If you ask the media and fans, “Which AFL player is criticised the most?”, you would receive an incredibly wide range of answers.
For example, over the past couple of seasons, prominent names such as Dustin Martin, Alex Rance, Patrick Dangerfield, and Tom Mitchell have all had one, if not multiple, aspects of their game brought into question.
Questions such as;
Does Martin still care?
Is Rance really that important to Richmond?
Does Dangerfield play up injuries?
Are Tom Mitchell’s disposals really damaging?
These questions, among others, are arguably are a result of those in the media being critical for the sake of being critical, or, in some cases, journalists simply looking for a story.
*cough Kane Cornes cough*
But most of these questions are completely unwarranted.
Looking away from the superstars of the competition, other examples of over-criticism can be found in players such as Liam Jones, Josh Jenkins, Levi Casboult, Toby Greene, and Tom Boyd. At some point in their career they have all received some form of unwarranted criticism.
Every aspect of Liam Jones’ game was analysed, criticised and commented on prior to reinventing himself as a defender.
Josh Jenkins told his wife and family to stay home so they didn’t hear the abuse directed at him from the sidelines.
Levi Casboult’s kicking action has been scrutinised for as long as he has been playing AFL.
The poster boy for the ‘Studs Up’ rule, Toby Greene, is generally considered by fans to be the biggest grub in the AFL.
And if you’re not aware of Tom Boyd’s story then that must be a gigantic rock you’re living under.
However, despite the AFL media’s constant attempts to one-up each other, I believe one player has had more criticisms and comments directed his way than anyone else. While this could be due to the fact I live in South Australia and follow the Crows, it seems as if both the media and AFL fans love nothing more than ripping into Taylor Walker.
Over the 2017/18 off-season, every other article seemed to be dedicated towards either the Crows, or Taylor Walker.
To name some of these stories that featured before the end of 2017 include;
Adelaide’s Power Stance (patent pending)
Tex’s post-Grand Final speech
The plane seat for the Premiership Cup
Jake Lever and Charlie Cameron’s departures
Bryce Gibbs’ arrival
These pale in comparison to the now infamous pre-season camp. This drawn-out fiasco drew the attention of the footballing world for months, and finally came to a head in late August, when Adelaide and Collective Minds parted ways on mutual terms.
Having been the focus over the summer, Adelaide Football Club and Taylor Walker were then subjected to enormous amounts of media attention throughout the entirety of the 2018 season.
Initially tipped as a premiership threat, 2018 proved a disastrous year for Adelaide, missing finals and losing a number of key players to long-term injuries. However, when not injured, a number of key players were down on form, adding to their woes. Compared to 2017, players such as Walker, Betts and Sloane, among others, had disappointing years, partially contributing to Adelaide’s underwhelming 2018 campaign.
But the Crows survived. The club won 12 games for the season, and players such as Wayne Milera Jnr., Tom Doedee and Darcy Fogarty established themselves as future stars. Paul Seedsman, Hugh Greenwood and Rory Laird had exceptional years, Brodie Smith returned from an ACL, and a number of Victorian players resigned with the club.
At the turn of 2019, the negative media that surrounded the Crows throughout 2018 seemingly disappeared overnight. Forgotten were the issues that were the subject of months of media scrutiny, and in were experts tipping a resurgence and an appearance in the 2019 finals.
But the negativity continued for Taylor Walker.
Despite the media backflip on the Adelaide Football Club, Taylor Walker was still the focus of a large amount of negative attention. The media’s frenzy peaked with the introduction of Rory Sloane as Walker’s co-captain. This decision drew questions as to whether Tex should continue to hold a captaincy position at all, and even went as far as questioning his position within the team.
How quick we are to discard players.
In 2017, Walker kicked 54 goals from 23 games, won his 2nd AFLPA Best Captain award, led his team to the Grand Final, and made the All Australian squad of 40.
In 2018 the Crows finished 12th, with Walker kicking 26 goals from 14 games, in an injury-affected year.
So far in 2019 with Adelaide sitting 7th after ten rounds, Walker has kicked 16 goals.
Tex had a poor season in 2018, granted, but he has had a resurgence in 2019 that parallels that of his Crows. While he hasn’t quite reached the heights of 2017, his output has increased dramatically. Whether this is because of an injury-free run, an improved Adelaide, or Jenkins’ relegation is yet to be determined. We will know for sure by season’s end.
However, for Taylor Walker to go from being voted as the AFL’s best captain and the toast of the AFL prior to the 2017 Grand Final, to sharing the role with Sloane in a little over 12 months is ridiculous.
This is not to take anything away from Rory Sloane, who is a fantastic player, but the influence of the media on Adelaide’s decision should not be understated. No captain has been more heavily scrutinised or criticized by the media after a grand final loss than Taylor Walker was.
For example, let’s look at Scott Pendlebury in 2018. Very little blame was put on his shoulders despite a less than stellar game in the big one. Kieren Jack and Jarrad McVeigh in 2016 are barely spoken about in the Western Bulldogs drought-breaking win. Shannon Hurn in 2015 wasn’t subject to anywhere near as much media attention. Jack and McVeigh again in 2014, Matthew Pavlich in 2013… none faced more scrutiny than Tex.
Walker is the outlier.
I’m not saying Taylor Walker is immune from criticism - playing AFL requires critical reviews of both individual and the team performances. What is being said is that Tex, along with any other player in the AFL, should be immune from dedicated hate campaigns.
Phil Walsh entrusted Walker with the captaincy prior to the 2015 season, and as a first-year captain led the club through the most difficult period of recent memory. Adelaide made finals in both 2015 and 2016, before Walker led them to the 2017 Grand Final.
Walker wears his heart on his sleeve, so for the media to scrutinise and vilify Tex for being a passionate clubman is ridiculous.
With the Adelaide Crows sitting seventh prior to the start of Round 10, Walker found himself in an interesting position. Facing the West Coast Eagles, Tex had a chance to either silence his critics or give the AFL Media more ammunition.
Adelaide and Walker stumbled, falling to the reigning premiers.
And surprise, surprise, the critics came for the big Texan with a passion.
Numerous moments from Saturday’s game involving Walker have drawn the attention of the AFL’s media. The first was the goal line ‘shepherding’, which happens every time there is a shot on goal and should never have been called as a free kick, and the second being his ‘embarrassing’ moment opposed to West Coast’s aforementioned captain, Shannon Hurn.
Nick Riewoldt addressed this issue on SEN, claiming that the incident was unacceptable, questioning whether or not Walker was being accountable as a captain. Riewoldt continued, suggesting that due to the high-profile omissions of both Josh Jenkins and Bryce Gibbs that Taylor Walker shouldn’t be immune from playing in the SANFL just because he’s the captain.
While I agree with Riewoldt on this point, that captains should be dropped if their form warrants it, Nick missed one blindingly obvious point.
Tex missed the ball.
He didn’t shy away from hitting Shannon Hurn, he simply spent it before he had it. Re-watch the video if you don’t believe me. He attempted to get the ball to Lachie Murphy before taking clean possession of the ball. Walker would successfully perform this action nine times out of ten. Why should his position in the side and his leadership credentials be questioned based on one moment in a high-pressure game?
Again, as the face of the Adelaide Crows, Walker should not be immune from criticism nor being dropped, but before calling for his head, it would be wise to ensure these calls have substance to them. Walker had a relatively poor game opposed to Will Schofield - yes, but it was not an ‘unacceptable’ game or one that warrants his dropping.
Be critical, yes.
But this unnecessary Taylor Walker witch-hunt?
I hope it ends soon.
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