AAMI Series – Adelaide v West Coast – All That Mattered

I’m sure all watching would agree that this game was the definition of pre-season football.

The Crows did what was expected with a 67 point victory over a West Coast side that showed glimpses of improved ball movement and fight. Adelaide were always going to win this one, and while they were far from perfect, they provided enough for me to believe they should be pushing for finals this year.

While the game started in quite a scrappy fashion, with West Coast dishing up a good fight in the contest and their defence holding up well to repeat entries, once the Crows got their running game going, it was as good as over. Reilly O’Brien and Jordan Dawson set their side up for a dominant win in a first half where they played a class above everyone else out there and assured this one would never be in doubt.

As the game progressed, West Coast tired and Adelaide were able to move the ball end-to-end with ease, hitting up their forwards in great positions to lead to a convincing win.

Here’s all that mattered from the clash.


Reilly O’Brien

Reilly was immense today. With West Coast losing Matthew Flynn last week to injury, the Eagles were forced to go back to using Bailey Williams as their number one ruck, with spurts from Harry Barnett in support. O’Brien took the advantage over these younger guys and was the standout player on the ground from the get go.

22 disposals, eight clearances and 34 hit outs is such a complete performance from a modern ruck, really acting as that extra big bodied mid to help drive the ball forward. The new fend off rule will be great for the big unit this year and in games like today against undersized, younger rucks, I expect we’ll see many more of these sorts of performances.

Williams was moved forward for large portions of the game and in that time, he had no influence on the contest at all. This simply allowed O’Brien to do as he pleased. I understand West Coast want to use Williams forward and that was the initial plan before the Flynn injury, but they need to park that for now and minimise the damage by keeping Williams in the ruck for longer periods.


Jeremy McGovern 2.0

A sight for sore eyes for Eagles fans, Jeremy McGovern may remind us all this year just how good a footballer he is. Between himself, and to a lesser extent Tom Barrass, he kept West Coast in this game while it was still somewhat of a tight contest. He looks fitter than he’s ever been and showed how ultra-reliable he still is in this transitioning West Coast side.

If he weren’t out there, this game may have blown out much earlier than it did. He and Elliot Yeo were the best early for the men from the West and really showed that if enough pressure can be put on the entry kicks, he’s going to be as good as ever in taking the intercept and beginning that forward transition. The issue is putting that pressure on higher up the field and forcing opposition mids into dump kicking forward. Speaking of mids…


The Midfield Mix

Jordan Dawson just maybe the most important player to any team’s success in the comp this year. He was elite early in this one, picking up nine disposals and a goal in the first quarter on his way to 28 touches for the game. His kicking is a sight to behold and he never seems to be flustered or forced into anything. Adelaide have a good number of midfielders rotating through but none have the composure and penetration of Dawson. Losing him to injury at any stage could have a serious impact on a finals assault.

I really enjoyed the games of Sam Berry and Matt Crouch today. Much like Dawson, both started strong and set the tone early with decisive ball movement and the ability to feed their runners. Receiving two goals and 22 touches out of Berry is a massive win, and if he can have similar impacts this year, he’s going to command some attention from the other clubs. Crouch did his usual thing, however, he seemed to have a bit more thought to his accumulation. He picked up 23 touches today which may not be as high as in days past, but they were far more useful possessions than the old 35 disposal days.

On the Eagles side, Yeo and Kelly were the most damaging out there. Kelly started slow but really ramped up from the second quarter onwards, driving with his legs out of the middle. Yeo was strong early and faded late but gee they’ve missed the impact he has on games. Just to have a bullocking guy like him taking the pressure off the younger guys will make a huge difference this year if he can stay healthy.

West Coast will need at least one of these two guys to play with high efficiency this year. They’ll both dominate the disposals, but they can’t both be offloading dump clearances. I thought Yeo was more thoughtful with ball in hand today, which was great. And it’s important to note that they will naturally be under more pressure with the position the Eagles are currently in, but if they can stay healthy and focus on their ball use, they’ll do enough to ensure West Coast aren’t blown out as often this year.


An Elite Small Mix

A friend of mine mentioned that the Crows may have the most damaging small forward mix in the game and, after today, it may be hard to argue against that. Between Rankine, Rachele and Murphy they kicked nine goals, with Rankine kicking four, himself. There aren’t a lot of teams going around that have a dynamic enough defence to match up on three guys like that. I would expect this is not the last time this year we see those three combining for big numbers.

Rankine kicked three in the third quarter alone which, again, is something you’ll see often as you can’t shut them all down all the time. They all have the ability to float through the midfield which is really going to help them develop that stoppage craft in a forward 50 setting. Teams cannot afford to be flat footed against them.

Adelaide was the highest scoring team in the comp last year. It would be no surprise to see them do the same this year.


The Metres Gained Lie

I hate this stat. Its painfully overrated in modern footy due to the line breaking nature of the game, and often doesn’t reflect the quality of ball use or turnover post disposal (don’t get me started on what is considered an effective disposal in modern footy).

I want to measure two players as a comparison. Jordan Dawson had 628 metres gained. Alex Witherden had 504 metres gained.

Dawson was incredibly damaging today as I’ve already spoken about. Alex Witherden was not. Witherden seems to get the ball and just see what happens from there. There’s no rhyme or reason to what he may do, but often it’s a 50 metre kick to nothing. Jayden Hunt is a guy that gets the ball for West Coast and looks to create and challenge the transition defenders. I’d love to see him getting more of the ball because he makes smarter choices with ball in hand and isn’t afraid to take that danger inside kick in the interest of changing things up.

West Coast mixed up their half backs a bit today which is the right thing to do at this time of the year. Jamaine Jones is a guy I think is worth a look over someone like Witherden. Poor teams can’t afford to let players get away with poor decision making, and Witherden is that guy right now that looks like he’s doing a lot, but it often detrimental to the team.


The Side Notes:

Really nice game today from Ben Keays. 15 touches and a goal, largely doing his work in the first half. Felt he was one of a number of Crows players who set the tone early and didn’t necessarily need to do a lot late in the game. Those numbers, if doing enough defensively, are a decent contribution from him.

Harley Reid looked much better today than against Freo last week. Had some really nice moments where he broke free out of stoppages and used his run and carry. I saw enough today to suggest he’ll be a strong contributor this year. Does he have a case to answer for a potentially dangerous tackle?

Max Michalanney showed last year was just the beginning of a fruitful career. He had a really nice game today and was rarely beaten. I suspect Tom Doedee won’t be as much of a loss as expected if Michalanney continues in this fashion.

West Coast still don’t know what to do with Jack Petruccelle. He played virtually every position today. He ended with 13 touches and two goals which suggests they’ll keep him as a forward. I don’t like him playing midfield or half back, he’s too turnover prone, although he’s far from the only one (see above).

Darcy Fogarty had a dirty day today and didn’t really get near it. With about six minutes left in the match he blasted his captain for not passing to him on a lead, Dawson instead trying to hit Rachele running into an open goal (which was only foiled by a bad bounce leading to Rachele not being able to get a handle on it). Dawson made the right call on the play, and I suspect Fogarty was just frustrated with his own performance, but it wasn’t a great look for the big key forward.


What Mattered Most

Modern footy is transition footy, and West Coast just could not go with Adelaide on the spread. Defensively, they were slow to turn and go which lead to some easy hit up marks for the Crows and some nice running goals.

There were moments when the Eagles tried to pull it off, but it often resulted in play stagnating as not enough players were getting forward to provide an option. The younger Eagles do not have the stamina to maintain that slingshot football which lead to the game breaking open, as was often the story last year. Expect a lot of the same throughout the year.

Adelaide were far from perfect in their transition, turning it over often and some questionable decision making at times stunted the free flowing movement. When they did get it working however, they looked unbeatable. If they can become a bit more lethal by foot this year, they’ll cause some serious carnage against a few sides.

The game was won and lost in the fast flowing movement, and with a forward line as potent and dangerous as Adelaide’s, West Coast never stood a chance. When the Adelaide forward’s fire, there are few better sights to watch in footy.

So that’s all that mattered in today’s pre-season hit out. Crows fans, look forward to an exciting year. There is potential for some big wins and really entertaining footy, and finals should beckon.

West Coast fans, don’t get your hopes too high for anything hugely different to last year. I do think the losing margins will come down which is promising, but there is still a long way to go until you’re competing in a meaningful way.