As The Crows Fly - Redemption in 2019

We’ve just ticked under the 80-day mark until the 2019 AFL season begins – I’m wondering if I can start to actually get excited yet?

And I’m thinking that Adelaide supporters may just be thinking the same thing?

2018 was a kick in the guts for a club that should’ve been recharging, and preparing for another tilt at the flag. One bad day in September 2017 saw what everyone thought was a finely tuned machine completely malfunction. There was some clunking and grinding, and under the intense pressure of the Grand Final spotlight, the Adelaide machine ground to a halt. Richmond broke it down.

The Crows should have, with some minor repairs, been ready to run again in 2018.

But they weren’t ready. And the fixes that should’ve been simple suddenly became more complicated. The Crows’ hierarchy decided that there were issues with the mental state of the team, and opted to focus on them as the new season loomed, as opposed to tweaking what was already in place – a solid nucleus of talent equipped for success. They opted to reinvent the wheel when some minor bodywork was all that was required.

So whilst they focused on the mind, it was the bodies that started to fall apart. Taylor Walker, Brad and Matt Crouch, Rory Sloane, Eddie Betts, Richard Douglas, Tom Lynch and Brodie Smith all missed significant time on the park in 2018. So much so, that the top ten place-getters in their 2017 Best and Fairest missed 80 games between them in 2018.

No matter how mentally strong you may or may not be, no team can overcome those kind of injury numbers. It destroys teams, and makes it close to impossible to have a settled, balanced team structure. If you’re running around plugging holes, you never get to implement that which you were planning, and that’s where the Crows found themselves in 2018.

They were a patchwork quilt, hastily sewn together to cover a raft of injuries. At times they got the job done, and at others, tears in the lining began to show.

But in the darkness that was the 2018 Adelaide Crows season, a few bright spots emerged. They were not lights at the end of the tunnel, but more torches along the way. They lit the way until the end of the 2018 season arrived. And those torches are still burning brightly as the 2019 season approaches – a season that will be all about redemption for a team some have written off.

You dismiss this team at your own peril. The talent is still there. Their A-Graders are at the pointy end of the AFL scale. And whilst their A-Graders were recuperating, others stepped into larger roles, and performed admirably.

So who were those lighting the way to 2019 for the Crows? Who stood up in 2018 and showed that when the troops got back on the park, and when their top players got a good pre-season into their bodies, that the club could be a power once again?

 

WAYNE MILERA

He found his feet in the second half of 2018, assuming Brodie Smith’s role off half back at times, and started to look very comfortable when the pressure came. From Round 16 to 22, Milera settled right in to average 22.25 touches, however his best game came earlier in the season when he notched a career-high 33 disposals against the lowly Suns.

Milera’s star shone brightly amid the doom and gloom of the Adelaide season. The injuries to his teammates saw him grasp the opportunity to become a more prominent part of the team. His run and carry, combined with his 72.7% kicking efficiency make him a vital part of the Crows moving forward.

 

BRYCE GIBBS

In his first year with Adelaide, Gibbs exceeded expectations. Always a great mover of the football, Gibbs was supposed to be the cherry on top of the quality Adelaide midfield in 2018. What he ended up being was part of every ingredient. He became one of the drivers of their midfield, averaging 25.9 disposals per game. He was also required to do some of the heavy lifting, and as a result averaged a career-high 10.73 contested disposals per game and 5.14 clearances as well (the second highest total of his career).

Gibbs was brought in as a Ferrari, and ended up doing the work of a tradie’s ute. With the prime Adelaide midfield movers sidelined, his game had to change, and Gibbs not only accepted that change in role – he thrived in it.

With the Crouch brothers and Rory Sloane back in business heading into 2019, and with the emergence of Cam Ellis-Yolman and Hugh Greenwood as legitimate stoppage players, Gibbs can begin to focus more on his own game instead covering for the loss of others.

With him and Seedsman running on the outside, the Crows have two beautiful kicks to deliver the ball to their talls inside 50. Gibbs performing the role he was recruited is like getting a new recruit for Adelaide. In 2018, they got a different version of Bryce Gibbs. With support around him, the Crows may be about to see what he can really do.

 

DARCY FOGARTY

My man. When I look at the 2017 Draft Class, there is one bloke that just looks like a footballer. You know the sort – tree trunk legs, hard at the ball and man, and wears the #32 guernsey. Yep, there’s more than a little bit of Mark Ricciuto about Darcy Fogarty, and even though I am not a Crows supporter, I am excited to see what he can offer in this coming season.

I’ve heard the dissenting voices talking about how his fitness base wasn’t good enough last season, and how it may not be again - I seldom listen to prophets of doom. As a big-bodied kid, his aerobic fitness was never going to be great in his debut year. What I liked about Fog was his willingness to both put his body on the line when required, and make someone pay when they were in the same position.

For mine, there is simply not enough nastiness in the league. There are not enough players who relish the physical contact and seek to knock someone else on their ass. But Darcy Fogarty looks to like it.

On one occasion I saw him put himself in the line of fire as a teammate flew for a mark deep in the forward line. What Fog did doesn’t register a stat, but his opponent crashed into him and they both went to ground. As his teammate marked, looking up from the pile of bodies on the turf, there was Fogarty. Smiling, like a maniac.

That’s what you want – a player who knows the value of self-sacrifice. He played 10 games in his debut season and will hopefully be able to run out games a little better in 2019. I think Fogarty has the potential to be one of the best, and most hated players in the game in a few years’ time.

And I reckon he’d love being booed, too.

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Look! Mongrel Punt Stubby Holders. Buy one and be cooler than all your friends! It also helps the site out.

 

PAUL SEEDSMAN

At one point he was the leader in metres gained in the entire competition in 2018. Though he would drop to eighth on average as injuries and opposition coaches caught up with him, the effectiveness of his run and carry was evident.

I thought at times he got a little carried away with kicking long (I actually wondered whether he took a bit of pride in that metres gained stat and was trying to preserve it?) but with better support around him, it is the perfect role for Seedsman.

He finished 2018 with career-high numbers in disposals (20.53 per game), clearances (1.84) and contested touches (7.05). Similar to Gibbs, with the bigger bodies up and running in the midfield, he will be freed up to do what he does best in 2019, and that metres-gained stat might be his after all.

 

TOM DOEDEE

Oh no…  Jake Lever left!

Oh yes… we have Tom Doedee!

My pick for the 2018 NAB Rising Star was young Mr. Doedee. I actually though that through the first quarter of the season, he was probably right there in terms of All-Australian contention – that’s how well he was travelling in the role that was supposed to be a big problem for the Crows to fill.

Through the first six games of 2018, Doedee notched up 19.5 touches and 6.83 marks. Not bad for a first year player. He led the team in intercept marks for the season, with a total of 43 (league leader Jeremy McGovern had 76, so the bar is set pretty high) and played an accountable role for the side, often finding himself isolated on the best forward.

With Daniel Talia having a slow start to his pre-season, Doedee is undoubtedly looking like the future of Adelaide’s defence. His ability to lock down on an opponent, or peel off and take an intercept grab will be vital as Adelaide look to re-establish themselves.

 

JOSH JENKINS

If I told you a couple of years ago that Josh Jenkins would be Adelaide’s best-performed forward over 2018-19, how many times would you have slapped me about the head?

Well, back to back seasons with him amassing 45+ goals means exactly that. With large voids left by both Tex Walker and Eddie Betts up forward, Jenkins became a reliable option and really rammed home just how good he can be when he took Alex Rance to school in Round Two, en route to a five goal haul.

Jenkins has been maligned by many over the years, at times justifiably so, but when everyone else went down in 2018, he stood up. He should walk into 2019 a little taller as a result.

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There is nothing that can wallpaper over the cracks of 2018. They were exposed for the world to see as Adelaide held press conferences to discuss a training camp, and the organisation that ran ill-fated the camp did the same.

Mitch McGovern walked, which is a loss, but not a great one – he flashed in and out of games too often, for my liking. For the level of talent he possesses, he rarely looked threatening (he kicked above two goals once in 2018, when the Crows desperately needed him to do more). His development is rather stagnant – after debuting in 2016, he is just +2.92 in disposals and -0.14 in goals per game. His tackling numbers have decreased and even his contested marking – his strength – has not improved (he took 1.22 per game in 2016. He took 1.25 per game in 2018). Watching him walk may have hurt a little, but from the outside looking in, it doesn’t hurt a lot.

The Crows were aggressive during the draft. With every Carlton injury reported, their decision to swap first round picks in 2019 looks a better bet. They are in a position where they could, and should be a finalist with a top four pick incoming. It’s an enviable position.

Will the Crows play finals in 2019? My gut says they’ll be up to their eyeballs in September. Whilst age may catch up with Eddie Betts, he is still a valuable goalsneak, capable of a 40 goal return even in an average year (but for God’s sake, Eddie – stop having kids! The fatigue is what’ll get you! Believe me – I know). You’d expect more from Tex and Tom Lynch in 2019, and Brodie Smith should be back to his running best.

I’m not sure whether the question is whether the Crows will play finals in 2019. For mine, the question is can they finish top four? Bring on Season 2019. The year of Crow Redemption.

 

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