A QUICK GLANCE AT 2010:
Considering its lofty standards it has set over the past few years, Adelaide failed to impress in 2010. It was just the second time it had failed to make the final eight in the past decade.
The Crows began disastrously, losing their first six games of the season – the worst start in their history – which included an embarrassing 16-point loss to lowly Melbourne in round three. Pressure started to mount on head coach Neil Craig, in what was his seventh season in charge. However the club’s board stuck by Craig and he rewarded the club’s fans with a respectable return of nine wins and seven losses over the final 16 rounds.
While Craig stayed put, there was a drastic change in player personnel. Veterans Tyson Edwards, Andrew McLeod, Simon Goodwin and Brett Burton all announced their retirements at different stages throughout the season. The rush of sudden departures meant Crows fans got to see some new faces get a game. None impressed more than 24-year-old midfielder Richard Douglas, who endured his best AFL season and won the Malcolm Blight medal for Adelaide’s best and fairest player for the season.
Despite a poor start to the season, Adelaide managed to get some crucial momentum ahead of the 2011 season.
In the past, Adelaide has been severely criticised by the press for its overly defensive match tactics. But the Crows can safely say they now have saving grace up forward in Kurt Tippett. The 23-year-old backed up his 55-goal season in 2009 with 46 goals in 2010 to top Adelaide’s goal kicking table for the first time. The former basketball aspirant, who stands at 203 centimetres, needs to work on his accuracy in front of goal. But if the big man can consistently take strong grabs hovering around the half-forward line, he is sure to prove a handful for opposition defenders and will be a big asset to Adelaide’s fortunes of making the finals.
THREE MOST IMPORTANT GAMES IN 2011:
Round 1 – v Hawthorn, Saturday 26 March at AAMI Stadium
Adelaide’s season opener against the Hawks will mark 20 years since it was incepted into the AFL. If the Crows can subdue Lance ‘Buddy’ Franklin and the rest of the Hawthorn forward line, then they are a strong chance to celebrate its 20-year anniversary in fine style. The win would also boost the morale levels of players and supporters for the remainder of the season.
Round 4 – v Port Adelaide, Saturday 16 April at AAMI Stadium
The South Australian AFL ‘Showdown’ is always a great battle between these two fierce local rivals. It encapsulates an entire city, as everyone eagerly anticipates the first bounce. With Port holding a slight overall lead (16-13) – including wins in both matches last year – the Crows will be keen to even up the head-to-head ratio.
Round 21 – v Geelong, Sunday 14 August at AAMI Stadium
Arguably the Crows’ best win in 2010 was their upset 11-point win over the top-of-the-ladder Cats in round 16. Should Adelaide replicate that feat against the Cats, it will get the luxury of playing three relative easy-beats in Gold Coast, Richmond and West Coast to finish off the season, giving it a great chance to make the final eight.
WHAT TO EXPECT IN 2011:
Craig heads into his eighth season as head coach under enormous pressure. Even though he is a highly respected leader, the fact he has a promising list and a relatively easy 2011 fixture means a complete nose-dive could spell the end of him.
The Crows no longer lack firepower up forward, with fresh faces like Tippett, Taylor Walker and Jason Poplyzia making their structure less blurred.
The nucleus of that structure, the midfield, is also coming along nicely. Names like Bernie Vince, Chris Knights, Ivan Maric and new skipper Nathan van Berlo now have a few years of experience under their belt and are developing into class players.
Back in defence, the experience is already there. The oldest and most experienced player on the list, Michael Doughty, is an accomplished player, while stalwarts Graham Johncock and Ben Rutten form the cornerstone of a solid unit.
Although Adelaide probably won’t challenge for a premiership this year, making the finals will be a pivotal step in setting up an opportunity for one a couple of years down the track.
They now have a competent and, more importantly, balanced list. They are building momentum and heading in the right direction, so the last thing they need is a repeat dose of last year’s 11th place finishing.
With a kind draw and a terrific home record, the Crows might just surprise some pundits and force their way into the lower four of the top eight.