BY – JACKSON CLARK
The beauty of Australian Football is that it accommodates players of different abilities. Not everyone on the team can haul in the big grabs, kick the long goals or make the blistering runs down the field. Equally important is the unsung heroes of the side that simply do their role for the team. There is no better example of this than what will be asked of Fremantle tagger Ryan Crowley in tomorrow’s grand final.
It is a near certainty that he will play a run-with role on Sam Mitchell, a guy that dominated last week’s preliminary final against Geelong. Many share the belief that if Crowley can stop Mitchell, the Dockers will win its first premiership. Now this is a task that is easier said than done, but this season Crowley has completely blanketed stars such as Joel Selwood, Kieren Jack, Brett Deledio, Marc Murphy, Brent Harvey and many others. Hawthorn understand the importance of Crowley and will look to “roughen-up” the Dockers midfielder. Club legend Peter Knights urged the Hawks players to help Mitchell by blocking Crowley’s path whenever possible. While some people will watch for the game-breakers such as Cyril Rioli, Lance Franklin, Nat Fyfe and Stephen Hill, I’ll just as intently be watching Crowley and his battle with Mitchell.
Crowley’s journey to get to the last Saturday in September has been admirable. He was drafted in 2002 with selection 55 in the National Draft but delisted two seasons later after not being able to crack a game in the Dockers side. He was handed a lifeline by the club when they picked him up as a third round rookie selection and he finally got his opportunity at AFL level when two players were sent to the long-term injury list. After a consistent first couple of seasons in the AFL he changed his role into a defensive midfielder in 2008. Since then he has tagged the biggest names in the game and was rewarded for his efforts by winning Fremantle’s best and fairest last season. The fact that he won his club’s best and fairest and failed to poll a single vote in the Brownlow shows the difference between how he is rated in the inner-sanctum at the Dockers compared to how he is perceived by others outside of the club.
Crowley is not a dirty player and one look at his tribunal record will attest to that. Rather he is an unbelievably disciplined footballer that plays his role for the team to a tee. The arrival of senior coach Ross Lyon has done wonders for his career as he has emerged as the premium tagger of the competition. Fremantle’s defensive structures and discipline to execute the game plan is perhaps at a level that we have never seen before. Crowley, along with other Docker players like Matt de Boer and Hayden Ballantyne, has been one of the main reasons this has happened. An underrated trait of Crowley’s is his ability to use instructional voice around the ground, directing his teammates around the stoppages. In the modern game, where team structures and game plans are getting increasingly complex, a player’s voice can be one of their most powerful weapons. Although there’s no doubt he is loved at the Dockers, he is probably one of the most unpopular players in the eyes of opposition supporters. Even Gary Ablett uncharacteristically voiced his opinion last year when he called Crowley “a joke” for his negating tactics. Love him or loathe him, Crowley will play a big part in the premiership decider.
Twitter – @JClark182