ALL the pundits in their pre-season predictions, saw this year’s flag heading for one of three destinations: the reigning premier, the reigning runner-up or the barely-beaten preliminary finalist.
No doubt it’s hard to construct a solid case for anyone bolting from left field (mind you, Port’s surge last year was incredibly invisible before it happened) and there’s equally no doubt one round of football is too brief to make season-lasting judgements (see Sydney’s first round effort last year).
However, the parallels with the 2010 Magpies and the 2015 Crows are too strong to go unnoticed. And while this scribe doesn’t suggest mortgaging the house and throwing it all on Adelaide, if one of the aforementioned three doesn’t present the October buttered confection, here’s someone that could appear so obvious in hindsight that could actually give it a real shake.
The self-proclaimed pride of South Australia scared the bejesus out of Hawthorn in the grand final playoff three years ago. Their time wasn’t seen as then, but a strong showing nonetheless. Two years of finals campaigns missed since but they’re ready again.
the manic pressure which Walsh demands and orchestrates, is huge.
The Pies brought a pressure to the contest and opposition very rarely seen before. It was manic, relentless, constant. The first half of the 2010 preliminary final between Collingwood and Geelong turned one of the greatest sides we’ve ever witnessed into sitting ducks, able to be cornered and disposed of at will and often.
It was the effort, combined with brilliant strategy, that brought a great side to its knees. Adelaide’s attack Sunday, similarly, on North Melbourne left the Shinboners embarrassed.
While easy to kick the Roos credit must go to the limitations their opponents placed on their efforts to do anything about it. It was animalistic yet beautifully executed all the same.
This formula that appears timeless and incredibly successful, the manic pressure which Walsh demands and orchestrates, is huge. Port Adelaide and most notably Hawthorn and Fremantle show that system is paramount to success in the springtime, not just the talent. The Power were lurking in the doldrums of the football attention span – barely noticeable, if not highly on the nose.
Ken Hinkley came in with a broom for the existing ideology and with a very similar playing list extracted results unbecoming of what we the football public thought the list had to give.
Phil Walsh, coming off a better base than Hinkley had, can do similar. Walsh, like Hinkley, has lofty expectations of his men, the courage to run to exhaustion, then run some more, to never bring anything less than all of your effort and to do it for the pride in the jumper, to harass and never give their opponents a sniff.
They have these key ingredients at their disposal. That being said, the proof will be in the eating.
Their defence is equally workmanlike and brilliant. The likes of Kyle Hartigan, Kyle Cheney, Ricky Henderson and Luke Brown bring solid contributions every week. Daniel Talia might be an All-Australian key backman by year’s end and Brodie Smith has already achieved that milestone.
Talia will do job after job on the competition’s gorillas and thwart their key avenue to kicking a winning score. Smith is already one of the league’s premier rebounders and offensive architects from half-back and his influence cannot go understated.
Their midfield is as deep as they come. Like the Pies from five years ago, coach Phil Walsh will be blushing for options to run through the middle, maintaining a high standard of fast, powerful transition football and contested possession alike.
Patrick Dangerfield and Rory Sloane are two elite onballers, Scott Thompson was an onlooker in their demolition of North Melbourne, scarily, throw in former best and fairest winner in Richard Douglas, Matty Jaensch, the highly touted Crouch brothers, Brad and Matt and ex-skipper Nathan van Berlo, Walsh has options aplenty.
Up forward it’s terrifyingly straightforward. Like Collingwood with Travis Cloke, the Crows new captain Taylor Walker brings aerial presence and serious forwardline dominance to the table. Further, like Cloke had his foils in Chris Dawes and Leigh Brown, gritty and determined, two of James Podsiadly, Josh Jenkins and Tom Lynch will be more than adequate in taking pressure off Walker in their plan to rack up the score.
The good form of Eddie Betts will not go unheralded either; Alan Didak was clever for the 2010 Pies, Betts certainly possesses a bursting bag of tricks as well.
The mix is bang on at Westlakes. And to put further puff into the sails of the Crows’ tilt, the draw they face in 2015 is nothing short of a dream. They face the Hawks only once, at home, after a bye, mid-year. They don’t see the Swans until August and that too is their only meeting.
They have the twisted luxury of always facing the Power at home and travel only once to Perth, but to play the battered Eagles, the Dockers have to travel to Adelaide Oval.
Again, these Crows should not be in top four calculations just for their strong position with playing personnel, nor the gold struck in their coaching appointment and subsequent gameplan, nor the marvellous fixture in front of them, nor because of one resounding disposal of top-four fancy North Melbourne to richly display all of this.
Or actually, should they?