The unprecedented fall from grace of the Adelaide Crows Football club is not the only story emerging from South Australia. The repeated rumbles of one of the club’s stars, Tex Walker reaching a crossroad in his career could very well overshadow the on-field shortcomings in 2020 and emerge as the big news story for the club this season.

Much has been made of the club’s 2019 season; managing just two wins in its final 11 appearances, prompting the landslide of changes both in coaching, player and administrative personnel coming into the new season. With the review complete, little to no noise was made of Walker’s resignation as club captain, but perhaps we should pay more attention to the evolving storyline gaining momentum in the shadows.

With Walker’s current contract ending at the conclusion of the 2021 season, is the thinking within list management to move on Walker while he still has trade currency, or will the club prefer the three-time club leading goalkicker play out his current contract to groom the club’s future premiership tilt?

Walker’s future has never been subject of speculation, as contract extensions have been announced well before deadlines. However, this time no such announcement has been forthcoming. The future of number 13 will be debated for much of the new season and you would have to assume that if the man admired by many within the Crows organisation does not improve his on field performances, the beating drums will most certainly drown out any other storyline coming out of the nest.

Would it be completely surprising if the 189 game and 426 goal focal point of the Crows over the last decade were tapped on the shoulder as part of a potential trade? Or worse, could early retirement become a consideration if the centre half forward cannot rediscover the form he had in the club’s Grand Final 2017 season appearance. Fundamentally, if the former captain cannot provide a serviceable return on the field, he will be hindering the list restructure and salary cap space over the next two seasons in a way it could extend the club’s absence from future finals campaigns much longer than previously thought.

List management and coaches will undoubtedly host exhausting deliberation around what is best right now and balance it with what’s best for the club moving forward as we make our way through 2020. Ultimately, with Walker’s contract occupying significant cap space, poor form may very well force the club’s hand prematurely and an exit could come sooner than we think.

Much has been reported about the unravelling that has taken place since the last day in September 2017. The Adelaide Crows have gone from flag finalists two years ago to potential wooden spoon frontrunners in 2020. The emergence of the 2019 preseason camp as a catalyst for the playing style demise and the death of club culture cannot be completely to blame for the club’s worst performance in over a decade. What has gone so terribly wrong for this South Australian powerhouse? The coach, his assistants and players have either been punted or have willingly walked from a club who has readily stood for loyalty and commitment to its colours. It is not a stretch to believe it that its former captain – the backbone of club leadership and values – is firmly in the crosshairs by those instructed to pull the Crows from its knees.

This proud club will stop at nothing to reignite its finals aspirations and will rely not only on the recommendations of the review to reinvigorate the club and its members, but must ensure list management have the best available players wearing the club colours week in and week out. The question may have to be asked at some stage this coming season – is Tex helping or hindering?

There is no watering down the mammoth task awaiting newly appointed club coach, Matthew Nicks. Having come from a successful culture at GWS, the South Australian product will be turning to key club figures and players to implement a game plan that will embrace the strengths of the current list. But you have to wonder how patient Nicks will be of Walker who, over his career, has managed just one tackle per game. Having come from GWS; a club that has established itself as one of the more defence-orientated teams in the league, lack of forward 50 pressure won’t be tolerated for long.

For the club to be competitive, Tex needs to be as dominant now on and off the field as he was in 2017. Failure to do so could very well be catastrophic, at least in terms of his tenure at Adelaide.

Was Neil Craig onto something early on in Walker’s career when he was dropped to the SANFL for substandard performances? Yes, it was highlighted that there were personality flaws and fractures in the relationship.  Yes, Tex was young and immature, but the inside 50 pressure act numbers have not wavered over the journey.

Defensive acts are as much about team-first and player-driven attitude as they are simply about doing the right thing on the field of battle. It would seem expectation and example are facets of Tex’s game that he just hasn’t been able to align to create a complete package. I don’t see an ageing body that has experienced the rigours of playing one of the most physically challenging positions on the field resurrecting his pressure acts and defensive plays to fall in line with newly established team values.

The transition from top four team in 2017 to bottom four dwellers in 2020 almost seems almost unavoidable given the senior player exits, combined with the arrivals of players with limited exposure and untested draft picks. Knowing only success, how will the new-look Crows’ performance impact Walker’s character and attitude? Having been very vocal on club success and performance, words like ‘rebuild, restructure’ and ‘young list’ do not seem to be part of the vocabulary of Walker at this stage of his career. Given the club’s proud AFL history, how will supporters react to a rebuild, however rapid it is? And how will they react to Walker possibly impeding it?

As competitive as Tex’s 102kg frame is, it would seem unlikely suited to the emergence of a Nicks-coached outfit. Walker is obviously not the long-term solution to rebuilding the Crows, but how long is too long for holding onto the ageing star?

The Crows will inevitably have to make a call on Walker, following similar decisions, such as moving on Josh Jenkins and Eddie Betts and inserting the next line of list hopefuls in Darcy Fogarty and newly recruited Tyson Stengel. Looking at the overall picture, the call on Walker must be soon.

Knowing the pinnacle of playing this great game has eluded Walker you have to feel clubs like Sydney, Essendon, Collingwood and GWS would have a place for a Tex-like player to straighten up attacking options and slightly improve list depth, much like the Tigers have been able to do in recent times with multiple big man scoring targets.

Tex Walker is as iconic with the Adelaide Crows as any of its past legends but are we witnessing a trend of inevitability that current list management has no place for sentimentality, irrespective of whether they’ve been captain or not?

Drafted in 2007 at pick 75, the expectation of the 194cm Broken Hill key position player would have been flimsy at first. Not identified within his draft peer group as a key focus amongst early ranked clubs, perhaps the view that Tex came from the darkness, rose to be a leader, played 189 games and captained his club is as good as it gets. Perhaps the expectation for Tex to be greater than he is, to perform in a way he isn’t capable of, and to change what he is simply incapable of changing is a profile the media has ingrained in our thinking. Maybe they have convinced us as to who they think Tex is, and who he could have been?

Whilst the media frenzy surrounding Walker has perhaps fired the emotions of the Crows faithful over the journey, maybe… just maybe we, as footy lovers, have fallen into the hype and expectation they generated as well. Tex would not be the first to succumb to pressure of media hype or external pressures and walk away from the game.

But Tex could be the next to do it?

At 29 years of age, fatherhood is at the front and centre for the former Crow captain. Reading much into the commentary circling around the 2020 season I see one of two options playing out. Tex can play out the season and, bar injury, will finish as a 200+ gamer and one club player. Or, he could look to fill a vacant key forward role at a top eight club giving him one more crack at September action, and a shot at redemption for a Grand Final where he was a very small factor… at best.

My money is on the second option.

Why?

Watching much of his career play out in front of my eyes I’ve noted character trends in the game, and as much as a ‘one-club’ mantle is seen as honourable, there is something Walker needs to rectify in order to be considered a player who stood up when it counted.

Could he walk away knowing that he has kicked only 39 goals on the MCG and that the only grand final he played in, he played one of the worst games of his footballing career?

The haunting memories of 2017 are still very real and the thought of redemption would have to burning within Walker’s psyche.

How will the footy world react to Tex if he farewells South Australia for greener pastures? How will Crows supporters react when he sets foot on Adelaide Oval wearing a different guernsey?

And how will Tex Walker respond in a year that could possibly be his last as an Adelaide Crow?

2020 could provide the first of these answers, and that will set the wheels in motion in order to answer the others as well.