ADELAIDE 2.2 5.5 8.10 11.14 (80)
SYDNEY 5.1 7.1 11.3 13.5 (83)
The match was built up as a possible Grand Final preview between two of this season’s heavyweights, but from an Adelaide perspective, a win was less important than remaining competitive, fit and healthy with a top two position all but assured. Competitive they remained, but competitive would not be enough.
Sydney has made a habit of ambushing teams in big clashes over the past 12 months, and so it was again. Controlling the centre square from the onset, the Swans immediately set about silencing the 51,466 pro-Adelaide crowd, and the Crows, with their ferocious attack on the ball and swarming numbers around the contest.
Sydney jumped out to an early five goal lead in similar scenes to last year’s elimination final against Adelaide. The Crows had not been at all ready for the onslaught, but would soon find a way to stop the rot.
Adelaide’s Don Pyke had employed two spares behind the ball from the onset, as Sydney preferred to play their spare both at the stoppage and behind the ball. Sydney found a way to pierce the Crows’ advantage behind the ball with the extra midfield number, but as Adelaide started to find its feet, Pyke’s cautious approach began to pay dividends.
Adelaide awoke from its slumber to surge back at Sydney in the second quarter. The Crows failed to take full advantage of their sudden dominance however, kicking a wasteful 3.3 to the Swans’ 2.0, with superstar forward Eddie Betts kicking 1.2 for the term as he fought gallantly to ignite his teammates around him.
Adelaide had the better of the stoppages around the ground, ensuring the ball was sent forward and remained inside 50 for much of the term. Yet at the other end, and despite having only two shots for the term, Sydney managed to make their rare chances count, maintaining scoreboard pressure on the Crows with effective counter-attacking football. It was the story of the night for the both the visitors, and the hosts.
Adelaide were seemingly intent on overusing the handball in an attempt to thread their way through the swathes of Swans waiting eagerly to pounce on the next man in possession. More often than not though, a great deal more often, the Swans managed to get away with taking hold of the man before possession was achieved.
Sydney have used the tactic to great effect in the past, hunting in packs and blurring the lines of vision for the adjudicators of the game, as many of the successful teams in recent times have done so - think last year’s premiers the Bulldogs. It reduces the time the impending ball-carrier has to make an effective decision and dispose of the ball cleanly, culminating in a large number of forced turnovers and a great deal of perceived pressure without the ball in hand.
The free kick count was spoken about at length post-game, but the discrepancy should have been far, far greater given the number of those infringements that ultimately went unnoticed. Isaac Heeney was not as discreet in his execution of the ploy as some of his more seasoned teammates, conceding six free kicks to his direct opponent Sloane in the first-half alone from this source.
Forwards Mitch McGovern and Tom Lynch were outstanding for the home side in the opening half, while Rory Sloane had singlehandedly dragged his team back into the contest with a first-half of his own that surely ranks up there with his best ever. Young Isaac Heeney was given a lesson by the All-Australian, Vice-captain Crow which may prove quite valuable long into his own career.
For the visitors, Josh Kennedy and Luke Parker seemed to have the ball on a string, while Franklin and Tippett had already made strong contributions to the half.
After looking like getting blown away, Adelaide headed into the main break trailing by only 8 points, kicking an inaccurate 5.5.35 to 7.1.43.
Lynch and McGovern continued their hot start after the break, with both hitting the scoreboard either side of a costly Charlie Cameron miss – the first of two for Cameron on the night - before champion forward Lance Franklin’s extraordinary run along the wing resulted in a spectacular goal only ‘Buddy’ is capable of.
The Goal of the Year contender was crucial in stemming the tide of Adelaide dominance; as the Swans went on to kick another 3.2 while the home side sprayed their chances in front of goal, kicking 1.4 for the remainder of the term - it would ultimately be their downfall.
Until the 23rd minute of the third term, Sydney had kicked at an astonishing 91%. Having entered the game with the seventh-lowest scoring accuracy of any side this season, they certainly picked an occasion to get it all absolutely right. Meanwhile, Adelaide continued to control field position and send repeated entries into attack, only to see all their hard work undone with wayward finishing, time and time again.
The Swans were as clinical as it gets on route to their thrilling victory; recording a remarkable 21 less inside 50s, 7 less scoring shots, 10 less disposals and 2.5 less inside 50s per goal.
The fact the Swans had 25 more rebound 50s paints a picture of how many times the ball was pumped out of their defensive zone only to come streaming back in. Sydney managed to absorb the tide however, withstanding all the Crows could wastefully throw at them on the night.
Despite conquering Sydney in the contested possession stakes (186-165), enjoying a wealth of uncontested possessions (231-184), and recording a remarkable 51 more score involvements (113-62), Adelaide could not hurt the Swans where it mattered most - kicking a dreadful 6.9 to 6.4 in a second half they should have owned.
Adelaide walked away from the contest having overwhelmingly controlled the state of play for three whole quarters, only to be reminded a four quarter effort will be required in any rematch forthcoming.
Taking a closer look at the makeup of the two heavyweights on the night, Sydney were 21 games more experienced per player, and three months older on average. The Swans boasted eight players with more than 150 games experience, holding a slim advantage over the Crows who had six. The visitors needed every bit of this advantage to topple a super competitive, younger Adelaide outfit.
Twenty two year old Matt Crouch continued his rich vein of form, amassing another 34 disposals en route to a likely maiden All-Australian selection this year, in an outstanding year for the young midfielder, while Rory Laird was phenomenal off half-back in his own individual journey towards a first All-Australian guernsey.
In looking to next week’s game against an Eagles side desperate to qualify for a finals gig, playing what could be their last ever match at their spiritual home, it seems Adelaide face a tough decision in whether to risk a couple of their sore stars.
It is unlikely that Daniel Talia’s ankle would be risked in a game that bears no significance on Adelaide’s chances of hosting a home final (or possibly two). Captain Taylor Walker was clearly struggling for much of the night and must also be in some doubt for the final match of the home and away season. Despite battling manfully and almost lifting his side over the line with an improved last quarter performance, it was noticeable he was hindered.
Both are crucial to Adelaide’s finals hopes, so any re-occurrence or further strain on their already sore bodies would surely be cause for great concern in the Crows camp.
Given the upcoming bye preceding the first week of finals, Don Pyke and his staff must decide how big an affect resting two of his champions and leaders this week would ultimately have. Removing a quarter of the side’s spine may bring further opportunity to those looking to forge a timely berth in the side on the cusp of a finals campaign.
West Coast will throw everything at Adelaide as they hold onto their slim hopes of a finals berth. Heading into Sunday’s contest, all Eagle eyes will be on Collingwood and Melbourne at the MCG on Saturday, then Essendon and Fremantle at Etihad only hours before the Eagles and Crows take to the field in Perth.
The equation is relatively simple; Collingwood must beat the Demons by at least two goals and the Eagles must beat the Crows by more than five goals, or rely on the Dees toppling the Pies and Essendon falling in a heap against a Freo side left shattered after consecutive 100+ point maulings.
Should Geelong beat GWS at Skilled Stadium, Adelaide will hold onto top spot and claim its second minor premiership in the club’s history, after first capturing the McClelland Trophy back in 2005. A GWS win would relegate Adelaide to second, perhaps the more favourable side of the finals draw, given the quality of opponents stacked in that half of the ledger.
Don Pyke was an assistant to Neil Craig at the Crows in 2005; he knows as well as anyone at the club now that finishing first doesn’t guarantee you a premiership, or a Grand Final appearance for that matter.
The sole remaining survivor from the playing list of that season, veteran Scott Thompson, will undoubtedly be in his teammates’ ears constantly over the coming weeks, as both he and the man at the helm attempt to re-write the pain of their past, and forge an exciting new script for the club’s future.