The time for the post-mortem on the Crows’ season has come. Sure, given the right results in Round 23, they might stay off the slab. They might even beat someone in the first week (hopefully the Power). However, there is as much chance of them winning four games in a row against top opponents as the AFL has of sorting out the MRP to everyone’s satisfaction. I had the distinct privilege (oh, how we laughed) on Saturday of seeing back to back Crows games – one on the TV and one at the Parade. One was an almost must-win for the Crows and they lost and the other was an almost must-win for the Redlegs and they won. Both said a bit about the way the Crows play footy.
So, before we move on, some numbers on the Crows’ AFL season. They have won 10 and lost 11. Of those 11 losses: 6 were by less than 2 goals; in 8 they were in front at some point in the 2nd half; in 5 they were in front in the last quarter. The loss to North today ticks all those boxes. Of the 10 wins: 1 was by less than 2 goals; in 4 they were behind at some point in the 2nd half; in 2 they were behind in the last quarter. So, in essence, they are the football equivalent of flat track bullies – good front runners but the moment it gets tight they’ll probably lose.
Twilight at the Parade
Righto, after abject failure in cheering for the Crows, it was time to shuffle on down to the Parade to cheer against them in my first ever twilight game of SANFL football (not counting that we saw the sun go down in Round 1 courtesy of daylight savings). As the results had panned out, Norwood needed to beat the Crows reserves to earn the double chance come next week’s finals series. I was earnestly anticipating the Crows’ ability to stuff up my season in two different ways on the same day.
I needn’t have worried. The Crows did themselves no favours as they ran out on the Parade. As they headed towards the northern end, those of us still playing kick and catch had just enough time to chuck our kids over the fence. However, one dad and his 4 year old son were still behind the goals trying to get off the ground as 21 footballs rained down on them – poor form, Crows. Despite Norwood winning more of the ball, for the first 10 minutes the Crows stifled their ball movement and it was only a very strong mark to Liam Davis in a contest that gave Norwood the only goal in the first 13 minutes.
Liam Davis’s story is quite well known in SANFL circles but it bears repeating as it is one of the great things about local footy. In 2011, Nathan Bassett auctioned an appearance in an amateur football match for charity. Houghton District Football Club won the auction and Bass laced up the boots for one game with their Division 6 amateur side in the SAAFL. He was impressed with a fair chunk of a lad who had a good pair of hands and over that summer recruited Davis via facebook. He played reserves in 2012 and made his league debut in 2013, playing in the premiership. He took a number of one grab marks against the Crows in the evening and kicked five goals – just too big and strong for the variety of AFL listed players tried on him in the twilight.
With high pressure play and effective ball movement, Norwood were 10 goals up 23 minutes into the second quarter and the contest was over. The Crows had a lot more of the ball after that but were only able to narrow the margin by a goal come game’s end. The Redlegs finish the minor round in 2nd spot with genuine prospects of featuring in the last weekend in September (that’s right, the October long weekend Sunday has gone).
Back to the Crow autopsy – hand me the spreaders:
The Crows demonstrated in their back to back losses that their ball movement is defective. When it works it is a thing of beauty – then it tends to be quick, direct and through the corridor. However, if they get stuck on a half back flank the Crows are in trouble. Saturday evening was a case in point. Too often the Crows handballed to a stationary player or attempted a short kick inside from a pocket or flank in a contested space. Is it any wonder that turnover goals are a huge issue?
By comparison, Norwood almost never centres the ball from those positions. If they are stuck in a back pocket / flank they will kick back to an uncontested full back. They seek to put the ball in the hands of a man on the wing 70m out from goal before they consider going inside. If they do it will be a medium length kick (i.e. one where you actually kick through the ball) to an uncontested centre half back. They play the percentages. They still go directly through the middle, but as a change-up and only when the circumstances are favourable. It is bewildering that the SANFL club is the more professional outfit in this respect.
When the game came down to the wire on Saturday afternoon, the Crows kicked 3.5 with the last three scores behinds. At the Parade on Saturday evening they kicked 8.17. In the last quarter Porplyzia, Crouch and Kerridge (3 times) all missed gettable shots on goal. These are the sort of players who should be challenging to play in the firsts but lack the composure to kick goals in the SANFL. Compare this to Newton and Davis for Norwood who kicked 11.2 between them in the same conditions.
With the forward line relatively effective in the AFL (Walker will only improve next year with the mythical “full pre-season”), the defence is a real concern. Rutten’s retiring and Reilly is likely on the way out. Luke Thompson was exposed against the Roos and Sam SIggins and Lewis Johnston were not competitive against Newton and Davis. Again, watching Norwood, they have two strong leaders in the backline in Kieran McGuinness and Jace Bode who take responsibility for marshalling the troops and moving the ball out of defence. Adelaide has lacked that since Reilly stopped being a regular inclusion and it’s not clear who that next “QB” will be, Brodie Smith’s season notwithstanding. A highly skilled key defender / utility needs to be high on the drafting plans (they grow on trees don’t they?).
A lot has to go right for the Crows this weekend. Whether the season ends this weekend or the couple after that there is plenty to build on but plenty of deficiencies to cover. As I close the chest back up the heart still beats.
Quick SANFL summary
The SANFL heads into the finals after an incredibly close and high quality home and away season. Port Adelaide secured the minor premiership despite losing to bottom side Glenelg on the weekend. Sturt lost to South Adelaide which saw Norwood move into 2nd place. A top three of Port, Norwood and Sturt must be a teenaged boy’s dream for the SANFL. The Redlegs and the Double Blues will play in the qualifying final on Saturday. The Eagles’ win over West Adelaide saw them hold onto 5th spot above North Adelaide and the Bulldogs. South Adelaide and the Eagles will play in the elimination final.
As to how the finals will pan out is anyone’s guess. Norwood and South have the form in the 2nd half of the season (7/2 and 6/3 respectively) but Port Adelaide has greater resources to call upon, particularly if they go out in the first week of the AFL finals. That said, imagine a Norwood / Port grand final at the Adelaide Oval. It would go alright.