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The "Ifs", "Buts" and Other Stuff - Adelaide Crows

I was going to start with Adelaide, but given I’d just done a whole article on how I think they’re going to redeem themselves in 2019, I thought it may have been a little redundant.

So I waited a few days… that makes it okay, right? Really screws up the alphabetical order of these articles, but you know… I guess I’ll just have to wear it.

I loved watching the Crows play in 2018 - I was waiting for them to flick the switch. And I waited, and waited… it must have been so frustrating to watch as a supporter, knowing that the team has the potential to be right at the top, but seeing it fall to pieces under the strain of an enormous injury list. There were signs - a brilliant win over Richmond in Round 2, a win over the eventual premiers in Round 15, and a heartstopper against their crosstown rivals in their most recent ‘showdown’, but there were too many lowlights interspersed.

The Crows are a potential finals team. And they’re a very good potential finals team despite their 2018 result, but as with all teams, they need things to go right. We examine some of those things with our ifs and buts.

 

IF…

… Taylor Walker, Tom Lynch and Eddie Betts combine for 110 goals, the Crows will win plenty of games.

There was simply too much reliance on Josh Jenkins last year. Oh, he stood up – he was basically the only Adelaide forward who stood up as the rest fell over. I’m not sure you need an improvement from him – personally I’d be ecstatic to get the same output from him as he’s provided in the last two seasons (45 goals in 2017, 46 in 2018). We’re seeing peak-Jenkins right now. I don’t think he’s going to get better.

But what we’re not seeing is peak-Betts, peak-Lynch, or peak-Tex. Maybe we won’t see them again? Scary thought, if you’re a Crows supporter. Betts’ 29-goal 2018 performance came on the heels of four consecutive 50+ goal seasons. If he gets to 40+ in 2019, it’s a win. He is no spring chicken now, and believe me – having kids will slow you down. How many does he have now? Four? That’s some hard yards at home…

Walker’s 26-goal return in 2018 was his lowest since his 2013 knee injury. He wasn’t right all year, and looked a little too heavy at times – those thighs may provide the power for long, driving kicks, but they’re a big load to carry around for 120 minutes.

And Lynch – his 16 goal return is hardly worth talking about. With a new deal signed, you’d need 30+ goals from him as he works further up the ground to cover the loss of McGovern.

So, we get 40 from Eddie, 40 from Tex and 30 from Lynch and we’re all set, right? Fingers crossed…

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

 

… Crouch x 2 and Rory Sloane all average 5+ clearances, the load on the rest of the team eases.

Bryce Gibbs is not a clearance player, but he was forced to be just that in the early stages of his Crow-life. Check it out – over the first five games of the 2018 season, Gibbs averaged 7.2 clearances per contest. For context, had he continued to play that role, an average like that would’ve sat him equal third in the competition, behind only Tom Mitchell and Patrick Cripps. That’s how good he was early on. Turning 30 before the start of the 2019 season, you probably don’t want him in and under doing that grunt work. He’s a vimtage Rolls Royce, and though he's humming along beautifully, you don’t want to be throwing him into the demolition derby.

A fit Crouch tandem and a raring to go Rory Sloane will allow Gibbs to be the player he was recruited to be. If he is receiving from those three ball-magnets, forwards will be licking their chops.

Life without their three best clearance players from 2017 was tough for the Crows, but it did allow young players like Cam Ellis-Yolman and Hugh Greenwood valuable time learning in the middle. They can still be called upon to relieve when necessary, but as long as Brad, Matt and Rory are available, all should be well in the Crows midfield.

 

… Paul Seedsman and Bryce Gibbs are near the top of the ‘metres gained’ stat, everyone benefits.

Oh, I just mentioned Gibbs… I probably should’ve waited for this part to harp on about him. Oh well, let’s talk ‘Seed’, then. Paul Seedsman’s long delivery was a highlight for the Crows in 2018, but I thought that later in the season, he was going long for the sake of going long, at the expense of better options. That’s the curse of stats, I suppose.

That said, if both he and Gibbs can get plenty of the uncontested stuff in 2019, the Crows will be flying. In a team ravaged by injury in 2018, both were forced to be something they weren’t. Yes, they both had impressive numbers, but I would take 40 combined touches from Gibbs and Seedsman if it means 35 of them were uncontested. You know with time and space, they’re going to hurt the opposition.

Having those two streaming down a wing, or through the guts opens the whole game up.

As an aside, anyone thought that we might see Seedsman drifting back into defence a little more? Just for the sake of getting and going once a behind is scored? This new rule of not having to kick to yourself first will see players streaming out of the goal square. It is intriguing as to how teams will use it, and with his long kicking, a quick take off from Seed after a behind is scored could gain the Crows 80-90 metres in one possession.

That’d help with the ‘metres gained’ stat, huh?

 

… Brodie Smith is the same player, the Crows are infinitely better.

A bit of a no-brainer, but with the plethora of injuries that savaged the team in 2018, the absence of Brodie Smith really hit hard. His 20 touches per game (at 77% efficiency!) were so sorely missed running out of defence, and though the Crows used others in the role, it just wasn’t the same.

Smith’s run through the middle and into attack on occasion burnt his direct opponent and were the kinds of acts that cause opposition players to drop their heads. Though he returned late in 2018, two games are really too small a sample size to accurately see how his knee would hold up. I think it was important for his own confidence that he got back last season and got a couple of games into his legs, but it’ll be this season that provides the test.

Whilst we saw the emergence of Wayne Milera in Smith’s role last year, a full fit Brodie Smith is a godsend for a defence that lacked poise and stability at times in 2018.

If the 2018 Adelaide defence seemed at times like an open wound, Smith’s presence back there stops the bleeding.

 

BUT IF…

… Sam Jacobs goes down, they are in big trouble.

The big fella played every game in 2018, but without him, where do the Crows turn? Sam Hunter? Reilly O’Brien? Not exactly household names, are they?

There were times in 2018 where Sauce started to look a little slow. He turns 31 in April, and is never going to win a sprint. Whilst he held his own in the ruck contest against Brodie Grundy in Round Four last season, the Collingwood ruck got on his bike and racked up career-highs with 33 touches and 12 clearances, exposing both Jacobs’ lack of leg speed and endurance in the process.

The Crows need to a) find a way to cover for a potential injury to Jacobs, and b) help the bloke out when he is confronted with a more mobile aerobic beast like Grundy. Thinking that it’ll be okay, and ignoring the problem, like a bloke with a medical condition, won’t make it go away.

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… Daniel Talia doesn’t recover quickly, so much pressure goes on Tom Doedee and Kyle Hartigan. Is Otten the answer?

Underrated for years, despite two All-Australian selections, Talia’s efforts in 2018 were again of a very high standard, but he did miss four games due to injury.

News coming out of Adelaide in the last few weeks was that Talia was having left knee surgery. This is following shoulder surgery in August. Not exactly ideal preparation, as he will not begin full training again for a while as he rehabs.

Other big men to cover in his absence include the young star, Tom Doedee, who is wonderful, but probably not ready to slip into Talia’s shoes just yet. Kyle Hartigan is a big body, but lacks the nous of Talia, whilst Alex Keath looks handy but with 12 games under his belt, will take time. The other option is Andy Otten, who had a couple of excellent outings in 2018 (v Carlton and Hawthorn).

The Crows desperately need a healthy Talia to hold down the full back spot as their young key defenders gain more experience. If he can’t get back, or has a setback, Adelaide had better start praying that Andy Otten doesn’t go down injured as well.

 

OTHER STUFF

I’m hopeful that the disastrous camp situation has now well and truly been put to bed. A good pre-season together should galvanise the group again.

New blood is already making a mark, with Ned McHenry streaming home to draw with Wayne Milera in the club’s 2km time trial. I’ll be watching intently where McHenry (already thinking he sounds like some kind of outlaw) and Chayce Jones (sounds like a Zoolander character) fit in with a stacked Crows list.

I want a moment to single out a young bloke who has shown a fair bit up to this point - Jordan Gallucci has just 17 games under his belt, but was able to stand up late in the second Showdown of 2018 when the heat was on. That’s where you make it or break it as a player, and Gallucci did some very nice things in the late stages. He also had a solid game in the last round of 2018, slotting a career-high four goals, and with support around him, could really sneak under the oppositions’ radars. Early in the season, at least.

Rory Atkins is one who did his time back in the SANFL after looking less than impressive at times early in the year. At times I am not sure about the whether being sent back to a lower league works, but Atkins returned to average 22.14 touches per game from Round 17 onwards. Atkins strikes me as a valuable role player - he shouldn’t be relied upon to have touches in the mid 20s, but the disposals he does get should be effective. You want him getting that uncontested ball, and again we hark back to the importance of those in-and-under players in the Crows engine room, don't we?

In all the other articles like this I’ll be talking about organic improvement, and whilst there is certain to be some of that for the Crows, their main improvement will be from stars being fully fit leading into the season - something that simply didn’t happen in 2018. And if you don’t have that, you’re working uphill for the entire season. However, Luke Brown now has 100+ games under his belt, and has really started to look at home in the Crows back six. Never one to shy away from a big job on one of the dangerous goal sneaks, his attack on the man and the ball was a high point for the Crows in 2018. With him raising his game to another level, that Crows defence looks very solid (that's with Talia. Without him... less solid).

My love for Darcy Fogarty is documented, and if he doesn’t make great strides in 2019, at least he’ll knock a few blokes over in the process! Built like a brick outhouse from the waist down, he has such potential, and might end up being the steal of the 2016 draft. Expected improvement from Myles Poholke would be more than welcome as well. With nine games in 2018, he was able to get a taste of AFL footy, and will be hungry for more.

Can Rory Laird possibly rack up better numbers this season than his 32.2 touches per game last year? Chances are, with both Smith and Milera back there, he won’t have to, but if he does, we may have to start considering just where he sits in terms of great rebounding defenders.

The draw this season favours the Crows, with two games each against Gold Coast and St Kilda - thats 16 points there for the taking, but they also run into the premiers twice as well. That said, they’d fancy themselves at home against the Eagles. The Crows need to turn Adelaide Oval into a fortress again. Losses to the Pies and Demons, and the manner of the losses, cannot be accepted as the norm.

Home games against Richmond and Collingwood mean the Crows avoid the MCG in blockbusters, but that is both a blessing and a curse. The furore about non-Victorian teams not accessing the ‘G for big games has merit. If the biggest game of the year has to be held there, contenders should be playing there.

With five marquee (Thursday/Friday) games, and two Showdowns in the mix, the Crows will be very visible in 2019. And that will be justified when they play finals again. Mark my words.

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