Last year, Adelaide’s tilt at their first flag in the best part of two decades saw them capitulate on the big stage. Since then, the Crows have received some flags of their own; red flags, sirens, causes for concern, panic-button moments - whatever you want to call them.
These warnings regard the very essence of their football club; their spirit and culture.
While frequent wins and a regular position atop the AFL Ladder helps to keep these doubts and question marks at bay, they cannot be hidden forever, particularly when the cost is a premiership.
It is clear that the key and overriding difference between the club that will forever be engraved on the 2017 premiership cup and the side that, by all footballing rights should be, is something beyond kicks, handballs and metres gained. Richmond had 37 years of spirit bolted up inside that burst out in a powerful, dominant, and beautiful finals campaign. Their energy, their chemistry, their culture and their desire to play for each other, their coach and their supporters was real and it was palpable. You could feel it, whether watching in person, or on television. They were a wave, gathering momentum with each passing moment until they crashed down atop the Crows. Adelaide had prepared for a bit of a paddle at the waterfront. What they got was a yellow and black tsunami.
However, if you were to line the twenty-two players from either team up against each other, the premiership players were not necessarily better footballers. In fact, man to man, they were worse. But it was more than just 22 players standing opposite each other in September. 22 players from either team lined up across from each other, with one team standing arm-in-arm, united with their smiling coach. Opposite them stood 22 lone power rangers trying to fake what the other side already possessed. Their culture was simply not strong enough to survive the pressure of a Grand Final.
Their disastrous grand final performance led to an off-season full of hiccups. It was as though the Crows were experiencing a grand final hangover. Only this was a flag hangover without a flag to show for it. The days post-Grand Final were embroiled in Jake Lever madness, as the rising star joined ex-crows Jack Gunston, Charlie Cameron, Phil Davis, Kurt Tippet, Nathan Bock and, Brownlow Medallist, Patrick Dangerfield in walking out the door of West Lakes. You would think the Crows would be better at handling a messy departure after all of their experience.
It was revealed after the Grand Final that a group of senior players, led by their unorthodox captain Taylor Walker, had approached Head Coach Don Pyke in the lead up to the big game, requesting Lever be dumped for the Grand Final team, further adding to the perception of football club rife with disharmony. Coupled with this was Lever’s non-attendance at the Best and Fairest ceremony. Whether Lever wanted to be there or not is inconsequential – he was simply not welcome. That Lever was photographed allegedly dumping his Adelaide attire speaks volumes about how he felt about his time with the team.
To make matters worse, a “strong” meeting between senior players and coaches was called due to the concerning condition some players presented in for their first pre-season session, resulting in worrying time trials and skinfold numbers.
So as news of the challenging camp described as “cult-like” by one senior player comes to light, the cracks running through the Adelaide Football Club are now laid bare for all to see. One can only imagine what someone like Rory Sloane thinks of these goings on? Is this the kind of environment he wants to commit to after this season? Does he want to be part of the sideshow that is the Crows’ leadership?
Adelaide have the talent needed to win a premiership, but with a culture that has been described by some as ‘toxic’ the dream will not be realised, and star players will continue to scramble for the exit.
The Melbourne training camp saga was a story with elements of poor communication to and from the players, calls to the Players’ Association, and Simon Goodwin offering to resign. Some on this site have even questioned the Demons capacity to do anything above the basics at AFL level. But the situation in Adelaide is on another level, all together. The Crows are not a team struggling to make the finals and sending out celebratory pamphlets before closing the deal. They were a step away from a premiership. They should be better than this. They should be solid. They should be – but they’re not.
Whether the “cult” camp was designed to shake the tag of a mentally weak Grand Final performance does not matter. The situation the Crows now find themselves in is inexcusable. You cannot head into a season where, according to Fox Footy, at least six players have allegedly suffered, and are still suffering mental distress as a result of camp that was designed to “break them” mentally. You cannot have a situation where players have been told not to talk about details of the emotional hardship they are enduring. Moreover, you definitely cannot have a situation where the club had a lack of medical professionals available to assist an unwell player, according to Fox Footy.
This kind of poor practice is unacceptable and indicative of a football club with problems far bigger than the question of which players went missing in the Grand Final. With these disturbing allegations coming to light on Monday, Adelaide’s leader (in name) “Tex” Walker, reportedly sent an angry group text to his teammates demanding to know which of them leaked details of their emotional distress to the media. The same Tex Walker whose lack of ability to perform in the biggest game of the year probably caused just as many sleepless nights for his teammates than any camp has.
Adelaide coaching legend, Malcolm Blight wondered aloud on SEN radio whether all this had manifested due to dissatisfaction of a “spoiled brat” not getting a game in Round One. He also wondered why it has taken seven or eight weeks to come to light. He asks valid questions. The fact that Walker’s text to players was leaked almost immediately indicates there is at least one in the club who is not on board. The problem is… what if it’s more than one?
The repeated leaks coming from the Adelaide Crows reek of a situation that is becoming more of a concern. Their current culture has seemingly been built on pillars of sand, and they’re now starting to crumble.
This week’s reports confirmed that several players, including a senior star, are now reconsidering their future with the club as a result of the cult-camp fiasco. The senior star was not named but there is one fairly prominent player who is a free agent at year’s end.
There’s an old saying. Where there’s smoke, there’s fire. There are sirens off in the distance right now, but they’re getting closer. The Crows may have a full blown off-field crisis on their hands but the thing about off-field crises is that they have a habit of jumping the fence.
When it starts affecting on field performance, that’s when everything falls apart.
The Crows have an opportunity at redemption against the Tigers. Whether they seize the moment or not may give a good indication as to just where they're at this season.