Team selection this week saw the Crows throw an absolute curve ball at everyone.
Matty Nicks and the selection committee dropped Matt Crouch from the side. This is not the correct way to go about rebuilding an AFL team.
Matt Crouch is in the group of players that should be seen as untouchable when it comes to selection. He is a consistently elite performer, averaging 28 disposals, four tackles, three inside 50s and five clearances across his eight seasons of footy.
Crouch is 25 years old, typically the prime of a player’s career, and has been linked to other clubs primarily in his home state Victoria for potential trades.
Nicks should be doing everything in his power to keep his elite core of 23-28-year-old players together, while rotating through his younger cast of 18-22-year-olds to get some match experience without throwing his side to the wolves.
Why then are veterans like Taylor Walker, Tom Lynch and Rory Sloane not being asked to make way for their younger contemporaries?
It’s players like Matt Crouch (25), Paul Seedsman (28), Riley Knight (25) and Kyle Hartigan (28) who are being asked to step down every other week to get some games into the kids. This is simply not the way to do it.
Since 2017, after many on-field and off-field controversies including the infamous pre-season camp, multiple best-22 players of this 23-28 age bracket have departed the Crows.
First was Jake Lever (24) and Charlie Cameron (25) in 2017, followed by Mitch McGovern (25) in 2018, and capped off by Cam Ellis-Yolmen (27), Hugh Greenwood (28) and Alex Keath (28) in last year’s trade period.
This is comparable to some of exoduses that teams like the Suns and the Lions have had to suffer before getting their team culture right.
In comparison to other teams that are younger than the league average or rebuilding, the Crows’ figures are absolutely indicting.
Their 18-22 age group has only 181 games of experience, a third of which is taken up by Wayne Milera (62 games), followed by Lachie Murphy (36 games) and Jordan Gallucci (27 games).
The Gold Coast Suns have 421 games of experience in that same age bracket, with Jesse Joyce (64 games) as the most experienced of the group. Brisbane’s young boys have registered 446 games, led by Eric Hipwood (79 games).
It’s easy to say there’s an obvious difference between a club that was just recently in premiership contention, and one that has been rebuilding for the better part of the last decade. An enterprising coach and list management team, like those at Geelong and Sydney, can avoid this dearth of experience in the youthful side of their playing list.
Justin Longmire’s young Swans have 295 games of experience (led by Will Hayward and Ollie Florent, both on 57 games), and played in the 2016 grand final, just one year before the Crows. The rebuild-on-the-run tactic has been cleverly employed in this case, and should probably have been considered by Don Pyke when he was in charge of the side, as the signs of more and more players leaving for greener pastures was there from late 2017 and early 2018.
While it looks as though the likes of Will Hamill, Fischer McAsey, Chayce Jones and Myles Poholke are staples of Matty Nicks’ new-look best 22, he and the rest of the selection committee need to seriously consider the future of the 30-plus players if they are to rebuild effectively.