Beware the Wounded Crow.

There’s an old saying by a very wise man – One swallow does not a Summer make, nor one fine day; similarly one fine day, or a brief time of happiness does not make a person entirely happy.

The same can be said, in reverse, for the Adelaide Crows.  One poor season does not mean that the Adelaide Crows are no longer a contender. If anything, it may be the kick in the pants the organisation needs. And no, that last part wasn’t Aristotle, though I’m sure if he were around, he may think that way as well.

You’ll have to forgive me for being an eternal optimist, but halfway through the 2018 season, I was looking at the Adelaide Football Club and waiting for the resurgence. I expected a rally. I expected them to play finals, and I expected them to come good when the business end of the season rolled around.

My expectations fell flat, as did those of the army of devout Crows supporters, as a season so full of promise, fell away like sand between their fingers. Wasted.

With their 2018 list, they should’ve been contending, and as the players take time to enjoy their breaks, part of me is still wondering what the hell happened?

Yes, there was a camp that didn’t quite have the desired effect on the playing group – a group that were just win away from ultimate glory in 2017. On that day, they ran into a buzzsaw fuelled by 37 years of frustration, and they were cut down. It was no disgrace, despite what you were fed by the media. They may have chosen a bad day to have a bad day, but the form of Richmond in 2018 proved that the way they performed on the last Saturday in September last year was no fluke. Ironically, it was a bad day from the Tigers that saw them tumble from 2018 contention, only with much less scrutiny.

They had a flag to fall back on, after all.

So as 2017 concluded, the Crows were left with a choice. Did they acknowledge that the 2017 was a successful season, with one failure at the end, or did they reboot the system and try to jolt the players into performing at an even higher level? They opted for the second one, and it cost them dearly.

Make no mistake, the Adelaide Crows are a powerhouse club, irrespective of ladder position in the season just past. They fought through a year where players were unhappy, and players’ bodies were simply not coming to the party.

To illustrate that last point, here is a list of the top ten finishers in the 2017 Adelaide Best and Fairest.

Matt Crouch

Rory Sloane

Rory Laird

Sam Jacobs

Richard Douglas

Taylor Walker

Tom Lynch

Brad Crouch

Brodie Smith

Eddie Betts

Between them, the on-field leaders of this club missed a staggering 80 games of football. The only player to front up for all 22 games in 2018 from the top ten players at the club just one season prior was Sauce Jacobs, and at age 30, you have to wonder how long he can do that?

The rash of hamstring injuries crippled the club, with Betts, Matt Crouch, Sam Gibson, Riley Knight, Paul Seedsman all missing time due to the injury that had the competency of the club’s medicos under question. Other injuries to Lynch, Walker, Sloane and the now-departed Mitch McGovern left the Crows looking more like lame ducks at times. With Brodie Smith and Brad Crouch out of the team for basically the entire year, the Crows’ season becomes less and less about camps, and more about keeping players on the park.

And they simply couldn’t do it.

I don’t particularly care which team it is; when leaders go down consistently, it damages the fabric of the side. West Coast got it all together at the right time, and despite the absences of Jack Darling and Josh Kennedy for stretches, were able to bring them back for the final push. For verification of just how much a couple of leaders on the sidelines can damage a season, check out West Coast’s record with Darling and Kennedy on the park, and compare it to their record without them.

As the Crows fell from their lofty position of one step from greatness, tumbling down the stairs like Eddie Murphy’s Aunt Bunny at a cookout, to finish in 12th position, many in the media put a line through them – not just for 2018, but indefinitely. With just Charlie Cameron, Mitch McGovern and Jake Lever the notable absentees from that side that was so close to glory, are the Crows in that much trouble that they’re not even being considered as a threat in 2019?

Only a fool would write them off.

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The Adelaide Crows are not far off the pace at all. But for one Steven Motlop kick, they would’ve been sitting on the cusp of the top eight. But for a narrow loss on the road to Fremantle, the Crows could’ve been part of September, and as the last three years have demonstrated – anything can happen in that last month of football. But those narrow losses with a slight chance to steal the game are the breaks good teams need to take. In 2018, the Crows were simply off the boil.

But the beauty of football is there’s always next season. And though we sit a good four and a half months away from the real thing commencing again, the Adelaide renaissance begins now.

The talent is there, and it’s there in spades. Eddie Betts had his lowest goal total since 2008, and Taylor Walker registered his lowest scoring output since he blew his knee out and managed only five games in 2013. A 20% improvement from each of those players is still well and truly less than what they’re capable of, but will provide a huge boost to the Crows forward set up. If Josh Jenkins can maintain the form he has shown for the past five years, the Crows will have no issue kicking a winning score.

Bet you never thought that Josh Jenkins would be the Crows’ most consistent forward over a five years stretch, huh?

Throw in the emerging Darcy Fogarty, who has the kind of mean streak that will make him the darling of the Adelaide faithful, and a lightning rod for the hatred of opposition supporters over the coming years, and you have the kind of talent up forward that commands respect. Health will be the issue, but assuming Adelaide go back to basics and concentrate on getting players’ bodies right and not messing with their minds, the Crows are by no stretch of the imagination a spent force in this competition.

Brad Crouch will return to the midfield and immediately alleviate the pressure on Sloane, Matt Crouch, and Bryce Gibbs (who had a fantastic year in the face of so much adversity). Any combination of those four players in the middle for a centre bounce is an absolute nightmare to deal with.

And there is no drop off as we head into defence. The improvement of Tom Doedee has been rapid, and playing alongside the warhorse that is Daniel Talia, another young gun in Jake Kelly, and with the calm, cool, collected Rory Laird hitting targets off half back, and you start to get the feeling that several in the AFL media may have jumped the gun on the demise of Adelaide. But that’s how you grab a headline, right?

We’ve not even acknowledged the development of Cam Ellis-Yeoman, Wayne Milera, Hugh Greenwood and Lachie Murphy as yet, nor have we touched on the x-factor that is Tom Lynch, or the run and carry of Rory Atkins and Paul Seedsman. People… the Crows are stacked with talent. How pundits have so readily written this side off is beyond me.

As it stands, with a list boasting this sort of talent, a premiership has to be the goal. Being in the Grand Final… yeah, that was an achievement of sorts, but no one plays for second, and they definitely don’t play for 12th.

The Adelaide Crows may have fallen over in 2018, but in 2019 I believe that they’ll pick themselves up off the mat. They entered the 2017 AFL Grand Final as a champion team – the favourites to win it all. They were disciplined, they were committed, and yet, they failed. They were surprised by a contender that seemingly came from the clouds. They were knocked down early, and couldn’t find their way back into the game. Moments that could’ve made a difference came and went, and before we knew it, the cup was in the hands of Trent Cotchin and Jack Riewoldt was singing along with Brandon Flowers.

The Adelaide off-season has been quiet thus far. There have been no angry outbursts from Tex Walker, despite Mitch McGovern wanting out of a contract he seemingly just signed (I don’t rate that at all). They hold the eighth pick in the National Draft, and despite eyeing off both Izak Rankine and Jack Lukosius, may have to settle for Connor Rozee, thus avoiding the ridiculous “go-home” problem that seems to plague the competition, currently.

If the Adelaide brains trust have their heads screwed on right, we won’t hear much from the Crows until next year. They won’t need to head off on a camp to challenge them mentally – they are professionals. They won’t need to be broken down to build back up again – the 2018 season did that for them. What they will need is a squad of players who hit the track hungry, angry and ready for the fight.

They will get knocked down again along the way. They may find themselves a few battle scars en route to next September, but from the outside looking in at a team with this kind of talent, one thing leaps to mind.

Beware the wounded Crow.

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