There are moments in a Grand Final that can make a difference; moments that make a statement. These moments are a little hit and miss, much like most of Alastair Lynch’s wild haymakers to open the 2004 Grand Final. On that day, he wanted to flex a bit of muscle and tried his best, but to no avail. After three years of dominance, his Lions had nothing left in the tank, and they fell well short to give Port Adelaide its first ever flag.
Four years before that, the all-conquering Bombers left no doubt that they meant business early in the game. Michael Long cannoning into Melbourne’s Troy Simmons set off an all-in brawl, but gave a definite indication that Essendon would not be taking a backward step. It was crude, it was dangerous, and it set the tone. The Bombers were intent on destruction, and they did not care who was standing in their way, or in Long’s case, if he had his head over the ball at the time. They would walk away premiers, capping a tremendous season.
There was a moment in the 2017 Grand Final where one player decided not to make an impact. He could have, if he’d wanted to, and what went through his head at that point we may never know. That player was Adelaide’s leader; Taylor Walker.
After a tight first half, it appeared as though the Tigers were starting to get on top of the Crows in general play. They’d added seven points to their half time total and were poised to grab the game by the scruff of the neck. The Crows were well within striking distance, but momentum rested with the yellow and black.
Nick Vlastuin had been shaky all first quarter. He’d looked as though he’d suddenly realised he was playing in a Grand Final, and it was all a little too much for him. He had steadied in the second quarter and found the rhythm of the game. Seven minutes into the third quarter, the Crows were fifteen points down, and streaming forward.
Taylor Walker made a strong lead. Vlastuin had to back into the area of the charging Adelaide spearhead. The scene was set for the Captain to make that statement and impose his physical will on the game.
With his hands above his head to mark, Vlastuin was wide open. It was reminiscent of the 1989 Grand Final where Robert Dipierdomenico found himself in a similar situation. Dipper had to backpedal as well, right into the path of a steam train named Ablett. Dipper had to go, and so he did.
Ablett launched into Dipierdomenico’s exposed back, connecting in a sickening collision. A Hawthorn free kick resulted, and Dipper was very slow to rise. A punctured lung saw the Hawthorn champ rushed to hospital following the game – the fact he got through the rest of the game at all was testament to his resilience and determination. The tone of that game was undeniable, and Ablett sent a very strong message to the Hawks – stand in my way, and you’ll pay a hefty price.
Fast forward to 2017, Vlastuin had to go as well, and without taking his eyes off the ball, he backed up and took the mark.
The Tigers cleared the ball and within moments Shaun Grigg was kicking a goal to put them 21 points ahead. The Crows’ opportunity was completely lost and the momentum remained unchanged.
With the benefit of hindsight, Walker may have decided to do things a little differently. Perhaps channelling a bit of Ablett, or even Plugger Lockett may have switched the momentum just a little, and football is a funny game like that. It’s a game full of twists and turns; a game that can change in an instant.
Picture this for a moment. Vlastuin, already feeling the nerves in the biggest game of his, or any of his teammates’ lives, backs into Walker’s space. The big Adelaide forward commits to the contest, however late his arrival may be. Vlastuin stands under the ball and Walker barrels into him with his full 100 kilograms. It wouldn’t tickle. No doubt the Richmond players would remonstrate with Walker. Equally undoubtable is that Walker’s teammates would stand up for him. In an emotion-charged game, the Crows needed something to swing momentum. They had the opportunity. Taylor Walker had the opportunity. He just failed to take it.
The Crows will do a video review of the game at some stage, if they haven’t already. His part in that contest, or lack thereof, is not a moment that Taylor Walker will want to see. The moment came, and he wasn’t ready to seize it. It may not have changed the game. Richmond may have been further inspired by Vlastuin’s courage, had Walker collided with him. They may have rallied around their fallen defender and went on to a bigger win, but maybe, just maybe Tex Walker standing up when it mattered could’ve changed the game.
And maybe, one moment in time will haunt the Adelaide Crows for years.