The Bulldogs would have gone into the game against the Crows feeling pretty confident having not lost there in three years, and with Adelaide expected to be a bottom four side for 2022, but as is often the case you can’t take a win for granted in the AFL.

The game ended up being much more entertaining than most might have expected, and much of that was down to the Crows’ ability to just keep surging forward and not dwell on their mistakes. A potent forward line, mated with a midfield that seized the moments when they came allowed Adelaide to take a stunning victory, and bring their record to 3-3.

 

THE LEAD UP

Adelaide have been a bit of a surprise packet this season, with many tipping them to be a bottom four side and committed to a rebuild. Their matches in 2022 have been very competitive, with the sole exception of their 42-point loss to Collingwood in round 2. Taking that game out of the equation, the Crows’ losses have been decided by an average of under three points. Their wins have been against cross-town rivals Port Adelaide, who have endured a horror 2022 season so far, and a Richmond side that has been about as consistent as the hot water system in a uni share house.

The Bulldogs’ losses have been a bit costlier, due in no small part to their inaccuracy in front of goals. They’ve kicked 37.49 in the last three rounds, though it looks flattering due to their 21.13 demolition of North.

Their losses have been bigger too, with an average losing margin of 25 points across their three defeats to Melbourne, Carlton and Richmond.

Despite that, thee was a feeling in the media that Adelaide were overachieving, and that the Bulldogs were too talented to drop this match at their home away from home.

Was it hubris? Vic Bias? The Football God’s dislike of Brad Johnson’s commentary on his old side? Who can really say? I’d be willing to bet though that the most underestimated person in this game was Matthew Nicks. He managed to adapt to the game and ground as fast as anyone, and Adelaide’s structures allowed quick movement when they had the momentum, and stifled the Bulldogs when they didn’t. If there’s one coach who should feel comfortable in his chair at the moment, it’s Nicks, maybe almost as much as Fagan and Goodwin do.

 

THE GROUNS

Mars Stadium is Ballarat’s answer to Marvel stadium, having been altered to match the dimensions of the big city ground in the last redevelopment. The surface looked pretty good (much better than Marvel tends to look around this time of year) but players were caught out a few times and lost footing fairly regularly.

The fact that one side was open and the other sheltered by grandstands also created a swirling breeze that challenged both teams. The Bulldogs had the home ground advantage, but Adelaide looked like they knew how to use the sheltered side a little better, maintaining the run and carry while looking for teammates in space.

 

STAYING HEALTHY

The Crows had to deal with losing Rory Sloane for a long stint to an ACL injury, but the Bulldog’s list was even more disrupted with Lachie Hunter and Mitch Wallis out for personal reasons, while Garcia looks to be out for a while with a knee injury and the ruckman that has had a brilliant start to the season, Tim English could be on the sidelines for some time with a hamstring injury sustained during training.

Just so everyone is aware, Stefan Martin assures me he has a rock-solid alibi for the time of the injury, and any mention of ice skaters and Russian gangsters is nothing more than foul gossip and slander. He’s a massive unit, so I’m going to take him at his word.

 

STARTING STRONG

Adelaide went with the breeze to start with, and looked to make use of it with plenty of long kicks along the boundary, rapidly moving the ball forward until Taylor Walker managed to take a contested mark and move the ball on quickly into the forward line. He found McAdam who quickly looked for a central option, finding Sholl who got a free

From the opening play, Tex took a strong mark 60 out and spotted up McAdam in the pocket, who teed up the kick and gave Scholl a shot through a free kick. Was it a shot or a pass? It’s hard to know for sure as McAdam is just the sort of player to try a tricky no-look pass if the mood strikes him.

Adelaide controlled much of the play, keeping the ball in their forward half as they put on three more behinds, most of which were gettable.

A goal to McAdam gave Adelaide a handy lead on the goalless dogs, and when Ben Keays managed the fourth Adelaide behind for the quarter, Adelaide gained a 14 point lead, which would turn out to be the largest margin of the match.

The Bulldogs rallied though as the quarter rolled on, with the next six scores in a row, but only converting three goals and three behinds from their momentum.

 

ADELAIDE UP FOR THE CHALLENGE

Ben Keays was everywhere in the second quarter, combining strong in-and-under work with a long kicking game that put the ball to the advantage of his teammates. The ball went from end to end several times until Adelaide showed how quickly they can hurt teams with a strong run and kick through the corridor, giving Tex Walker a one-on-one contest with Tim O’Brien, who he pushed under the ball with his body and ran into an open goal. It broke the stalemate of the quarter, and brought the margin back to a single point.

Adelaide was full of hunger for the ball, to their own detriment at times. At the 12 minute mark, Lachie Gollant managed to throw his body into a marking contest and managed to take an errant arm to the schnoz. It looked like it might have been friendly fire from Hately, and Gollant had to go and hit the bench to try and stop the bleeding. It looked like a broken nose was a possibility, but after a bit of time in the rooms, he came back on looking set to see out the match with the addition of a bit of plaster to keep his nose straight, and sporting what will probably become a pair of black eyes that would make him a hit with the local goth community.

Adelaide continued to take the game on, using the middle of the ground to move the ball quickly and catch the Western Bulldogs in the scramble. Their finishing was just a shade off though, as often their entries just didn’t quite come off. One in particular from McHenry was weighted to find McAdam just between two defenders while leading to the pocket. It was a brave choice, but asked a bit too much of McAdam, though it could be argued that he should have taken it anyway.

The see-saw battle continued as each side tried to control the pace of the game, but the pressure of each team’s defence made it hard to find space to get clean shots at goal away.

As half time came, each team went into the long break with scores level, though it was Adelaide who seem buoyed by this, while the Bulldogs looked to be a little frustrated with themselves.

 

PUSHING ON

Adelaide controlled much of the third quarter, but just couldn’t make the most of their possession, with a couple of wayward kicks and unlucky post hits.

With goals swapped back and forth, neither team could manage back-to-back majors for the term. Tom Liberatore was mighty in earning his own ball in congestion, creating clearances through sheer force of will.

The tit-for-tat continued until mid-way through the last quarter when the Bulldogs finally managed consecutive goals to Schache and Dunkley to take the lead by two points. Dunkley’s goal gave the Bulldogs the momentum they’d been searching for in the last three quarters, and though it won’t earn a stat, Weightman’s ability to pinpoint a tap in Dunkley’s direction by using his face to change the direction of the ball will probably be one of the plays highlighted in the players meeting when they’re back at the kennel. Whether that’s as evidence of his commitment or simply as a bit of classic blooper reel is anyone’s guess.

Behinds to Keays and Rachele brought the score just a little further into Adelaide’s favour, but both shots were ones taken out of desperation rather than genuine chances, though Keays’ dribbler could have been a miraculous goal if the ball had just taken a leg break instead of top spin.

 

THE LAST TWO MINUTES

A few people have mentioned that the final bounce could have been recalled, which is a fair case to make. It’s worth pointing out though that Umpires aren’t obligated to recall the bounce if they think it’s fairly contested, and just a few minutes earlier, the Bulldogs got away with Weightman running through the protected areas of an Adelaide mark in what should have been a 50 metre penalty to put Adelaide deep into attack.

With 2:40 on the clock, a poor kick by Ned McHenry 20 metres out went across goal for a handy point to break the deadlock and give Adelaide the smallest of leads.

Caleb Daniel, usually as reliable a kick in defence as you’d wish to have, looked to fake a long-down-the-middle kick, only to pull a fast one on everyone and try to pinpoint Taylor Duryea on the left-side 50 metre arc. Even Duryea was caught flat-footed though, as the ball sailed right down the gullet of Lachie Gollant. A short kick found Taylor Walker in the pocket and with the game on the line and the crowd letting their voice be heard, he kicked a perfect drop punt to sail between the sticks and give his side a seven point lead with just under two minutes remaining.

The ball up in the centre was hotly contested, as the Bulldogs sought to mount a final charge. Both sides were running on tired legs, but it was the Bulldogs who looked that tiny bit fresher while Adelaide seemed to be filled with more desperation than a bloke hitting up an ATM at a strip club.

With time running out, the Bulldogs launched from half back to work their way along the outer wing on legs like steel springs, working the ball wide through sheer determination as Schache marked 80 metres out and looked to move the ball into attack quickly.

Josh Dunkley flew and almost took the mark, but Bontempelli was at the drop of the ball, somehow collecting and snapping off a single step from 25 metres out across his body to bring the margin back to a point.

Nicks moved his wings as far toward the back of the square as he was able to do while still maintaining the 6-6-6 rule. I’ve often wondered why teams don’t do that more often, especially considering how keen they were to throw an extra man in defence to stop momentum of their opponents. Perhaps we’ll see more of it as the season wears on.

There was no countdown on the field, so it’s likely that the Bulldogs were prepared to take a final run at the win while Adelaide were hoping their effort weren’t going to have been in vain. As the ball bounced, it was a congested stoppage as Adelaide’s forward line rushed at the pack to try and keep the ball contained and drain the clock, though they need not have worried. The remaining seven seconds ran out quickly and Adelaide claimed the four points in a match that showed just how much hunger there is in this Crows side.

 

KEAYS V SMITH

Ben Keays has become one of the biggest trade wins for Adelaide since… well since I can remember. At 25 and with 74 games to his name, he’s hitting his prime years and is moulding his game into a solid presence in the Adelaide midfield.

Bailey Smith has a similar amount of games at 72, but is four years younger. While there’s plenty of criticism levelled at Smith’s non-football-related activities, he’s tearing it up this season, averaging 34.4 possessions per game to Keay’s 31.7. Both are elite accumulators of the ball and are instrumental for the teams, but you have to give the win to Keays here. He had more of the ball, more tackles and more clearances, but the stat worth noting is that his 16 contested possessions were equal second-highest for the match, while Smith only managed six.

That’s Smith’s role though, as Liberatore was the in-and-under player looking to distribute to Smith, Treloar or Macrae, while getting support at the coal face from Josh Dunkley.

Keays seems to be developing his core strength more with every game. So often in this match he accepted a tackle and remained standing to look for a handball receiver. It was a rare occasion when he was taken to the ground. He put in a couple of delightful fend offs too. With the “Don’t Argue” title belt currently vacant with Dusty and Cunnington on the sidelines, Keays is one of the players that could be putting their hand up as the heir apparent, right into the necks of those who would like to have the title.

 

JUST KEEP WALKING

Now I know there is a segment of readership and society in general that would like nothing more than for Tex Walker to just quietly wilt away under the pressure and scrutiny that his own actions brought on him. Credit where it’s due though, he owned up, took his punishment and by all accounts has sought to make amends with those he wronged, both individually and the community in general. Some will say it’s all for show or that it’s not enough, and that’s a criticism he’ll have to live with, though I’d point out that there needs to be a point where someone can be said to be rehabilitated if there’s ever any hope of clamping down on similar incidents, otherwise the first thing that will happen is simply denial, which helps no one.

Regardless, Tex seems to have no problem dealing with the added scrutiny once he puts his boots on. He’s letting his footy do much of the talking, and it’s saying that —on form— he deserves his spot on the ground. You might disagree, and that’s fine, feel free to put your case forward in the comments below.

From the opening play, Tex took a strong mark 60 out and spotted up McAdam in the pocket, who teed up the kick and gave Scholl a shot through a free kick. Walker’s field kicking has long been a feature of his game, with some criticism previously about how as a key forward, he should be willing to trust his own boot more often.

It’s a bit of poetic justice then that he managed to notch up his 500th goal early in the final quarter with a goal that seemed to bend so far it could have hit him in the back of the head if it continued on the same path. The kick started off looking like a shank off the instep, but was drawn between the big sticks by the sudden inhalations of the Crows fans behind the goals. That kick has him just outside the top 60 all-time goal kickers for the league, and gave him an even 60 goal break on Tony Modra’s tally in the Crows colours. For now, he sits just behind John Longmire (511), Peter Sumich (514) and Steve Johnson (516). His next big milestone of 550 could be within reach this season, and would see him shade Port Adelaide great Warren Tredrea.

Walker has another 88 to go to eclipse Modra’s career total of 588 though, so he would need at least one more season to have a chance of hitting that mark. Will he get it? You would have to think that his form is good enough. Will off-field issues cause him to fall short? It’s a big possibility, though there would probably be a few teams willing to gamble on getting a couple more years out of a 32 year-old spearhead if Adelaide decide to cut ties. I’d be surprised if they do though—why go through the agony of the last six months if you’re not going to stick with him for the foreseeable future.

 

DUNKLEY STANDING OUT

It’s almost hard to put into words just how much impact Josh Dunkley has for his team. Liberatore is the rabid wolf at the contest, Bailey Smith and Treloar generate outside run and carry, and Bontempelli works his way out of traffic with enviable ease. Dunkley is slightly shaded by each player, but is right on their heels in each category. He’s the jack-of-all-trades that is almost as good as the specialists in their roles. 27 touches, seven marks and a goal are impressive enough, but add in ten tackles and eight score involvements to go with six clearances and it’s a very well-rounded effort from a player that can just about do it all.

 

GAME LIFTER

Jordan Dawson’s high-flying mark late in the first came at a time when the Bulldogs were starting to build momentum, surging forward after a goal. Dawson stood on the head of Lachie McNeil with a screamer that will likely be part of the Sunday liftout in the Adelaide Advertiser (and if it’s not, the photographer at the ground should be very nervous). Intercept marks are golden, but taking one after rocketing off your opponent’s shoulders lifts the entire team.

 

FORWARD POWER

While Tex is still the big dog in the forward line, much of the attention has turned to Josh Rachele, and with good reason. While Walker was serving his penalty, Rachele showed that he has talent to burn with his work in the forward line. He’s managed to integrate well with Walker, and will no doubt develop very quickly with Tex in the same forward line.

One player worth noting though is Shane McAdam. While Carlton would probably be pleased with the trade that got Mith McGovern to their club in return for sending McAdam to the Crows, Adelaide can be pretty pleased with how McAdam is developing. His work at the base of a marking contest, plus his ability to fly for his own ball are extraordinary, coupled with the innate goal sense that looks like it could develop into something similar to the ever-dangerous Eddie Betts. It’s a big call, but just look at the one-on-one mark he took in the third quarter with Bailey Williams all over him. It’s the sort of thing that not only lifts teammates, but makes defenders panic as soon as the ball starts coming into the forward line. It would be remiss though to not point out that after he had some cramping and injury concerns in the game, he was very wasteful of opportunities in the last ten minutes of the match. He sprayed two shots well across goals, missing everything. In true veteran fashion though, he promptly started stretching his calves to remind the coaches that he was playing through the pain. It’s classic forward craft, and suggests he has a bright future.

Between McAdam, Rachele and Thilthorpe, Adelaide have the ingredients to create a forward line that will test most defences for a long time yet, even after Walker hangs up the boots.

The Dog’s forward line was missing key target Josh Bruce, but Aaron Naughton has enjoyed being the goal-kicking target, with support from Weightman, Bontempelli, Schache and Jamarra Ugle-Hagan. The focus on mobility and speed has been a bit hit-and-miss for the Dogs in 2022, though the amount of scoring shots in the last few weeks has been very encouraging, though wasteful at times.

 

BULLET PASS PONT

Is there a better player to deliver inside 50 than Bontempelli? It’d be a shortlist of players that can match him in finding an open target and placing the ball low and hard right into their leading lane. He did it several times in this match, setting up Naughton late in the first quarter as well as several other damaging passes, while still able to hit the scoreboard himself. His numbers are a bit below what’s been expected of him, but he is damaging with every touch.

While it’s fair to say that this might not have been his best outing, it was fairly solid from a player that can turn games off his own boot when he’s on song, and he almost did exactly that in this match with his goal with just a few seconds remaining. Another thirty seconds or so and we may have seen the Bulldogs pinch the match, but as they say, close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades.

 

INTERCEPTS APLENTY

Billy Frampton had such a good radar in this match that he could probably monitor the air traffic of a major airport. His 26 disposals were a big part of Adelaide’s ability to rebound out of defence, where he earned plenty of his own ball with ten intercepts.

Not a bad effort for a bloke who has spent most of his career as a ruck-forward. His game reminded me of another Adelaide big man by the name of Shaun Rehn as he hunted for the ball on the half-back line.

Add in the nine marks, 502 metres gained and four score involvements, and it’s fair to say that Frampton will be the first name on the board in the back six.

 

BEST ON GROUND

You could make a case for Dunkley, who was instrumental in launching most of the Bulldog’s attack, or Tom Liberatore for his tireless efforts to gain possession of the ball for his team, and shut down the movement of the Adelaide midfield with some hard tackling. Bontempelli almost turned the game, but probably didn’t quite have the consistent impact to get the nod. Keays did everything you could ask of him, and Reilly O’Brien was an absolute force in the ruck. I think though, it’s hard to go past Walker for the three votes. His on-field leadership, big moment coolness and ability to bring in the other members of his team went a long way to earning the win for his side. When the game was in the balance, he converted a big shot and set up a few more. Adelaide are a much more dangerous side with him in form.

Two votes could go to a few players, but Josh Dunkley did more than most to earn that honour, while the single vote ahs to go to Ben Keays. Honestly, you could probably change that order into any sequence you like, and be justified. If you saw it differently, let me know who and why in the comments.

 

TIME FOR A HOLIDAY?

There was plenty of hotly-contested football in this match, and a bit of the physicality that gets people feeling like they got their ticket’s worth, but if there’s one thing the AFL and MRO dislike, it’s the late bump.

Rory Laird caught Josh Dunkley high in the first quarter as Dunkley attempted to mark and juggled the ball. He stayed down for a bit, though managed to get back up and play out the game.

There is a bit of a concern here though, that players in this situation might actually claim they’re fine, just to avoid sitting out games due to concussion protocols. If Dunkley went off, he’s done for the day, and probably next week as well. The AFL will examine the footage to determine whether Laird lines up for the Crows next week, but could equally rub out Dunkley fi they feel the hit was bad enough.

It’s an odd situation, and one that has come about with the current well-intentioned, but perhaps not-quite-adequate concussion protocols.

The commentary team seemed to view it as a pure accident, but it’s not so different from some other hits we saw earlier in the year that received sanctions. Will this be a case of the MRO becoming a little less aggressive on penalties as the season wears on, or another statement made about the head being sacrosanct? There’s no way to know for sure, and that is the most concerning thing about the current penalties.

 

NEXT UP

Adelaide will be surging with confidence as they take on GWS in Adelaide. The Giants are just 1-5 and have struggled to put together a four-quarter effort in 2022, though haven’t really had any blowout losses, with the exception of their game against Melbourne.

The Giants are a better side than their record suggests, but with the home ground advantage and riding a wave of positive morale, I think Adelaide will take another scalp and get over the line.

Adelaide by 9 points.

The Bulldogs will get an eight-day break to take on Essendon. As of writing, the ANZAC day match is yet to be played, but I’m going out on a limb and suggesting that Essendon will give every last ounce of energy they have in that game, and combined with the shorter turnaround, will struggle to contain a Bulldogs side looking to recover from an unlucky loss.

Bulldogs by 7.

 

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