AFL Round 19 – Adelaide Crows v West Coast Eagles: Flake and Hot Chips

My dad is a Port Adelaide supporter.  My brother follows the Crows.  Both of them reckon that the Crows would be a top side if they lived and trained in Oodnadatta, cut off from celebrity and media, and only flew to matches on game day.

Dad’s first love is cricket and he resents that the Adelaide Advertiser newspaper has more summer coverage of Crows pre-season and trades than the Test series.  He resents that the underachieving Crows get more media attention than his (until recently) overachieving Port.  I tell him that commercial media is just a device to sell advertising space, so it tells people what they want to hear, not what is true or important.  I tell him that is why the Almanac is so popular; writers tell it like it is; without fear or favour.

He nods but he says the trouble is that with so much media hype and adulation Crows players, like politicians, start to believe their own bullshit.  The echo is so loud and frequent that they mistake the reflected noise for adulation and credibility.

I played golf on a glorious Perth Saturday afternoon that had the first tinge of early spring.  My Eagles had tried hard against the Tigers last week, but were out-muscled.  Without the leadership of Glass and now Cox, I gave them little chance against a finals-bound Adelaide, who have one of the best midfields in the comp to my eye.

The trouble is they think so too.  Credibility is not something you have.  It’s something you earn again every week.  Today the Crows played like a team on a triumphal procession to September, not on a battle march.

I watched the first quarter at home.  At least we are having a crack.  Saw snippets of the second in the pro shop.  Hanging in there.  Checked the scores on the Age website via my phone at the end of each hole.  In the third quarter I was as confident of the Eagles hanging on, as my holing a four footer.  Still things can turn around.  I holed a downhill twenty footer for par on the fourth.  And the Eagles were ten points in front ten minutes into the last quarter.  Shit, can we hang on?

No chance, as I four putted the par 3 5th hole.   But the Eagles were 22 points up with 10 minutes to play.  Bloody miracle.  Cranked a 200 metre drive down the middle on the par 5 6th hole.  The planets are aligned.  Playing with confident abandon.  Me and them.

By the time I had holed out (don’t ask about the second shot into the trees) the Eagles were celebrating a conclusive 31 point win over the dispirited Crows.  I rang Swish and Rulebook to tell them about my good form on the golf course, but they seemed disinterested.

The rest of my round had the consistency of the Kangaroos season, but no matter, my head was in the clouds and I couldn’t wait to analyse the replay with the Avenging Eagle over a chablis and chilli prawn fettuccine.

This is what I saw:

We don’t get no respect.  Any half smart coach (Sanderson is half way there) knows that you always tag 2 Eagles – Hurn and Shuey.  They create most of our attack with good leg speed and great foot skills.  Sanderson tagged neither until half time, and by then we had self-belief.  I have been waiting for Shuey for 3 seasons since he ran second to Heppell in the Rising Star.  He is a midfielder with the skills to become an elite player, and the last month has been his best in recent years.  A month ago Simpson consigned the underachieving Wellingham to permanent exile tormenting Les Everett at East Perth.  Did that finally get the message through to Shuey that persistent running and work rate is what makes the difference between talent and success among AFL midfielders?   The most pleasing thing about Hurn was not just his incisive kicking, but the way he marshals the young defence in Glass’s absence.

Two Shingles Short of a Roof.  No I’m not still talking about Sanderson, but the Crows lack of serious talls.  They have one ruckman, one tall defender and one key forward.   When Talia got hurt there was no Plan B to contain Josh Kennedy.  Walker kicked four, but only one was from a strong mark.  Eric McKenzie is the only player on the Eagles list who would get a game for the Swans or Hawks.  He is strong, smart, has beautiful hands and surprising speed.  His disposal is improving.  No forward has got on top of him all season.   All Australian honours please.  He is our next captain to my eye.  He leads by example.  For the Crows, their tall backup players in Podsiadly (honest) and Jenkins (dishonest) are only bit players.

Danger to traffic.  Was Paddy out there today?  He was well held by our inexperienced tagger, Mark Hutchings.  Dangerfield hurt his knee late against the Magpies, and never looked right today, spending a lot of time forward.   Who picks the side, Sanderson and the match committee, or do star players and 5AA talkback callers dictate a divine right of kings?  As for the rest of the much-vaunted Crows midfield, Sloane and Thompson got touches, but their ‘bomb it long to Tex’ disposal was positively Worsfoldian.  The younger Crows midfielders were comprehensively out-worked and out-tackled by their unheralded Eagles opponents.  (Hang on I’ll just check the tape again.  Yep that’s right.)  Gaff had his best game for 2 seasons, working more in-close and finally hitting targets by foot.

I’ve seen it, but I doooooon’t believe it.  When Ross Lyon came to Fremantle we smashed them in the first Derby.  New coach, same old Dockers, I rejoiced.  I immediately dismissed the excuse that they were “learning the new game plan”.   By the second Derby they were conversant in Rossball and comprehensively strangled us.  Hmmm.

I have held on to the belief that Simpson is the teaching coach that the Eagles needed to lift them out of the ‘go in hard and boot it long’ time warp we were stuck in under Woosha.  Adam Simpson is a smart man and his playing experience at the Kangaroos, and as an assistant to the smartest coach in footy at the Hawks, equips him to teach sophisticated skills and strategies to developing players.  Something the Eagles have been devoid of for a decade.

There were two startling differences in the way the Eagles played today, that suggests we have left the road to nowhere and have found a path to somewhere.   The urgent pressure of professional footy makes it a split second instinctive game, where ingrained habits dictate players’ actions more than new coaching instructions.  Old game plans die hard.  But today there was no ‘bomb it long’ kicking to a contest.  Everyone lowered their eyes and found a target 30 to 40 metres away.  Consistently all day.

The ancillary is that players all over the ground consistently ran to space to create a marking opportunity.  Kennedy and Darling finally started leading to space, and that running created opportunities for each other.  Collaborators rather than competitors for the same kicks.  Playing one ruckman on the field at a time worked, with neither Naitanui or Lycett rested forward.  The Eagles have spent all season with 3 big blokes within 30 metres of goal knocking each other over in the marking contest.  Shooting fish in a barrel for any competent defence.  They even made Zac Dawson look good.

Sam Jacobs in his 100th game was the Crows best and just won a good tussle with Naitanui at the taps, but the Eagles won the clearances due to our dominant midfield.  (Hang on I’ll check that again.  Still right.)  For all that Naitanui looked better for Cox’s retirement.  He ran and tackled with more freedom, as if relieved of the burden of comparison.  Finally a boy on a man’s errand, more than the boy in a man’s shadow.

The current Eagles are primary schoolers, still another season off playing with the big boys in high school.  University is still a dream, but today we saw the spires.  This was the win that gives supporters an understanding of the road we are on.  And players the belief to persist even when things comes unstuck against less flakey competitors than the Crows.

WEST COAST      5.5          10.8        14.11     20.16 (136)

ADELAIDE            6.0          9.2          15.7        16.9 (105)

Goals:

West Coast: J Kennedy 5 A Gaff 3 J Darling 3 J Cripps 2 X Ellis 2 E MacKenzie M Hutchings M LeCras S Hurn S Lycett.

Adelaide: T Walker 4 E Betts 3 J Jenkins 3 B Crouch 2 B Martin M Wright P Dangerfield R Sloane.

BEST:

West Coast: Gaff, Hutchings, Kennedy, Shuey, Priddis, Naitanui, Hurn.

Adelaide: Jacobs, B. Crouch, Jaensch, Sloane, Thompson, Douglas.
Umpires: Shane McInerney, Andrew Mitchell, Craig Fleer.

Official Crowd: 49,470 at Adelaide Oval.

Votes: 3 – Andrew Gaff (WCE); 2 – Mark Hutchings (WCE); 1 – Josh Kennedy (WCE)

Comments

  1. Why did they wait for so long to follow instructions?
    Where did they learn to honour leads?
    Who is Patrick McGinnity?
    Is Priddis a smokey for the Brownlow?
    Can they do it again this season?
    Or next week?

  2. Malcolm Ashwood says

    Hi Peter 1st off apologies only reading now have I found out it was you , thought it was a idiotic , Richmond supporter . Spot on re the , Crows get so far ahead of themselves it is a disgrace and unfortunately . Sanderson has surrounded himself with yes men and to say we are missing the late , Dean Baileys tactical nous is a massive understatement .
    Breaking news to , PB after going to yest pies v power game with the greys we have worked out how to solve , Collingwoods home crowds sell there home games to ,
    Adelaide ! Are all Vics just front runners ?

  3. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says

    I was worried when my car radio told me that the Crows had kicked the first four and Jamo and/or S Williams started talking about a rout.

    Would loved nothing more than to have talked golf PB, but I’ve got a strict no swearing in front of the kids policy, as I was driving home from netball.

    Have I told you about the time that Centrals beat Torrens at Thebby in ’73?

  4. Ben Footner says

    After the game I wasn’t pissed off at Adelaide so much as West Coast for deciding to produce what was clearly their best performance of the year against my mob. They were unbelievable, quick hands, fast movement of the footy, precision delivery to their forwards. They played like a top 4 outfit. Which has to beg the question – where the hell has that Eagles team been all year?

  5. Thanks Peter. In one week West Coast went from horrible to great while the Crows went from great to horrible. The West Coast ball movement was fast and sharp and Adelaide’s was slow and uncertain. Shannon Hurn, Angaston’s finest, must be one of the league’s best kicks over forty metres. But his dad and granddad were pretty fair too.

    The game confirms Adelaide’s status as a middling side, but as you say, suggests that the Eagles can function as a slick unit.

    The race for 7th and 8th is fascinating. I wouldn’t like to guess who’ll get there.

  6. Dave Brown says

    Yep, you pretty much nailed it. I tend to be a bit softer on Sanderson because, as mentioned above, Dean Bailey has been sorely missed from the coaching box. Also because his players clearly were not following his instruction on the weekend. The ‘if in doubt handball’ stuff we saw was more like the last days of the Craig era than the ‘take the game on’ style Sanderson wants his team to play. Credit to the Eagles midfield for forcing them into that.

    Sitting behind the goals at the North Melbourne game a couple of months back also worried me. The Crows had Walker, Pods and Jenkins all within 15 metres of goal and not one of them was presenting – they actually want the ball bombed on their heads.

    Your comment about the Crow midfield is also spot on. They don’t consistently work hard enough when they don’t have the ball. Champion put out some of their magic numbers last week on ‘pressure acts’ or somesuch and the players at each club that apply the most pressure at clearances and around the ground. Not surprisingly, Adelaide was the only club with the same player (Sloane) leading the club in both categories.

  7. Dan Hansen says

    Peter, I don’t think that West Coast as a far off being a top four side (or university students) as you put it. I liked the way they didn’t mess around with handball and played a more direct brand of football. If the Weagles win their next two games they’re a smokey for the eight. The Dons at the Docklands will be the decider.

  8. Like fellow 2014 disappointments, the Blues and Tiges, the Eagles have finally started playing good footy having been mentally freed from the pressure of actually being in contention for finals.

  9. Luke Reynolds says

    Good report Peter. Hope your golf goes much better than your footy team this weekend.

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