When AFL season 2020 is finally done and dusted, one team will hold the premiership cup aloft, 16 other clubs will reflect on what the hell just happened this year and then there’s the Adelaide Crows.
After being on a downhill performance slide for two seasons, the Crows are quietly going about rebuilding the playing list from the bottom up. But shhh…you’d never know.
Firstly, we have the Crows haters who continue to rehash the camp and player division stories, kicking the club while it’s down. It’s a free hit for anyone wanting to stand in line.
Then there are the pundits and fickle supporters who focus on ladder positions and the win and loss columns. No wonder true Crows supporters feel deflated and frustrated. There’s not a lot to be positive about according to these folks.
But dig a little deeper and season 2020 is shaping up to be one of the most positive and productive in the club’s history.
Adelaide have never truly bottomed out. They have an average ladder position in their 30 year history of 7.4 and have played finals in 15 of those 30 seasons for two premierships. There were lean seasons under Neil Craig, Brenton Sanderson and Don Pyke, but the club has never had a bottom two or indeed, a wooden spoon finish.
Monitoring the Crows’ on-field performances closely so far, it poses the question of what does season 2020 look like and where will it finish for the club? The Crows will not win this year’s premiership. Neither will 16 other clubs. But based on the above my conclusion is there has never been a better season for the Crows to bottom-out and rebuild.
What is currently happening down at West Lakes is a credit to first-year coach Matthew Nicks and to his on-field leader Rory Sloane – the much loved and selfless club champion. Both are humbly going about their task for the greater good.
There is an abundance of games being blooded into youngsters never seen before in the club’s history. While there are inevitable on-field mistakes, there is also exciting raw talent on display. Starting season 2021 with 15 or so games under their belt is crucial for confidence and development.
This allows players to believe they can play at the level, and with another strong preseason on the track and in the gym, these players will become the future cornerstone for Nicks’ side when they begin the climb back up the mountain.
On a more ruthless level, the selection panel has made senior players like Taylor Walker, Tom Lynch and Bryce Gibbs acutely aware that the end is now, and that a position in the starting 22 is no longer guaranteed.
The same can be said for experienced players who’ve had waning form or been dropped this season. Players such as the Crouch brothers, Rory Laird, Brodie Smith, Jake Kelly and Daniel Talia – all still have currency in a trade period.
It is quite possible the Crows will head into the next draft with not only the first overall pick, but multiple first and second round selections. The recruiting team last year secured Greater Western Sydney’s first round pick for the 2020 draft, and with the possible trading out of players who’ll seek the greener pastures of finals footy and longer contracts, the Crows may very well end up with four or five picks inside the top 20.
So while the losses continue to mount and the season will take another curve or roundabout to get completed, the Crows have a clear and straight direction ahead. Plays the kids, trade out and retire senior players who won’t be there long term, and attack the draft for top end talent.
To quote Matthew Nicks, “you’re never that far away, and you’re never that good.”