantle began the last quarter with two quick goals, including one at last for Pavlich, but they proved a last hurrah. Adelaide, unceasing in its effort, kicked the next four. Walker's goal-square mark and triumphant waltz into goal sealed the win.