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The decade that was: Adelaide Crows

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Roar Guru
9th October, 2019
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With the completion of the 2019 season, it’s time to look back on the decade that was for each AFL team. In this series, I will delve into the moments that mattered most between 2010 and 2019 in a club-by-club analysis.

The Adelaide Crows finished the previous decade in controversial circumstances, losing a thrilling semi-final to Collingwood at the MCG on the back of a touchy free kick to Jack Anthony.

Under long-time coach Neil Craig, the Crows entered the 2010-19 decade hotly favoured to deliver a third flag to West Lakes.

A one and eight start to the 2010 season was the beginning of the end for Craig, with Adelaide failing to even qualify for the finals. Craig’s 166 game tenure came to an end the following year after another disappointing campaign, with premiership captain Mark Bickley taking the reigns as caretaker.

Brenton Sanderson was announced as the club’s sixth head coach going into the 2012 season, and he brought immediate on-field success with him.

The Crows surged up the ladder, finishing second with a 17-5 record and earning a home qualifying final.

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However, a shock loss to the Sydney Swans saw Adelaide faced with a tough preliminary final on the road against Hawthorn.

In a titanic clash, Adelaide led by a point late in the match but were overrun in the end. After two years of not making the finals, Sanderson’s tenure came to a controversial end following an internal review led by club great Mark Ricciuto, with Sanderson reportedly falling out with the playing group.

An experienced assistant coach at various clubs, Phil Walsh was appointed as the main man of the Crows for the 2015 season, quickly gaining respect and across the league for his footballing philosophy and passion for coaching and growing the game.

After 13 rounds, Adelaide held a 7-5 record and sat safely inside the top eight.

Then, in one of the biggest tragedies to hit the game, Walsh was murdered by his son at his home, sending shockwaves through the AFL community.

Assistant Scott Camporeale bravely took the reigns for the remainder of the year, steering the ship to a seventh-spot finish. In an entertaining elimination final against the Western Bulldogs at the MCG, Adelaide prevailed by seven points, but were brushed aside a week later at the same venue by a Hawthorn side on their way to a third consecutive flag.

Two-time premiership Eagle Don Pyke was instilled as the new head coach of the club, becoming the sixth person to coach Adelaide in the decade.

Like Sanderson before him, Pyke had an incredible first season with the Crows, with Adelaide sitting in second position going into Round 23, just a few percentage points off the first-placed Swans.

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However, a shock loss at home to West Coast in the final round saw the Crows tumble down to fifth spot, thus missing out on the double chance. An easy win over North Melbourne in the elimination final was followed by another early exit in September at the hands of Sydney a week later.

Adelaide bounced back strongly in the 2017 season, spending almost the entire year in first position on the ladder. A convincing win over GWS in the qualifying final set up a home prelim against the Cats.

With a ten goal-victory, Adelaide advanced to their third Grand Final in club history, and their first since the 1998 season. Taking on Richmond, the Crows were embarrassed to the tune of 48 points in front of 100,021 spectators, the biggest crowd the club has ever played in front of.

Matt Crouch Adelaide Crows AFL Grand Final 2017

(AAP Image/Julian Smith)

Things quickly unravelled for Pyke and his Crows, with two consecutive years in the bottom ten. Despite being contracted until the end of 2021 and holding a 60.75 per cent winning record, Pyke decided to step down following the announcement of an external review of the club led by Hawthorn legend Jason Dunstall and Fremantle star Matthew Pavlich.

David Noble, Matthew Nicks and Scott Burns are three of the top candidates being considered as the next coach of the Adelaide Football Club.

Best wins
Round 9, 2013 – North Melbourne 19.10.124 defeated by Adelaide 18.17.125 (Marvel Stadium)
One of the greatest comebacks the club has ever completed, this win will be talked about for a long, long time in the history of the Crows.

Trailing by 30 points halfway through the final quarter and having not led all afternoon, Adelaide flicked the switch and started to take the game on with immediate results.

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Four quick goals, three of those to Sam Kerridge, tightened the game up to under a goal. With one final thrust forward, Jared Petrenko was the hero, getting out the back for an easy goal from the goalsquare to put Adelaide ahead by a point with just seconds remaining on the clock. It was stuff that dreams are made of.

Round 16, 2015 – Port Adelaide 17.11.113 defeated by Adelaide 18.8.116 (Adelaide Oval)
In their first home match since the tragic passing of their coach Phil Walsh, it was fitting that the Crows took on crosstown rivals Port Adelaide, the club that Walsh won a premiership at as an assistant to Mark Williams in 2004.

On an emotion-charged afternoon in front of a monster crowd of 53,518, Adelaide led from start to finish, but had to withstand a late flurry from the Power, eventually holding on to win one of the most memorable Showdowns by three points.

Preliminary Final, 2017 – Adelaide 21.10.136 defeated Geelong 10.15.75 (Adelaide Oval)
Playing their first preliminary final at the Adelaide Oval, a record crowd of 53,817 piled in to watch the Crows take on Geelong, a recent rival of Adelaide following Patrick Dangerfield’s decision to depart West Lakes for the Cats at the end of 2015.

With nine of the first ten goals, the contest was effectively over early in the second quarter, with Adelaide cruising to a 61-point victory, reaching their first Grand Final in nearly 20 years. You probably have to go back to this night to find the last time the Adelaide Football Club were completely united.

Riley Knight Paul Seedsman Adelaide Crows AFL 2017

(Photo by Daniel Kalisz/Getty Images)

Worst losses
Round 18, 2011 – St Kilda 19.13.127 defeated Adelaide 3.6.24 (Marvel Stadium)
The final nail in the coffin for Neil Craig came on a Friday night between two sides sitting outside of the top eight. In what would be his 176th and last game in charge of the club, Adelaide were incredibly meek as they were held to their lowest ever score, losing by over 100 points for the first time in just under seven years.

Grand Final, 2017 – Adelaide 8.12.60 defeated by Richmond 16.12.108 (MCG)
A week after a club-defining thrashing over Geelong in a home preliminary final that left everyone feeling all warm and fuzzy, it all came crashing down on the biggest day on the football calendar.

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Facing a red-hot Richmond outfit who finished two positions below the Crows on the ladder, Don Pyke’s men were soundly beaten at the contest and on the scoreboard.

This loss resulted in the controversial pre-season training camp that has threatened to seriously derail the club.

Round 10, 2018 – Melbourne 23.8.146 defeated Adelaide 8.7.55 (Traeger Park)
Following their disappointing Grand Final defeat, Adelaide looked on track to head back to the finals heading into this match the following season. With a six and three record, the Crows were listless in their 91-point thumping at the hands of Melbourne in Alice Springs. From that point on, things have slowly unravelled at West Lakes, with a 16-18 win-loss record ensuing to the end of 2019.

Moments that shaped the club
Kurt Tippett’s exit (and others)
A talented basketballer from the Gold Coast who made the jump to football as a junior, Kurt Tippett was a rising star at the Crows, playing 104 games and kicking 188 goals from his first six years at the club.

With the introduction of the Suns in 2011, Tippett’s name was heavily floated as a potential signing for the fledgeling club, however he ended that speculation by signing a three-year deal in 2009.

Adelaide were blindsided at the conclusion of his contract, however, when Tippett requested a trade to the Sydney Swans. Controversy rocked the club soon after, with news that Adelaide breached AFL rules regarding his contract by offering him money not stipulated under the official salary cap.

As a result, Adelaide were fined $300,000 for salary cap breaches and tampering with the draft. The AFL blocked any potential trade between Adelaide and Sydney for Tippett, meaning he landed at the Swans via the pre-season draft, with the Crows receiving no compensation.

Also facing draft penalties, Adelaide surrendered their first and second round picks in the 2012 national draft as a ‘gesture of goodwill’, before the AFL handed them the same penalty for the 2013 national draft.

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Tippett is just one of a number of players who have walked through a revolving door at the Adelaide Crows. All Australian defender Nathan Bock departed the club at the end of 2010 to join the Gold Coast Suns, while a year later, first round pick Phil Davis was unveiled as a co-captain of the new Greater Western Sydney Giants.

Phil Davis

(Photo by Matt King/Getty Images)

2011 also saw budding young goalkicker Jack Gunston head east to join Hawthorn, going on to become a three-time premiership star in the brown and gold. Patrick Dangerfield was the biggest name to leave the Crows, joining Geelong in a blockbuster trade at the end of 2015.

Dangerfield has since won a Brownlow Medal, three best and fairest awards and made the All Australian side four times. Following the 2017 Grand Final defeat, small forward Charlie Cameron and young defender Jake Lever both sought trades away from the club, landing at Brisbane and Melbourne respectively.

A year later, forward Mitch McGovern followed them out the door, joining Carlton despite having two years remaining on his contract.

Other names to leave the Crows this decade only to go on and star for other teams include Jarryd Lyons (Gold Coast, Brisbane) and Ricky Henderson (Hawthorn). The player exodus is tipped to continue this year, with Eddie Betts, Josh Jenkins, Hugh Greenwood, Cam Ellis-Yolmen, Alex Keath and Sam Jacobs all set to join opposition clubs, while rumours continue to circulate surrounding star midfielder Brad Crouch.

Phil Walsh’s death
On the morning of July 3, 2015, Phil Walsh, the coach of the Adelaide Football Club, was murdered at his home in Adelaide. Walsh was only 12 games into his tenure at the Crows, following his appointment the previous year as the successor to Brenton Sanderson.

Adelaide’s scheduled match against Geelong two days later was subsequently called off, becoming the first known match in VFL/AFL history to be cancelled, as opposed to postponed.

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The death of Walsh rocked the football club, however, they managed to make the finals that year under the guidance of assistant coach Scott Camporeale, reaching the second week before bowing out with a loss to Hawthorn. At the conclusion of the 2015 season, Don Pyke was named as the new coach of the football club.

The pre-season training camp
Following Adelaide’s dismal effort in the 2017 grand final against Richmond, the Crows embarked on a pre-season training camp located on the Gold Coast in early 2018, masterminded by football manager Brett Burton, senior coach Don Pyke and Collective Mind, a mind performance company.

While the full story is yet to be revealed, it’s reported that some aspects of the camp left many senior players, such as Eddie Betts and Sam Jacobs, feeling quite distressed and unsure about their future with the club, while it also affected the families of said players and some of the assistant coaches, with Josh Francou departing mid-contract to join the Gold Coast Suns.

After the details of the camp were leaked to the media, the football club denied any wrongdoing, trying hard to sweep it all under the carpet.

This led to even more angst within the playing group, who were left incredibly frustrated by key figures of the club refusing to admit they got it wrong. A press conference was called in the middle of the 2018 season, where Pyke and Burton ended their tumultuous relationship with Collective Mind, but unfortunately the irreversible damage had already been done.

Don Pyke

(Photo by Michael Willson/AFL Photos via Getty Images)

Best 22 of the decade
Back Pocket – Luke Brown
The 27-year-old has been a reliable small defender since making his debut in 2012, reaching his 150 game milestone in the final round of the 2019 season. Was a member of Adelaide’s Grand Final side in 2017, while he has finished in the top 10 of the Malcolm Blight Medal twice (in 2013 and 2018).

Full Back – Ben Rutten
The big-bodied defender known as ‘Truck’ was an outstanding defender for Adelaide across a 12-year career that finished in 2014. Rutten played 103 games this decade, while he finished inside the top 10 in the Adelaide best and fairest three times (2010, 2011 and 2013).

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Back Pocket – Kyle Hartigan
A rookie selection back in 2012, Hartigan has developed into a sturdy key defender who often gets tasked with taking on the opposition’s most dangerous forward.

The 27-year-old notched up his 100th game this season, while he was named Best Team Man at the 2019 best and fairest award, going along with his top 10 finish in 2016.

Half Back – Rory Laird
Another ex-rookie, Laird entrenched himself in the senior side in his debut year, such was his ability to find the ball and his desperation at the contest, which saw him earn a Rising Star nomination.

In a breakout year in 2015, Laird was named in the All Australian squad of 40, following it up again with another nomination in 2016. In 2017 and 2018, he broke through to make the team of 22, winning the Malcolm Blight Medal in the latter season, as well as finishing equal-sixth in the Brownlow Medal. Laird came runner up to Patrick Dangerfield in 2015, while he finished third in 2017.

Rory Laird

(AAP Image/David Mariuz)

Centre Half Back – Daniel Talia
A first round draft pick from 2009, Talia is Adelaide’s only Rising Star winner, taking the honour in 2012 after a sensational year in which he announced himself as a gun key defender of the future.

From there, Talia’s credentials have continued to grow, making the All Australian team in 2014 and 2016. He has managed six top ten appearances in the Malcolm Blight Medal, including the 2014 season where he topped the count.

Half Back – Brodie Smith
Smith has been a constant in the Adelaide best 22 since his debut at the start of 2011, developing over the years into a highly-damaging half back flanker capable of pushing into the midfield.

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Boasting a monster kick, Smith made the All Australian side in 2014 at the age of 22. That year, he finished fourth in the club best and fairest, with top 10 finishes in 2016, 2017 and 2019. Smith was the hard-luck story of Adelaide’s Grand Final year of 2017, missing the game due to a torn ACL suffered in the qualifying final against GWS.

Wing – Patrick Dangerfield
One of the most dynamic players to ever walk through (and out of) the doors of West Lakes. Dangerfield notched four consecutive top 10 finishes in the Brownlow Medal between 2012 and 2015, with All Australian appearances in all but one of those years.

‘Danger’ also made the top 10 of the Malcolm Blight Medal, winning the award in 2015. However, it was that year that Dangerfield left the Crows, opting to join Geelong after 154 games and 163 goals with Adelaide.

Centre – Brad Crouch
A highly-touted midfielder hailing from Ballarat, Crouch was listed by the Crows via the 2011 mini-draft, meaning he was able to join the club as a 17-year-old but was not permitted to play at senior level until 2013.

Following his long-awaited debut, Crouch quickly became a mainstay in the Adelaide midfield, impressing with his ability to rack up the ball. Unfortunately, Crouch’s body has let him down over the years, wiping out his entire 2015 and 2018 seasons.

Those issues seem to be behind him, with the 25-year-old winning the club best and fairest this year, following on from his top 10 placings in 2013 and 2017.

Wing – Rory Sloane
One of the best bargain selections in the history of the Adelaide Football Club, Sloane has developed from a speculative pick 44 in the 2008 national draft to a widely-respected club captain.

Sloane has been arguably one of the Crows’ most consistent performers throughout the last decade, playing 198 games and kicking 122 goals.

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He managed top ten finishes in the Brownlow Medal in both 2016 (he was ineligible to win due to suspension) and 2017, while he is a two-time Malcolm Blight Medal winner to go with six other finishes in the top 10.

Tipped by many to join the long list of stars to depart the club, Sloane surprised many when he re-signed with the club for five years in 2018, becoming co-captain of the club in 2019 alongside Taylor Walker.

Rory Sloane chases Patrick Dangerfield

(Photo by James Elsby/AFL Photos/Getty Images)

Half Forward – Tom Lynch
Arriving at Adelaide in a three-way trade from St Kilda at the end of 2011, Lynch has been a valuable goalkicker over the years for the Crows.

In 2013, he won the leading goalkicker award, becoming just the third player in the history of the club to kick ten goals or more in a game, joining Tony Modra and Scott Hodges.

Between 2015 and 2017, Lynch was at his absolute best, playing as a link man between the forward line and midfield. During that period, Lynch kicked 105 goals and averaged 19.6 disposals from 69 games. Lynch has finished in the top 10 of the Malcolm Blight Medal four times throughout his career.

Centre Half Forward – Taylor Walker (Captain)
Adelaide’s best goalkicker of the past decade. Walker, like Sloane, was a speculative draft selection that has paid off incredibly well, kicking 403 goals over the past decade.

Walker has endured a chequered history with the Crows, starting in 2010 when there were rumours that he and coach Neil Craig weren’t seeing eye to eye. A year later, Walker was spotted drinking beer at a SANFL match by television cameras, sparking discussion that he wasn’t fully committed to becoming a professional athlete.

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In 2012, Walker had a career-best year, booting a career-best 63 goals to finish second in the Coleman Medal. In 2015, Walker was surprisingly named captain of the Crows by the late Phil Walsh, a role that Walker thrived in. He was named the AFLPA’s best captain in both 2016 and 2017, while he has taken out the club leading goalkicker award three times.

In recent seasons, the pressure of leading a Crows outfit spiralling down the ladder has seen Rory Sloane join Walker as co-captain in 2019, before the 29-year-old stepped down from the role completely at the end of the season.

Half Forward – Richard Douglas
A stalwart of the club, Douglas hung the boots up at the end of 2019 after a 14 year career with the Crows, playing 246 games (ranked ninth in the history of the football club) and kicking 164 goals.

It was the start of the decade where Douglas stamped himself as one of Adelaide’s most important midfielders, winning the best and fairest in 2010 and polling 10 Brownlow Medal votes. In recent years, Douglas moved up the field to become a goalkicking option, kicking 48 majors between the 2016 and 2018 seasons.

Forward Pocket – Eddie Betts
A switch to the Crows from Carlton at the end of 2013 revitalised the career of Eddie Betts, with the miraculous small forward playing the best footy of his life in the navy, gold and red.

Over a six-year period, Betts made three All Australian teams, topped the Adelaide leading goalkicker award four times and won the goal of the year award on three occasions. With 310 goals from 132 games, Betts was Adelaide’s most potent attacking option, featuring in the top 10 of the Malcolm Blight Medal four times, including two consecutive placings in the top three.

His relationship with the Crows came to an end in 2019, with a return to his former club on the cards.

Full Forward – Kurt Tippett
Despite the controversial circumstances surrounding his departure from the club at the end of 2012, Tippett still had a massive impact in the short time he spent at the Crows in the 2010-19 decade.

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Having already established himself as the club’s power key forward, Tippett kicked 116 goals over a 61 game period between 2010 and 2012, earning two top 10 placings in the club best and fairest.

Forward Pocket – Josh Jenkins
Picking up an untried Jenkins from Essendon back in 2011 remains one of the smartest list decisions made by the Crows, with ‘JJ’ going on to play 147 games and kick 296 goals for the club.

The 30-year-old was an incredibly consistent performer up forward for Adelaide, kicking over 40 goals in a season every year between 2014 and 2018, including a personal best effort of 62 in 2016.

Jenkins finished on the podium in the 2018 Malcolm Blight Medal, going alongside top 10 finishes in 2014 and 2016. Like Betts, Jenkins won’t be in Adelaide as they enter a new decade.

Ruckman – Sam Jacobs
It was no contest choosing who the best ruckman for Adelaide has been been over the last ten years. Since joining the Crows from the Blues at the end of 2010, Jacobs has been a mainstay in the best 18, featuring in 184 of a possible 207 games.

During that time, Jacobs finished in the top 10 of the club best and fairest five times, while he was a proven performer against fierce rivals Port Adelaide, winning three Showdown Medals in 2012, 2014 and 2017.

Jacobs’ 996 hitouts in the 2017 season is the seventh-most ever recorded by a player in a single season. Another player who will be entering the new decade wearing different colours, with Jacobs set to sign with Greater Western Sydney.

Ruck Rover – Matt Crouch
The younger brother of Brad, Matt Crouch didn’t take long to become an integral part of the Crows’ midfield thanks to his ability to find the ball. In 2017, the year Crouch won his first club best and fairest and made his debut in the All Australian side, he broke the then record of the most disposals by a player in a single season set by Dane Swan, amassing 825 at an average of 33 per match.

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Crouch has finished in the top ten of the Malcolm Blight Medal a further three times to his win a couple of years ago, including being runner-up in 2018.

Darcy Fogarty

(AAP Image/David Mariuz)

Rover – Scott Thompson
In a very similar mould to Matt Crouch, Thompson was an elite ball-winner for Adelaide, dominating in the early part of the 2010-19 decade.

Thompson was awarded the Malcolm Blight Medal in consecutive seasons across 2011 and 2012 to go with four other top 10 finishes. In 2012, he polled 25 Brownlow Medal votes, just one short of eventual winners Sam Mitchell and Trent Cotchin, while he also made the All Australian team for the first and only time in his career.

In 2015, Thompson was awarded the Phil Walsh Medal, which was presented in place of the Showdown Medal following the tragic passing of the Crows coach. He retired in the 2017 season after managing just one senior appearance.

Interchange – Nathan van Berlo
A tirelessly-working midfielder who made a name for his ability to run out games. Van Berlo succeeded Simon Goodwin to become the sixth captain of the Adelaide Football Club in 2011, leading the Crows in 66 matches until passing the baton to Taylor Walker at the end of 2014.

In his first year as skipper, van Berlo was runner-up in the best and fairest award, while he won a Showdown Medal that season. Van Berlo’s 2014 campaign was wiped out following a nasty achilles injury suffered at training. ‘VB’ retired in 2016 after losing his spot in the team.

Interchange – David Mackay
An unassuming midfielder who has never scaled any great heights as a player, but has been good enough to be a constant fixture in the Adelaide best 22. The 31-year-old has played 181 matches in the decade, with his 2011 campaign the only year that he has suffered a major injury.

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Mackay featured in Adelaide’s losing Grand Final side in 2017, while he signed on for an extra year at the end of 2019 following his first-ever top ten finish in the Malcolm Blight Medal.

Interchange – Brent Reilly
One of 16 players to have played over 200 games for the Adelaide Football Club, Reilly played some of his best football in the early part of the 2010-19 decade, taking over from the retired Robert Shirley as the team’s designated tagger.

Reilly was one of the few players who could lay claim to being able to curtail Gary Ablett’s influence while he was at the peak of his game. In 2012, Reilly was used as a rebounding defender, performing so well that he was named in the All Australian squad of 40. Reilly finished in the top 10 of the club best and fairest three times, with all of them coming in this decade.

Interchange – Andy Otten
One of the most unluckiest players in the history of the club, Otten endured a wretched run with injury in his time at the Crows. After finishing second to Daniel Rich in the Rising Star award in 2009, Otten missed the entire 2010 campaign with a torn ACL.

It would be the first of two knee reconstructions Otten would require in his career, suffering the same injury late in 2014, wiping out his 2015 season. His 2013 campaign was excellent, finishing in the top five of the best and fairest after playing in almost every position on the ground.

He featured in the 2017 Grand Final loss to Richmond but had a day to forget. He hung the boots up at the end of the 2019 season.

Are the Crows placed better or worse going into the new decade compared to ten years ago?
Worse. Much worse.

Ten years ago, the Crows bowed out of a finals campaign after pushing top four side Collingwood right to the end in an interstate semi-final.

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Today, Adelaide are still recovering from the aftereffects of the horror 2017 grand final loss and the controversial training camp that ensued.

The club culture has taken a hit according to recently-departed Crow Cam Ellis-Yolmen, and while we don’t know who the new coach will be, they have a monstrous task ahead as Adelaide try and rebrand themselves as the off-field powerhouse that they once were, not the on-and-off-field shambles that they are now.