Sport AFL Showdown 39 – the thawing of a bitter rivalry

Showdown 39 – the thawing of a bitter rivalry

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We’re hard-wired not to like each other.

Like Siamese fighting fish.

Some AFL clubs talk about rivalry. Ours is the real thing. Uncontrived. Unabashed. We will meet you in the car park.

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It’s genetic. It runs deep in the blood.

I inherited my dislike of all things Port Adelaide from my maternal grandfather and my duty as a Crows fan is to make sure it continues down the line with my son.

And I will.

Adelaide and Port Adelaide
Players from both sides ran through the same banner before the match. Photo: Getty

This is why the coming together of the Adelaide Crows and Port Adelaide over the past two weeks to honour Phil Walsh has been so powerful. So incredibly moving.

And so at odds with the natural order.

I could never have imagined it. Nor could I ever have imagined the circumstances that united us.

And the togetherness has felt right.

Empowering, uplifting and right.

Showdown 39 was always going to be different.

Acrimony was replaced by harmony.

Port invited all Crows supporters to join them on their March from the Mall, a ritual for all Power home games. The two sides ran out together before running through a joint banner.

Both theme songs were played, followed by a special version of Port Adelaide’s anthem Never Tear Us Apart honouring Walsh’s time at both clubs.

Unnatural. But right.

Coaches Scott Camporeale (L) and Ken Hinkley shake hands pre-game. Photo: Getty

Tragedy has transcended cross-town rivalry – even for the most hardened fan.

As soon as the siren sounded we reverted to type.

Us and them. Effortlessly.

There was no discernible softening of hostilities on the field – the attack on the ball, intensity, tackling and niggle, the ebb and flow of the game, the booing from the crowd – all classically Showdown.

Along with that feeling of unrelenting tension, of another twist coming. Of being unable to relax despite the widening margin.

The players gave their all. They said they would. It was the only way to honour a man they respected and loved.

And boy was it a game he would have loved. The closest one ever.

And when it was all over the Crows’ theme song wasn’t played.

Instead, both teams gathered for the presentation of the Showdown Trophy and Showdown Medal, renamed the Phillip Walsh Medal for this one match.

Crows forward Eddie Betts acknowledges the crowd in front of the big screen honouring the late Phil Walsh. Photo: Getty

A minute of robust applause a final mark of respect to Walsh.

Showdown 39 will stand alone in the vibrant history between these two proud South Australian clubs.

There will never be another one like it.

A day when bitter rivalries were put on hold and replaced by something much bigger.

Some things are more important than football – a sentiment captured beautifully by opposing chairmen, Rob Chapman and David Koch, who watched the final minutes of the game, arms locked, tears in their eyes.

So to both clubs, thank you for allowing us to grieve as one.

I hope in some small way it has given comfort to the Walsh family, and eased some of the pain for the players and club people who had a connection to Phil Walsh.

Fans of the Crows and Port will go back to doing what they do so spectacularly well – feeding the antagonism with taunts and insults, some of it light-hearted, some of it venomous.

But pausing the fierce rivalry was the right thing to do.

And it was strangely beautiful while it lasted.

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