General Footy Writing: An open letter to Neil Craig (after a slap to the editors)

John Kingsmill

On the City of Churches, Adelaide Pubs, Why Neil Craig is Obstinate, and How the Adelaide Fans Have Got It Wrong for Five Long Years

PREAMBLE

First, more things Footy Almanac readers don’t need to know.

Or perhaps they do.

Not colonised by convicts but by free settlers, South Australia offered another attraction to those unhappy English who chose to uproot and carry their goods, chattels and habits to another side of the world.

And that was freedom of religious practice.

Anyone coming to South Australia was free to set up any religion they liked, without bias and without persecution by the state. This expression of religious freedom has been interpreted by scholars and commentators for a couple of a hundred years in one sense only – that there was a church in every Adelaide street. That Adelaide was a city of churches.

And, for some decades in the early years of the colony, when Adelaide had few streets, this may have been true.

There may have been a church in every street.

But there were also three of four hotels in the same street.

Freedom of religion also implied, from year zero, freedom from religion.
If every religion were free to flourish in this state, without interruption or obstruction from the agencies of government or the ruling class, the obverse was equally true.

Religion was welcome to flourish here; so too was the absence of religion and, in particular, the absence of any state or ruling class endorsed religion.
Thus, dear editors of this site, a simple request.

Please stop tagging every Adelaide story with the overworked cliché:
From the City of Churches.

It would be more accurate to describe Adelaide as a City of Pubs in the same way that Melbourne, tagged as the City of Gardens is, in reality, a City of Car Parks.

There are more declared atheists in Adelaide than declared believers.
There are more pubs than churches in Adelaide.

In fact, some churches have become pubs or nightclubs in this city.
Note that not one pub, here, has ever become a church.

BACK TO THE FOOTY

I thought Adelaide was going to be in a lot of trouble tonight in Round 20 against Hawthorn at the MCG.  I thought that without Bock, Burton and Dangerfield, Adelaide was in deep trouble, having to construct a makeshift forward structure out of the last remaining men.
I thought they would have to pluck planks from the ice sloe, after the shipwreck, in order to build a new boat. Excuse me. I am currently 215 pages into Sir Ernest Shackleton’s South. There’s still 150 pages to go and it’s already terminal and scary and bothering my life.

At the press conference last week, I asked Neil Craig this question: “You have a big problem now, surely, getting the structure of your forward six in shape without Burton and Bock in the side?”
There’s nothing wrong with the structure, he said. You are merely talking about personnel. It will be a challenge, yes, to get the right people into the right positions, but the structure remains. I don’t have to change that.
That sort of response has driven me mad for years. Craig has this fundamental belief in team method, in system, in the theoretical, and then doing what he has to do to get the players to do what they have to do in order to win.
Is this a Methodist streak in his thinking?

Is it Presbyterian? Anglican? Agnostic? Atheist?

I’d like to ask him one day.

Most other people, especially fans sitting in the outer, think on different lines.
You take the players you have and construct a team system around their talents. You force the game around the players, not the players around your idea of how the game should be played. You work with what you have, not with what you want.

You try to win important games, week by week, not coach an improbable bunch of discombobulated freaks into a winning position in five or ten years’ hence.

Winning a cup, or even one match, is not about the future.

Football is about this week. Football is about tonight.

You are in year five now, Neil Craig. You explain every loss every week as an important lesson for the future, but eventually the future arrives.
And, as everybody in football knows, when the future finally arrives, it’s always about two or three years late.

Tonight, once again, I was wrong and the fans were wrong and Neil Craig was right. His victory against Hawthorn wasn’t a lucky thing.

It was a carefully constructed thing.

AN OPEN LETTER TO THE COACH

Dear Neil,

A brilliantly constructed victory, tonight.

Going man-on-man in the second quarter to get back into the game.

Having faith in the relative fitness of your boys to maintain an attacking game for the last three quarters.

Normally, you delay this attack for two quarters, not three.

But enough about you, for a minute.

Fans always look at individuals, rather than team method or the coach’s system.

I thought Brad Symes played his best game yet for the Adelaide Crows, especially in the first half. He stood tall and played to team method. He won’t have the stats and isn’t regarded as a hot player by the commentary or the umpires … but tonight I thought his game was adventurous, methodical, hard-working and courageous.

I thought Andrew McLeod won hard balls and was ruthlessly and calmly efficient… and in a team that was missing its CHB and nominal CHF in Bock and Burton, Andrew stood up in the on-field leadership stakes. He was sweet and sharp and had a lot to do with the team’s ability to organise itself, concentrate and deliver.

I thought Richard Douglas’ kick on the ground for an unlikely goal was the exact tipping point the team needed to think that they could control the night.

I thought that Bernie Vince has come of age. But I have thought that before. Bernie may well have been Adelaide’s best player, but that’s expected of him now. He is now so essential to this team that he will mainly only be noted for his handful of mistakes, not the twenty or thirty things he gets right every week. Like Simon Goodwin, and Scott Thompson, he’s become a packhorse contributor, a mainstay.

I thought that Trent Hentschel’s game was very good considering his layoff, especially his ability to get a shot at goal in a cramped space. I’d forgotten that aspect of his game – his short close kick for a tall man has always been superb … and it was tonight.  By close kick, I mean his ability to get boot to ball in a cramped space. He’s very, very good at that. He knows how to bend his knees upwards in the kicking motion on the run. Taylor Walker, for example, needs a turning circle, like an ocean liner, to get a clear kick at goal.

There was one moment of Trent’s that stood out. He was in the square for a high ball but wasn’t in a marking position. However, he still managed to get one hand to the ball, and to push it towards the goal line. Magically, the pack split for him and he gathered his own tap and kicked a run-in goal.

Over recent years, Adelaide’s tall forwards have been, by and large, one-hit wonders. I am a great fan of Brett Burton’s schoolboy hangers but Brett is often an all-or-nothing player. Brett often attempts the impossible when simply the orthodox will do. Out of position, Brett only has to execute a hip-to-hip bump with his hands in the air, put his opponent out of position, gather the ball and snap for goal. But Brett likes the hanger.

Hentschel has this other aspect – working the situation to his advantage, even when he doesn’t seem to be in a marking position. Port’s Justin Westoff has that too. Interestingly, both of those boys seem to have minds that are suitable for AFL, but bodies that are more suitable to lawn bowls or chess. Both of them always look vulnerable; they leave their fronts too open for oncoming traffic.

But, in spite of Trent’s four goals,  I don’t think he was the star of the victory. Most of his shots were close to goal. Most of his goals were created by the midfield’s ability to get the ball in much deeper than last week. Trent was the lucky guy tonight, the receiver and converter, but not necessarily the savior. He crept under everybody’s guard, including mine.

If next week’s line-ups allowed it, I’d even rest Trent.

I’d keep the opposition, and this player, guessing.

I love the Porp because the contest is never over whenever he is in within ten metres of the ball. The harder he is knocked over, the quicker he bounces back to his feet, like one of those old punching bags.

And Tippet is good, too – a good strong orthodox lead, and a good strong stand firm orthodox pack mark.

But I am not the coach.

You are.

You have a system.

I only have players.

My problem is, I guess, that Burton, Hentschel and the Porp are all permanently proppy.

To lose two in any one game, or all three, would be a disaster on the day.
Moving into the finals, I’m only concerned about each game, now.

-o-

But, mainly, Neil, congratulations for securing your fifth final campaign in your fifth year, especially in a period of rebuild.

Your AFL coaching stats are now 63W-38L. that’s a 62.3% strike rate – the best in the league at the moment in terms of sheer win-loss percentage. You are yet to exert these good figures into final games, where stats start to matter, but that’s a mere detail. That’s just a matter of time that, with a young developing squad is in your favour at the moment.
You are approaching the premiership clock, not retreating from it.
And looking at your figures, tonight, I notice that your hundredth game as Adelaide coach last week came and went with little fanfare.
Were we all asleep?

Belatedly, congratulations on that milestone,  Neil.

Push on!!!

Regards, JohnK

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