Football can be such a cruel, cruel business. Just ask Charlie Dixon.
Having waited 106 games to play his first AFL final on Saturday night he produced arguably the best performance of his career and walked off Adelaide Oval absolutely shattered.
Dixon could be seen in tears on the big screen after his Port Adelaide side had lost to West Coast on a free kick goal after the siren in an extra time elimination final.
They had led by 13 points in the first period of extra time after being 31 points down nine minutes into the second quarter of a low scoring game, but went down 10-16 (76) to 12-6 (78) when Eagles midfielder Luke Shuey converted from 40m after a high tackle from Port wingman Jared Polec.
It was 26 scoring shots to 18 to Port but still Port were beaten.
And therein lies the root of Dixon’s devastation. He kicked 3-6.
That the game would have been lost at halftime without his herculean efforts was no consolation.
Nor the fact that he finished the season as Port’s leading goal-kicker, going past All-Australian Robbie Gray in the final, or that his season-long conversion rate of 62.0% from 49 goals 30 behinds was his team’s best ahead of Gray’s 61.8% from 47-29.
Or that skipper Travis Boak kicked three behinds in the final.
Oblivious to outside commentary but holding himself totally accountable to his teammates and coach, Dixon was devastated by the knowledge that one more accurate kick could have been enough to keep the Power season alive.
Port coach Ken Hinkley said post-match he could not have been more proud of his players, and particularly Dixon.
And, having driven the campaign to recruit Dixon to Port from the Gold Coast last year, he jumped to the defence of his big power forward in his post-match media conference when he asked an Adelaide reporter “do you still think he (Dixon) is over-paid?” before shaking his head as if to dismiss any such suggestion.
Hinkley is an unashamed Dixon fan, and is delighted by the development of the ex-Cairns 26-year-old, who has posted career-best numbers in every worthwhile statistic this year, ranks among the competition’s most improved players, and will figure prominently in the Port B&F
On Saturday night Dixon kicked Port’s first three goals when they were under siege early and finished with a career-best 23 disposals, including a career-best 16 contested possessions, seven marks (three contested), four tackles, five one-percenters and untold forward 50m pressure acts.
He earned 116 Champion Data ranking points, second only to teammate Ollie Wines (119).
Plus, Dixon had a game-high 11 score involvements, his second-highest tally of the season.
Over week one of the finals only Richmond’s Brownlow Medal favorite had more. He had 12.
Significantly, too, only Wines and West Coast’s Luke Priddis won more contested possessions in the Saturday night cliff-hanger. They had 17.
This has become a Dixon trademark statistic as much as his contested marking in which he led the entire competition this year.
Of his career-high 335 possessions this season no less than 201 were contested possessions. Or 60.0%.
Of 53 players who had 200 or more contested possessions this season this ranks Dixon third behind only Port teammate Paddy Ryder (208 of 278 – 74.8%) and Carlton ruckman Matthew Kreuzer (206 of 371 – 64.2%).
Geelong’s 2016 Brownlow Medallist Patrick Dangerfield is fourth in this category at 59.9%. And Martin, the overwhelming 2017 Brownlow favorite, is well down at 47.2%.
All this means nothing to Dixon. He will remember only that his first final was a loss. And now he’s six months to ponder what might have been.
Former Suns teammate Zac Smith, the only other Queenslander in action in week one of the AFL finals, also finished in a losing side despite a strong individual effort.
Smith’s Geelong team was smashed 5-10 (40) to 13-13 (91) by Geelong at the MCG on Friday night.
But at least he and the Cats will have a chance for immediate redemption, facing the Sydney Swans in a knockout semi-final at the MCG on Friday night.
Smith, playing his third AFL final, was clearly the best ruckman on the ground as Richmond posted their first finals win since 2001.
He had a career-best 51 ruck hit-outs to give his side a 63-33 dominance in this area against the Tigers’ highly-rated big man Toby Nankervis.
This bettered Smith’s previous best of 48 hit-outs in Round 9 this year against the Bulldogs.
He also had 11 disposals, two clearances, five one-percenters and five tackles to earn 106 Champion Data ranking points.
Only Mitch Duncan (128) and Scott Selwood (108) polled more ranking points for the Cats, and only Duncan (11), Jed Bews (8), Scott Selwood (8), Lachlan Henderson (7), Jordan Murdoch (6) and Shannon Motlop (6) had more tackles.
And, only Dangerfield (15), Duncan (14) Scott Selwood (13), Zac Tuohy (12), Joel Selwood (11) and Zac Guthrie (10) had more contested possessions.
Geelong’s heavy loss brings fellow Queenslander Wylie Buzza right back into the selection mix for Friday night’s do-and-do semi-final against a much bigger Sydney opposition.
Buzza was an emergency against Richmond, squeezed out of the side on team balance, but it wouldn’t surprise if coach Chris Scott reverted to the Gatton forward/ruckman this week.
Sydney’s Aliir Aliir and Kurt Tippett may also be in the selection mix after playing in the Swans’ narrow NEAFL grand final loss to the Brisbane Lions on Saturday night.
Aliir had 16 possessions and Tippett 16 possessions and a game-high 41 hit-outs as the Swans, 20 points down at three-quarter time, charged back before going down by just three points.
Midfielder Ben Keays won the Andrew Ireland Medal as best afield for a brilliant performance with 30 possessions, two goals and nine tackles which he will hope will be a springboard to a more regular spot in the AFL side next year.
Defender Matt Eagles continued his excellent finish to the season with 18 possessions and a game-high 11 marks, while Jacob Allison had 22 possessions and two goals, Blake Grewar 18 possessions and three goals, and captain Claye Beams 21 possessions and one goal.
Archie Smith had seven disposals and 32 hit-outs, Reuben William 17 possessions, Liam Dawson nine possessions and Jono Freeman six possessions.
Matthew Hammelmann was a late withdrawal from the side due a hamstring injury.
In the VFL finals, Richmond’s Shaun Hampson, an emergency for the senior side on Friday night despite not playing a senior game all year due to injury, kept his selection hopes alive when he was among his side’s best in a 27-point win over Melbourne affiliate Casey,
Hampson had 44 hit-outs, seven disposals and six tackles, and was named his side’s fourth best.
If nothing else Hampson is giving senior coach Damien Hardwick a little peach of mind that he has excellent ruck cover in the event of an injury to Nankervis.
Melbourne’s Josh Wagner also finished his season on a personal high note when he had 20 disposals, a goal and six tackles to be ranked fifth best for Casey.
By Peter Blucher