Adelaide will improve long-term, not in 2012

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Jason Porplyzia of Adelaide celebrates while Nathan Lovett-Murray of Essendon looks on during the AFL 1st Elimination Final between the Adelaide Crows and the Essendon Bombers at AAMI Stadium.

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I guess that the Adelaide Crows can technically claim they’re the pride of South Australia, but fans of either South Australian team will likely tell you that the P-word is currently nonexistent.

It is hard to take pride in Adelaide after what they have been delivering. It will be another long year for the Crows in 2012, especially if you believe that the past indeed predicts the future. In the 2011 season, Adelaide finished 14th with a win-loss-draw record of 7-15-0.

Although I don’t like the way the Crows played, they do have the potential to finish just outside the top eight.

It will be interesting to see the playing style of rookie coach Brenton Sanderson. Adelaide’s third head coach in less than a full season returns to the club where he started his career, playing just six matches in two seasons. The former Crow, Pie and largely Cat has done his time, was highly sought after by several teams in the off-season and has good credentials.

Sanderson was instrumental during his time with the Port Power before moving on to Geelong as an assistant to Bomber Thompson. He went on to part of the 2007, 2009 and 2011 premierships and the 2008 grand final loss. Reports have it that his time so far at Adelaide has paid off with many of the players bulking up and getting physical at training – just take a look at 23-year old midfielder David MacKay.

MacKay has had two cursed seasons with injuries, but has turned it on during pre-season. He only played eight games last season, but had the second-highest percentage of inside 50s that led to an Adelaide goal. If the coach gives him the time, he is one worth watching out for.

At the other end is Scott Thompson. He is sure to deliver big again this year. Adelaide’s 2011 best and fairest winner (won by 33 votes from Nathan Van Berlo) will once again need to carry this team on those big shoulders of his while receiving greater attention from the competition. One thing that the Crows can’t afford is Thompson suffering an injury – that would be critical and have them looking early to the 2013 draft.

One player who must step up, and I expected him to, is Patty Dangerfield. The highlight machine is in a pack of players including MacKay, Rory Sloane and Jared Petrenko that need strong contributions this year.

Dangerfield played much more time in the midfield under caretaker coach Mark Bickley, and I’m sure Sanderson would’ve noticed. If he plays around the ball with Thompson then the Adelaide forwards could be set for a lot of opportunities.

A ranking of 15th in possessions per goal says one thing – the Crows need key forwards Taylor Walker and Kurt Tippett to step up. Walker kicked 32 goals from 13 games with a percentage of 71.1. He led the goal-kicking in eight matches, and equalled once with Tippett who slotted 31 goals from 18 games at a percentage of 58.5.

Adelaide’s only other player with 20 or more goals was Dangerfield, with 23 coming from 36 attempts across 22 games.

For the Crows to climb the ladder they not only need their forwards to deliver, they require the midfield to impose themselves on the scoreboard. Van Berlo (12 goals from 22 games), Bernie Vince (11 from 17) and the team’s leader in disposals Thompson (8 goals from 22 games) must contribute more.

On the other end, Adelaide must apply greater defensive pressure, since last season they ranked 16th in tackles per game (tpg) and 17th in team to opponent tpg difference, averaging 8.4 fewer tpg. Their lack of pressure on opponents resulted in those low rankings.

On the player merry-go-round, Adelaide lost the promising Jack Gunston to Hawthorn and defender Phil Davis to Greater Western Sydney, sent Tony Armstrong to Sydney, delisted James Sellar and James Craig, Will Young and Myke Cook, and picked up Tom Lynch (St. Kilda), Josh Jenkins (Essendon), Lewis Johnston (Sydney), Luke Brown (Norwood) and Brad Crouch (North Ballarat) who won’t be available until 2013 due to age restrictions.

Looking at the schedule, the Crows open and close their season against the young Gold Coast outfit, and if they continue their form again the Suns of last year, they will chalk up two wins.

Adelaide has one of the supposedly easiest fixtures, but their talent is yet to be fully established. I am predicting that Adelaide will drop seven of their matches at home, with maybes against the Western Bulldogs and Port Adelaide.

The Crows have a few things to look forward to. Sanderson with his Geelong training brings premiership knowledge and the knowledge of how to win.

Jason Porplyzia will hopefully come back fit and well. And they’d love injury-free Ian Callinan – the 29-year old rookie list player who only managed three games last year due to injury, but came back in time to get a dose of leather poisoning in the SANFL grand final.

Other players to keep an eye out for are Luke Brown, Mitchell Grigg, Sam Jacobs, Lewis Johnston, Tom Lynch, Andy Otten, Daniel Talia, Luke Thompson and Tim McIntyre.

The final word for the Crows is that looking at the big picture, the future seems brighter than the immediate term.

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