With the 2019 AFL draft in the rearview mirror and club lists finalised for 2020, we decided – despite overwhelming popular opinion – that it’s not at all too early to start speculating about the season ahead.
I was recently told that Matt Crouch is a numbers man, in the sense that he is extremely good at stuffing his stat sheet but not really that good at helping his team, the Adelaide Crows. Obviously, I wholeheartedly disagreed.
Crouch has become Adelaide’s worst-kept secret. In the days of the Patrick Dangerfield and Rory Sloane combination, he plied his trade around the ground, snatching opportunities when they were given to him.
Post-Dangerfield, the onus was placed on him and a few others to take the next step and he hasn’t disappointed.
At the end of 2013, then-Adelaide coach Brenton Sanderson made the unpopular decision to ship off fan favourite and starting midfielder Bernie Vince to Melbourne. In return, Adelaide were afforded to 23rd pick in the upcoming national draft, used to select Crouch.
Four years later, 22-year-old Crouch is the second highest disposal winner in the competition, averaging 32 per game, and is firmly in All Australian discussions.
His 2015 and 2016 seasons were impressive and there was no doubting his star potential, but a rise of this magnitude in such a short time has been a blessing for the ladder-leading Crows.
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Sloane’s struggles when he has been tagged often leave Crouch as the No.1 midfielder – a position that he has performed in each and every time. His teammates have stressed the importance of his role, explaining that his monumental disposal numbers are so much more than just accumulating the football, and that his effectiveness in disposal and his clearance numbers are elite.
His recognition is spreading beyond his teammates now, with Champion Data ranking him as an elite or above average midfielder in all seven of their grading categories.
More impressive is the fact that he has not taken a backwards step in any of these categories since his debut in 2014.
If consistency is key, that is no issue on Crouch’s front – his lowest disposal count this year came in Round 11 at the Cattery, with a tally of 27, in which he was clearly the most competitive player in what was a tough game for the Crows.
Then there is this weekend, against the West Coast Eagles, when if he accumulates 40 disposals, he will break the club record for the most average disposals per game – surpassing inaugural captain Craig McDermott.
But Crouch is a star already.
His most recent output was a sensational 34 disposals against the Sydney Swans – the form side in the competition – which also included a goal just before halftime.
Crouch also sits in the top 40 players in the competition for tackles, which signals he’s more than willing to get stuck in and compete.
No player this year has been more important to the Crows. I know that could be argued, but the fact is that when everyone else is missing, Crouch is not.
Crouch isn’t a stat-sheet stuffer, he is making large strides and a huge impact for the team sitting on top of the ladder with only one round remaining.