A contender under extraordinary pressure is thought to have a chance to build a dynasty. The only price is the destruction of a team it has spent a decade building.
Some segments of the Adelaide fan-base are angry, and they want answers. That’s understandable. Blend a cagey at the best of times sports team, high expectations that have not been met, and the empowerment that social media affords to all, and you get #wewantanswersAFC.
— WeWantAnswersAFC (@_WeWantAnswers_) June 17, 2018
Club photo galleries aren’t my jam, but you get the idea. While not representative of the club’s fan-base at large, there is some ill will in the air. This is a passionate group of fans of a club that finished atop the ladder and played in a grand final just a dozen games ago.
The narrative has been too simple, and perfect to refute. A club put to the sword on grand final day has a bad run of early season injuries – owing perhaps to a modified pre season program.
Said club also signs up to participate in an unusual (and in this column’s opinion utterly insane and almost comically absurd) team camp in an attempt to improve its mental resilience. A couple of leaks here and there from a club that doesn’t like to speak on anything but its own terms. It writes itself.
Some members of the supposedly serious football media have indulged too. The Adelaide Advertiser took its own unique swipe, suggesting the Crows focus on football and not on esports or baseball, like the football operations department actually has anything to do with the commercial business of the club.
But back to reality. Adelaide is now rated as an 8-to-1 chance to make it into the top eight over the remaining ten rounds of the season. It heads the group of eight teams with next-to-no-hope of making it to September in 2018.
For the Crows, the answer to the riddle of what went wrong is far simpler than is being made out. The club has been decimated by injuries to key players at critical times during the year, unable to field its best team at any stage. Why this is the case is another question – one we cannot answer – and one that is undoubtedly front of mind at West Lakes.
Last season the Crows had 18 players play at least 20 games. That group accounted for 77 per cent of all of the games played by Adelaide in 2017, a share second only to Richmond (78 per cent).
That same group of players has played just 52 per cent of Adelaide’s available games through the first 13 rounds of 2018, which is still more than the league average (40 per cent), but is behind Richmond (68 per cent), Port Adelaide (56 per cent) and Sydney (53 per cent).
And it’s not as though the Crows have been turning to a significantly inexperienced team. A comparison of Adelaide’s games played by round in 2017 and 2018 is quite telling in this respect.
The Crows have fielded a team with more experience in 2018 when compared in 2017 in all but two rounds. Indeed, they’ve approached their 2017 grand final side in terms of aggregate experience for most of the season. Something isn’t adding up.
High level numbers don’t do it justice though. Adelaide has already used 32 players (one more than the entirety of last season), with line up mainstays and critical structural pieces like Rory Sloane (four games), Taylor Walker (eight), Mitch McGovern (eight), Tom Lynch (nine) and Matt Crouch (nine) having interrupted seasons. Brad Crouch hasn’t been sighted all year and likely won’t be from here, while Brodie Smith is still recovering from the ACL tear he suffered in last year’s qualifying final.
Then there are the players who left the club last off season. Jake Lever played 20 games. Charlie Cameron played 24. They left sizeable holes that already demanded to be filled, compounding the injury-related absences that have played Adelaide all season.
The Crows have made an average of 2.5 changes to their team from week to week in 2018. Last season that was 1.5 per game. This year the Crows have made at least one change to their line up each and every week. Last season they were unchanged four times, and had one change seven times.
Adelaide’s challenge has been lack of continuity. This has extended to its game plan, which has been tweaked and/or picked apart depending on your perspective. The Crows have lost the power from the half back line, and their aggressive cross-field kicking has become more of the conservative, down-the-line variety.
The Crows have taken just 8.7 marks inside 50 per game in 2018, down from a league-leading (and extraordinarily high) 15 in 2017. Their marking around the field has increased by an almost commensurate amount (81.8 field marks per game versus 74.5 in 2017), suggesting a more cautious attitude with the ball in hand.
The club’s tackle pressure – an underrated aspect of its game last season – has fallen back to league average, with a tackle rate of 65.4 tackles per 50 minutes of opposition possession down from a league-leading 72.3 last season.
No matter, their season is finished, and so we turn to what comes next.
There’s been a lot of talk this week about the notion that Adelaide can, should or will enter rebuild mode as a result of this year’s first half debacle. The football department is in ruin, and so it goes some key players want out.
Restricted free agent Rory Sloane, newly re-signed key forward prospect Mitch McGovern and hybrid forward-midfielder Tom Lynch are the headliners. All three are critical pieces to the Crows current team, and are valuable pieces to whomever may desire them.
The plan would be to build further on Adelaide’s already fairly bountiful draft capital for the current draft, earned through last year’s trade period. The Crows currently hold their own first round pick, plus Melbourne’s first round pick (received as part of the Lever deal) and Carlton’s second round pick (received as part of the Bryce Gibbs trade). As it stands Adelaide looks like having three selections inside the top 20, a strong hand.
But, the plan goes, Adelaide could enhance that significantly by letting its three key pieces go.
Rory Sloane would net the Crows a compensatory pick at the end of the first round at worst if he were simply allowed to float away back to Victoria; more if Adelaide brokered a pre-offer deal as they did with Patrick Dangerfield’s move to Geelong (or via an offer-match-and-trade).
Mitch McGovern would surely command a pick close to the top ten if not well inside of it, if rumours of his salary (greater than Bryce Gibbs’ salary) leaked in response to the vague Fairfax Media rumour of a fortnight ago. And Tom Lynch would fit at any number of Victorian clubs if he wanted to leave, creating the preconditions for a bidding war.
Wham, bam, that becomes six – count ‘em folks six – picks inside the top 20 of this year’s draft. That is positively expansionary in order and magnitude.
The final passage of this story is the highly prospective crop of South Australian locals, including what looms as a contender for pick one Jack Lukosius. Adelaide could set up its next dynasty if it were only to clean house, trade out three more established players (and lose some more to make sure it can take all of its bounty to the draft) and strike it rich at the Baby Footballer Casino.
I’ll give them some credit that’s a pretty great story. Palace intrigue, player movement speculation, the draft, it’s a football media fever dream.
It’s also patently ridiculous.
How can any rational person advocate a team that looked unstoppable for most of the 2017 season, that has been building to its current status for the best part of a decade, that has a clear and present reason for its current malaise, simply blow it up and try again in five years?
The Crows have ended the year inside the top eight for three years running, winning at least one final each time. They’ve finished with a percentage of greater than 100 in every season since 2012, and put together 0.500 records in five of the past six seasons. A better-than-even record is still in play this year; the Crows are only one down in the loss column after all.
Last year was no fluke – it was the product of a stoic, flexible list building exercise that weathered all manner of adversity. One does not simply throw that away; Adelaide of all teams knows how hard it is to climb the mountain.
It should be wary of what went on since the grand final. It must serve as an opportunity to learn, to grow and to improve. It should not be the end of Adelaide as we know it.
[latest_videos_strip category=”afl” name=”AFL”]
The club’s demographics are suitable for a premiership tilt. It had 17 players in prime age come the start of this season, and seven over the age of 29. However there are no old folks to be found – the oldest Crows are 31 years of age, and one of them (Sam Gibson) was surely bought over from North Melbourne as cover in case of a bout of injuries like the one Adelaide has suffered.
Meanwhile, there is nary a hole to be poked in the list itself, save perhaps the ruck spot where a battle-weary Sam Jacobs is showing some signs of wear and tear.
The Crows may end up losing Rory Sloane to another club via free agency. He would join a long list of quality Adelaide players who’ve departed in search of greener pastures that may or may not be there. But they cannot let McGovern and Lynch follow him out the door. Adelaide, and its disgruntled fans, must hold steady.
Half a dozen swings in the batting cage we call the draft sounds tempting, particularly at such a low moment for the club. Better it find the answers to what went wrong, and to build upon what it has already worked so hard to accomplish.