The first of the three Sunday clashes for Round 15 saw Adelaide bring up their fifth win for the season, beating North Melbourne by 57 points at Tasmania’s Blundstone Arena. For the first time in the history between these two teams, the Crows leave the Apple Isle with a record better than which they entered, and barring the first 30 minutes of today’s game, that result was rarely in doubt.
For these first 30 minutes at least, it looked like the match could go the distance, with North coach David Noble’s decision to play young full-back Ben McKay at full-forward almost immediately bearing fruit. However, as the match wore on, the Crows’ endeavour, class and ultimately their experience around the ball proved far too strong for an increasingly hapless Roos side. The loss was North’s 12th in a row, and consigns them to last spot on the ladder with eight games to go.
When the call came for who wanted to cover what games this week, I think I surprised my Mongrel colleagues by quickly putting my hand up for this one – this is a round where there were plenty of seemingly great games on offer, surely there was a better choice than this one? Well, I thought my logic was sound. See, life had been going reasonably well for the few weeks prior; I’ve finished a major project at work; have another one nearly completed; had a bump in salary, and another one just around the corner; as I said, things were going pretty well… perhaps a little too well, I thought. Rather than waiting for the proverbial other shoe to drop, maybe I could get ahead of it and try to show the universe that I wasn’t getting too big for my britches by subjecting myself to a little bit of punishment – and the Roos-Crows match-up in Tasmania looked like a decent offering. (NB – apologies to any Roos and Crows fans, but you gotta be honest, this game wasn’t exactly a mouth-watering contest).
Unfortunately, it seems the universe deemed this offer of punishment unworthy and instead inflicted my wife and I with a rather nasty helping of Covid. All of this is to say that if this review is too short, doesn’t make sense, is too wordy, or is just plain crap, can we agree to chalk it up to the ‘Rona rather than me? No? Well, it was worth a shot.
Now that we have that out of the way, let’s get on with the review – here are my four points.
- The Distributors
Last season’s trade period was interesting in that there were no really huge trades made – there was no show-stopping Jeremy Cameron or Joe Daniher-type changing clubs – but there were some really good players who found new homes. One such player who has fitted into their new club beautifully is Adelaide’s half-back/wing Jordan Dawson. Prior to today’s game, he had only gone under 22 disposals twice, led the club in kicks, marks, uncontested possessions and ranked fourth in total metres gained across the competition. Often trusted with the kick-in duties for the Crows, Dawson uses his prodigious kicking talent to try and pinpoint targets out of the back half, turning defence into offence in a matter of moments.
Today was no exception as Dawson shifted into defence for the final three quarters. He finished the game with 29 disposals, ten of which were intercept possessions, had four score involvements and went at over 80% efficiency by foot. After the Roos had been able to pick apart the Crows defence in the first quarter, with half-forward Cam Zurhaar looking particularly dangerous, the return of Dawson behind the ball seemed to provide the Crows defence with the stability they had been lacking.
On their opponents’ side, one key area for focus for North Melbourne today was surely the way they could try to kick-start their transition from defence. Before the start of the round, North were number one in the comp for rebound-50’s, and taken alone this stat is impressive. However, when considering the fact that they give up the most inside-50’s in the league, have one of the worst offences, and have one of the worst disposal efficiency ratings in the comp, it’s no wonder they have a lot of rebounds – the ball spends most of it’s time down there.
Their main rebounder is Aaron Hall, and while he does get a lot of it – including today as he notched up 38 disposals – I was constantly left wondering why his teammates trust him with the ball. The official stats for the game say that he had 10 turnovers, and I reckon they’re only counting the direct ones. There were more than a few times where Hall would see a teammate up field, try to kick to him but couldn’t execute the skill. For a player in their third or fourth year, these mistakes would be understandable and bearable, but for a guy who has been in the comp for more than a decade and has suited up more than 150 times, these mistakes are unacceptable.
As I watched closer, however, I started to notice some key differences between the way that Dawson and Hall play. Dawson, believe it or not, actually defends. He understands that, as part of the back six, his primary role is to beat his opponent, and the best way to do that is to ensure that his man doesn’t get the ball. If his man does get the ball, then Dawson will be there, ready to provide pressure. Hall, meanwhile, seems to view the defensive part of his job as an optional extra – a desirable rather than essential skill. If there’s a handball to be received, Hall will be there quick-smart, but if there’s a ball to be stood under deep in defence, don’t count on it.
I know that Hall’s role is important, and that North don’t have many other options at the moment, but maybe the coaching staff need to consider whether their time would be better spent sacrificing empty rebounds for better defence.
- Darcy Fogarty – The Unanswered Question
It’s always interesting to see the physique of players when they are drafted and compare it with how they look after four or five years in the system. Given that they’re just 18 years old when they are drafted, most players understandably don’t look like they’ve been working out at Gold’s Gym. There are, however, always a few exceptions and in his draft year, Darcy Fogarty was just that.
At six-foot, three-and-a-half inches tall, and weighing in excess of 90kg, Fogarty represented an interesting conundrum to recruiters. His skill was undeniable, he looked like he was carved from stone, and he had dominated the underage competitions, but questions lingered over his best position in AFL ranks. Would he be best as a burst midfielder, using his considerable bulk to win clearances and get the ball moving forward? Could he lose some of that bulk and turn himself into a lean midfielder? Or should we stop over-complicating a simple issue, and just allow him to be a permanent forward?
Well, maybe we are starting to get the answer. In more and more moments over the Crows’ last four games, Fogarty is starting to look like the forward-line prospect the Crows desperately need him to become. His return to the team in round nine found him goalless from nine possessions. The next week was worse still – goalless from six possessions. But as has too rarely been the case in his career so far, the Crows persisted with him and he has started to repay that faith. The last four games have seen him kick a total of 12 goals – the most over any four-week patch in his career so far – culminating in today’s superb 20 disposal, eight mark (three contested), four-goal performance.
Combining with Taylor Walker for nearly 60% of the Crows goals, Fogarty was a constant threat forward of the ball in a performance that must have bought smiles to the faces of all Adelaide fans. With match-ups against four finals aspirants in the next five weeks, Fogarty couldn’t have hit form at a better time, and may indeed be on the cusp of announcing himself as the next Crows great to wear the number 32.
- How Were The Kids?
As we move towards the latter half of the season, for sides that are out of finals contention, the focus starts to shift from pure wins and losses to trying to see gauge improvement from the young players. What you’re looking for is not necessarily game-breaking/game-winning performances (though obviously, those are nice), rather just increasingly clear indications of what the final product might look like.
For Crows fans, their youth is starting to take shape. I’ve written above about Darcy Fogarty who is now fitting nicely into the forward line, but there are also key components like Jordan Butts and Nick Murray in defence who don’t appear to be out of place. With skipper Tom Doedee performing the role of backline General, Butts and Murray have slid into the key defensive posts quite nicely, and looked fairly solid today opposed to the Roos Nick Larkey, McKay and Zurhaar. Patrick Parnell, who must surely have his ID checked every time he arrives at West Lakes, is an unobtrusive defender, and won plaudits from many with his courageous attack on the ball in his debut. He didn’t do too much today, though this wasn’t through any fault of his own – the ball didn’t spend too much time in the Roos forward-line. The same can be said for rebounding defender Will Hamill, who unfortunately looks to have been concussed in the third term. 2021 draftees Josh Rachele and Jake Soligo continued their impressive rookie campaigns today too, though neither did anything too outstanding – Soligo kicked a goal after the siren to add to his 12 dispels, while Rachele had a game he would rather forget. The youngster I was most impressed by was Sam Berry – a ‘tackle first, ask questions later’ type who is in fact averaging the most tackles per game of any player in the comp – his 13 today won’t hurt either.
For North, on a dirty day, there were some encouraging signs, namely the form of young forward Paul Curtis. 11 disposals, four tackles and a goal in just his ninth game of footy is a pretty good return for a guy playing half-forward in a team so adverse to attacking as North Melbourne. Tom Powell’s goal in the last quarter reminded me that he was playing too, and that he could be a good player. At 20 years of age, and with more than 20 games under his belt, it may be time for Noble to send Powell into the middle on a more permanent basis, even if it means losing by more. I must admit that I felt pretty sorry for Jackson Archer – almost anything he did wasn’t going to be good enough because of how focused the commentary team were on him! And the truth of it is he was fine – 15 touches, two tackles and four turnovers. He looked ok behind the ball, but as the game went on and the dam wall started to creak, he was far from alone in looking frazzled.
- How Are The Coaches Feeling?
Matthew Nicks will certainly be breathing a sigh of relief following that win – not that it was ever in doubt, just that a loss to North Melbourne may have had severe ramifications for his job. The Crows will meet Hawthorn, West Coast and North Melbourne again on the run home, before a final round match-up with Port Adelaide, and I wonder if Nicks might need two more wins to wolves from the door. Including today’s win, he now has a 15-38 record, which is not one to be envied, but if they do manage two more wins, it’ll be back-to-back seven-win seasons. With another trade period and another shot at the draft, it should be enough to keep him in the chair for one more season.
David Noble, on the other hand, seems to be in a world of hurt. North have won just five of the 36 matches he has coached, but it’s the way that they are losing that is particularly disheartening. North haven’t held a side to less than 100 points in their last ten outings – a feat that opposition sides managed only six times against them last year. Up the other end of the field, they have only managed ten or more goals four times in fourteen games, with their season-high tally being the 12 goals they kicked against the Swans in round four. The strategy today to try Ben McKay forward was a sign that the coaching group is thinking of how they can re-jig their team, but not only did it not work, it didn’t seem to address the problem. The key issue for North seems to be their midfield, as the Crows, through Rory Laird and Ben Keays, seemed to just about walk the ball out of the middle time after time. Whether Noble has the answers is probably not the issue – North don’t have the cattle. Some shrewd trading is desperately in order.
- I certainly haven’t said anywhere near enough about Rory Laird’s game today yet, so let me say it now – he was fantastic! His pressure was brilliant, tenacity first-rate, and just kept winning the ball that it seemed at some points like a mercy rule should have been in order.
- Ben Keays keeps proving that just because you’re not a success at your first club, if you’re willing to work harder for longer, you’ll get a chance in this league. Yes, his disposal could be cleaner, but he had another 30 touches today, including 14 contested.
- Great performance as well from Taylor Walker – six goals will surely seem him stay at West Lakes for at least one more year, though I did hear rumours he toured Gold Coast’s facilities…
- Jackson Hately looks to have settled into a nice role on the wing at the Crows. After being about the 34th midfielder in line at GWS, it must be nice for him to have a clearly defined job description and he’s starting to turn in some nice performances.
- Luke Davies-Uniacke has great acceleration… is the same thing I have said about him every time I’ve watched him play. I see him break away from congestion and think ‘boy, he looks like Chris Judd’. Of course, Judd did it multiple times a game, week in and week out. LDU has a way to go yet.
- For a little while there it looked like Kayne Turner and Shane McAdam were having a race to see who could get reported first. Both gave away silly free kicks off the ball, but in the end an injury to McAdam probably cooled the building tension.
- That was probably Hugh Greenwood’s best game for North – 25 touches, eight tackles and seven clearances.
- I liked the game of Curtis Taylor for North – he and Paul Curtis look to be nice pieces forward of the ball – good users and decision makers are hard to come by, and North need to hold onto both very tightly.
- Note to Adelaide – you have too many short, dark-haired players (Jones, McHenry, Soligo, Rowe and Parnell) – please eliminate three. P.S. I am not a crackpot.
Apologies again for the short review – Covid is a real piece of work, I’ll tell ya. Next week, the Crows are back home taking on the reigning premiers Melbourne, while North travel down the highway to take on the Cats at GMHBA Stadium.