A gut wrenching defeat at the hands of cross-town rival Port Adelaide shut the door on Adelaide’s finals hopes in a disappointing 2013 season. After a stellar 2012 season, seeing themselves fall just a kick short of a grand final, the Crows seemed like a team on the rise. Many media footballing experts had the Crows finishing in the top four. Some, including former Geelong premiership captain Cameron Ling, suggesting Adelaide could take out the flag in 2013. Missing the finals in 2013 seemed impossible, yet 2013 has not gone to script for the men at West Lakes.
Adelaide’s offseason was plagued in controversy. The saga surrounding Kurt Tippett and his contract hovered over Adelaide’s 2012 season and came to a head during the trade period. The alleged third party deal prevented Adelaide from negotiating a trade for the key forward and saw him leave for Sydney in the pre-season draft, leaving Adelaide with no compensation. The ensuing investigation saw many key officials at Adelaide suspended for extended periods of time including CEO Steven Trigg; it also saw Adelaide excluded from the first two rounds of the 2012 and 2013 National Drafts. The loss of draft picks saw Adelaide miss out on a number of exciting local youngsters and left a hole in its list development. Adelaide similarly became a victim of circumstances in the Melbourne tanking investigation, with Senior Assistant coach Dean Bailey suspended for 16 matches for acting in a manner that was ‘prejudicial to the interests of the AFL.’
Despite its off-field controversies, on-field the Crows seemed in good shape. An exciting young midfield headlined by 2012 All-Australians Patrick Dangerfield, Scott Thompson and charismatic mullet-wearing full forward Taylor Walker, were the cornerstones in a talented list narrowly defeated by the Hawks in last season’s preliminary final. Coach Brenton Sanderson installed a game plan built around contested football and attack at the contest. Coming from the highly successful Geelong program, Sanderson brought a winning culture into the club and instilled a strong self- belief amongst his playing group. The disappointment of losing the preliminary final seemed set to spur Adelaide to greater success in 2013.
Yet 2013 is widely considered a year that failed to meet expectations for the Crows large and passionate supporter base known as the 19th man. Adelaide struggled for form throughout the pre-season competition as they eased veteran players into action gradually; very different to the win at all costs approach from the year before. The constant changing of players made it tricky for the Adelaide line-up to gain any cohesion and as a result their form was inconsistent early.
The trademark to Adelaide’s play in 2012 was a hard and ferocious attack at the football and dominance around the clearances; all thanks to its tremendous midfield. Adelaide led the league in contested possession in 2012, but have dropped to fifth in the league this season averaging around 23 less contested possessions per game. Clearances have seen an even greater drop off falling from 2nd (averaging 45 clearances a game) to 13th (averaging just 36 per game). This decline in its midfield production is a major cause of its drop off in form from 2012. Last season many of its young midfielders manufactured career years. Matthew Wright and David Mackay, amongst others, have failed to replicate such form this season leading to their axing to the SANFL this year.
Adelaide has uncharacteristically struggled at home this season winning just three of its ten games at AAMI Stadium. Last year, the Crows lost just two games at home en route to its second place finish. AAMI Stadium has been a fortress for the Crows in the past but 2013 has been a shadow of that with Adelaide already losing five matches to opponents it beat at their home stadium last year.
Adelaide has not had the best luck this season with several key players suffering season ending injuries, none more important that key forward Taylor Walker. With Tippett’s departure, Walker was the one player Adelaide could ill afford to lose. The bullocking full forward known as The Texan, kicked 63 goals and was the cornerstone in the highest scoring team in Adelaide’s history in 2012. His ACL injury suffered against Carlton in Round 5 severely dented the Crows finals hopes forcing them to rely on an inexperienced forward line while missing its two highest goal kickers from 2012. Sanderson has been forced to mix and match his forward line in an effort to find a side to kick a winning score each week. The raw players have performed admirably at times with Tom Lynch and Josh Jenkins battling manfully throughout the year. Lewis Johnston and Shaun McKernan have also been exposed to extended periods of senior football for the first times of their careers.
The suspension of senior assistant coach Dean Bailey was also an important loss. Sanderson, in his second year as a senior coach, is still relatively inexperienced and Bailey provided valued knowledge for Sanderson as a first time senior coach. Bailey was a key pillar as an assistant coach in Essendon and Port Adelaide’s premiership sides of the early 2000’s and is well regarded amongst his peers. Adelaide players have come out and spoken publicly of what Bailey has brought to the club and its players. Not being able to speak to the playing group or have a match day role has hurt Adelaide greatly this season and it’s no surprise that Adelaide played some of its best football this season after Bailey’s return from suspension.
Whilst 2013 has been widely regarded as a disappointment for Adelaide, in terms of wins, losses and not making the finals, it has not been a total waste. Patrick Dangerfield has continued to emerge as a superstar of the competition bucking the trend of a declining midfield and putting together a fantastic season. Another shining light for Adelaide is the year of Richard Douglas, a former best and fairest winner who has put together his most consistent season in his AFL career. Injuries have also meant that Adelaide have been able to blood a number of young players into the side. Adelaide has played eight players who entering the season had played less than five games, and another seven who have played less than fifty games. Small defenders Luke Brown and Rory Laird have been very reliable and cemented themselves as replacements for the recently retired Michael Doughty and Graham Johncock. Ricky Henderson has also developed as an excellent running half back using his exquisite disposal in the role vacated by the injured Brent Reilly.
A number of young midfielders have emerged for Adelaide this year. Brad Crouch, Adelaide’s 17-year-old mini draft selection from 2011, has been a standout being able to adapt easily to AFL football and rewarded with a rising star nomination. Sam Kerridge, Jarryd Lyons and Mitch Grigg have also come on this season and played several games – all showing positive signs for the future.
A cruel bounce of the ball in Sunday’s Showdown summed up Adelaide’s season; it appears that the footy gods decided it wasn’t meant to be their year. Injuries have hurt the Crows but their middle-aged midfielders have taken a step back from the lofty standards of the year before. Adelaide still has a very young list and 2013 will be seen as a year of development for its core of young players. Yet, a failure to make the finals will have 2013 categorised as a disappointment. The Crows have a list loaded with talented players and as Taylor Walker returns, they will be looking to stake their claim for September action in 2014.