In a truncated and unique 2020 season, Adelaide have an opportunity.
Whether or not this year’s AFL season has an asterisk or not, it was always going to be a hard-fought year for the Crows. After the departure of Don Pyke followed by several older, out-of-form players at the end of last year, the club appointed Matthew Nicks.
Nicks impressed with his rhetoric early. He appeared to be a no-nonsense coach who was capable of building strong relationships with the players. However, he has shown a weakness already: selection.
After a fairly solid Round 1 performance against a team in a similar position, four changes were made. Tyson Stengle was suspended, but Billy Frampton, Bryce Gibbs and Ben Davis all made way. Assuming Ben Crocker, billed and tested as a small forward, was the replacement for Stengle, then Ben Keays, Ned McHenry and Tom Doedee were the players favoured in Round 2.
While it’s possible that the result of the showdown was a lay-down misere, the inclusions certainly did nothing to strengthen the side. Doedee is returning from a year out of the game and will obviously take some time, so an exception can be made there. Also, match-ups were surely a consideration, but it’s possible to overthink them.
One reasonable criticism is that they play without heart.
That concept scares modern AFL coaching staff because it is immeasurable and intangible. Yet those watching a game are never unclear about its presence. It’s plain to see whether a team believes in themselves and the cause or not. And the best coaches of the modern era thrive on it. Alastair Clarkson, Damien Hardwick, Nathan Buckley and Adam Simpson all use it as a cornerstone of the leadership.
In that way, not selecting Frampton was a missed opportunity. After a dust-up with Kyle Hartigan at training, Frampton showed he’s up for the fight. He grew up hating Port Adelaide, and he used to play for them. Not everything is about form and match-ups, especially in a season like this, where expectation is low and everything has been disrupted. Now is the time to throw the magnets around and experiment.
To that end, now is also not the time to play first-year draft picks simply because they’re there, especially when there are so many two- to four-year players sitting on the bench with no SANFL to play. These are players that as a club Adelaide has invested significant time and money into for nothing.
Of course, if you’re at the top of the table and pushing for a flag, too bad. Those guys can just sit. And yes, all clubs have them, but now is the time to play them, whether or not they’ve given the best effort at training or not.
Because if not now, when?
To have an opportunity like this to properly assess the whole list only to ignore those two- to four-year players is to admit you got the draft picks wrong.
Jordan Gallucci, Elliott Himmelberg, Jordan Butts, Ben Davis, Will Hamill, Shane McAdam, Andrew McPherson, Myles Poholke and Lachlan Sholl must all be picked over first-year players when spots are available.
Because to draft someone and never give them a proper run at AFL level means one of two things: either you’re winning flags every year they’re in the system, or you picked wrong. But if you give each of those players five games this year to prove what they can do at the level, you may just unearth something that would never be found at training or in the SANFL.
And if you don’t, then your trade period looks a lot clearer. And as for the first year players drafted in 2019, they’ll still be there in 2021. A year of scratch matches won’t kill them.
This 2020 campaign is an expendable season for the Adelaide Crows, and those don’t come around all that often. So the club must recognise the opportunity they have and get weird at the selection table.