MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA – JUNE 16: Josh Jenkins (R) of the Crows looks dejected after defeat during the round 13 AFL match between the Hawthorn Hawks and the Adelaide Crows at Melbourne Cricket Ground on June 16, 2018 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Michael Dodge/Getty Images)
For premiership-starved Adelaide Crows fans, this season has seen highs and lows of a type that the Club has rarely put its supporters through.
In the twenty years since winning back-to-back flags in 1997 and 1998, Adelaide has missed the finals seven times, but has never finished lower than 14th in the 18-team competition, or 13th when there were 16 teams. During this time, there have been two minor premierships, in 2005 and 2017, as well as last year’s Grand Final appearance and preliminary final loses in 2002, 2005, 2006 and 2012. The Crows have never finished bottom and, apart from the back end of the 2011 season in Neil Craig’s final doom-laden days, haven’t endured any seasons where they have been flogged soundly on a regular basis.
In short, while the ultimate victory hasn’t come their way for twenty years, Adelaide Crows fans have nevertheless enjoyed relative success on a semi-regular basis and have never really plumbed the depths of despair in the way Carlton fans have recently, for instance. The ups have been reasonably enjoyable and the downs haven’t been that bad, all things considered. And so the Club has always been competitive and never completely bottomed out, with all the ramifications for drafting and list re-building that comes with finishing at the foot of the table.
This is part of the reason why Adelaide’s recent spluttering attempts towards regaining its blistering 2017 form have not been viewed as optimistically by some supporters as one might reasonably expect. Despite some truly dreadful performances this year, including a 91-point thrashing by Melbourne in Alice Springs, a humiliating loss at the hands of Fremantle, and a possibly season-defining loss in the last 47 seconds of the first Showdown against Port Adelaide, Adelaide has nevertheless still managed to beat three of the current top four sides while at times playing somewhere near its 2017 peak. So, while its form is patchy at best and at times bewilderingly bad, you can still see many bookmakers, including some featured here, offering a price of $4.50 on the Crows scraping into the finals, despite one of the toughest draws of any of the finals contenders.
But is it really worth it? The Crows’ injuries this season have been documented ad nauseam, with as many as six of the top ten in the club’s 2017 Best & Fairest award being out of the side all at the same time. It can also be argued that Adelaide has been rushing some of these injured players back before they are ready on account of the team’s poor form, and that this has in some cases only exacerbated the problem and led to players being sidelined multiple times for the same injury.
Some supporters are therefore questioning whether the Club is risking too much for too little reward — losing Matt Crouch for a prolonged period of time or having Rory Laird risk further serious injury just to scrape into the eight and then lose in the first week of the finals does not, to some, seem like good strategic planning.
More pragmatic supporters are in fact suggesting that a late surge towards the finals, on the back of the optimism engendered by the re-signing of Rory Sloane for another five years, is not in the longer-term interests of the Club.
This is particularly the case this year when two of the highest ranked players in next year’s draft — Jack Lukosius and Izak Rankine — are South Australians, along with a plethora of other local talent who contributed to SA winning this year’s Under 18 Championship and who look set to be high draft picks as well. The timing in this regard couldn’t be better because Adelaide is, for the first time in many years, well placed in terms of first-round picks, and so a lower finish on the ladder is not going to do it any harm.
Although no-one is suggesting that the ironic hashtags started by Crows fans, #TankineforRankine and #AttrociousforLukosius, should be taken literally, there is nevertheless a willingness amongst some sections of the supporter base to consign the 2018 season to the history books now, and send all those players with recurring and niggling injuries out to pasture, as part of a plan that would lead to a major assault on the top ten draftees for 2019.
— DSG (@dgibbins02) June 16, 2018
However, while that approach might appease some sections of the supporter base, it is unlikely to be a course that the Club adopts, if for no other reason than it is so keenly aware of the unreasonable media scrutiny it has been under, seemingly since the moment the final siren blew in last year’s Grand Final.
It is rare, even in the goldfish bowl that is AFL media coverage, that a Club comes under the sort of intense scrutiny that Adelaide has seen this year. From captain Taylor Walker’s speech at MCG after the loss to Richmond, to the pre-season training camp on the Gold Coast, to whether players like Sloane and Mitch McGovern would join the long list of players to leave the Club, to the barrage of injuries and questions over the Club’s fitness staff, every move that Adelaide has made has seemed to come under the steely gaze of the sport’s media who, for the most part, don’t appear to like what they see.
This alone will likely convince the Club that it still needs to go all-out to try and snatch any remaining finals berths that might be up for grabs at season’s end. Whether that’s the right decision for the longer term success of the Club remains to be seen. For most Crows fans, however, it’s a no-brainer — they’d gladly endure 15th or 16th place this year to get their hands on some top end draft end talent at last and, finally, to move beyond simply being competitive year after year after year.