ADELAIDE 3.4 8.7 12.8 12.12 (84)
GREATER WESTERN SYDNEY 1.4 1.5 5.7 6.12 (48)
Adelaide’s unheralded defensive group were once again at their miserly best, restricting one of the competition’s most dangerous forward setups to the lowest first-half score (1.5.11) by any side in an AFL/VFL finals game since Collingwood kicked 1.0 (6) in the first half of the 1960 Grand Final.
Put simply, the dogged Crows defenders were far more prepared to get down and dirty than their opponents, while their teammates up-field provided ample support to their cause.
Former rookie Jake Kelly doesn't care for the number of games etched alongside his name; he attacked every contest with fire in the belly, harassed his opponents and often dictated the tempo of play with ball in hand. He was calm and composed, aware of his limitations but always hungry. In young Kelly, the Crows have certainly inherited a fierce competitor.
Jake of the Lever variety was a general down back, chopping off wave after wave of GWS forays forward, crashing packs, demoralising his opponents, barking out instructions and smashing spoils over the boundary like a true back-man of yesteryear. In what could be one of his final games for the club, Lever certainly left a lasting impression.
Kyle Hartigan was strong in every contest, comprehensively beating Jeremy Cameron in the first half. The Giants' key forward didn't return in the second half after suffering a hamstring strain just before half-time, ending his season in the process in further heartbreak for the spectacular forward.
Hartigan justified the match committee’s preference in the burly defender over the slighter frame of Alex Keath, playing one of his better games for the year. Keath will certainly have his work cut out forcing his way back into the side as a Preliminary Final fast approaches.
Daniel Talia was also winning his individual battle with Jon Patton, blanketing the in-form former no.1 draft pick who failed to register a goal all evening. Any doubts surrounding Talia’s fitness were put to bed as he negotiated the Giants’ tall timber stocks with consummate ease; displaying the kind of form that saw him named an All Australian in 2014 and 2016.
Rory Laird provided plenty of drive off half-back, despite copping extra attention throughout the match. His reputation as the ‘human broom’ of Adelaide’s defence continues to grow with his ability to expertly sweep up any mess across the defensive half of the ground.
Luke Brown had perhaps the toughest assignment of all the back six - containing the League's most dangerous half-forward, Toby Greene. Aside from a purple patch in the third quarter, Brown easily accounted for Greene in a one-sided battle, showing once again just how underrated he is throughout the competition.
Brown smothered Greene into submission and quite often, utter frustration, with the hot-headed forward being reminded all evening by the pro-Adelaide crowd just how well he was being accounted for; despite his teammates taking to the media in the lead-up to the game, arrogantly daring the home supporters to do so with the threat of Greene dominating as a result.
Unfortunately for GWS, their talk was cheap, and their efforts certainly not befitting of their 'Giants' moniker.
At the other end, the usual suspects in Betts, Lynch and Walker were outstanding for the home side, with Betts in particular igniting the already raucous Adelaide Oval crowd into hysterics after tearing the game wide open with three magnificent goals, handing off two to his teammates and being involved in a further six. The superstar small-forward repeatedly did the unthinkable, as this supporter base has had the privilege of becoming accustomed to.
Lynch and Walker, in contrast, were more workmanlike in their approach as they patrolled between the arcs, often advancing as deep as half-back to provide a target for their teammates. The well-respected pair of All Australian nominees took more contested marks and marks inside 50 combined than any other one-two forward combo on the night.
Their marking prowess saw the Crows dominate the skies in less than ideal conditions for talls; their ability to link defence to attack saw them involved in 13 scoring chains between them, and if not for Walker’s rusty performance kicking for goal after a three week layoff with injury, the captain could have bagged four of his own goals.
All the pre-game hype surrounding the battle of the midfields was justified, with Adelaide's engine room working much harder than their foes - just as Josh Jenkins had so boldly envisaged.
Jenkins was derided for his outlandish statements in parts of the media, while other champions of the game lauded his honesty, provided his team could back up his comments; and back those up they did.
Adelaide's onballers, as they have done so often this year, outworked and outclassed the supremely talent GWS midfield. Despite the clearance count ending 42-42, the numbers failed to highlight just how much Adelaide got on top of their opponents in this area.
The Crows ran the talented GWS midfield into the ground with a display harping back to the 'Crowbot' era of Pyke's previous tenure at the club under Neil Craig. Waves of Adelaide onballers swarmed the Giants, gut-running from end to end without rest, applying ferocious pressure at every contest, acting as the ultimate support crew for the bookends and most importantly, providing scoreboard pressure in the process.
What was earlier this year described as Adelaide's clear weakness, has since been transformed into its greatest asset - through sheer grit, determination and a constant desire to better themselves and work harder than anyone else in doing so - the elitist hallmarks of Adelaide's growing culture and respected standing within the AFL landscape.
After tragically losing one of its prime movers in Brodie Smith to an ACL injury just minutes into the game, one would have been forgiven for doubting Adelaide’s ability to match it with the star-studded GWS engine room.
Smith, who ranked second in the AFL for meters gained in 2017 and worked tirelessly in the second half of the season to make dramatic improvements in the defensive side of his game, had only moments earlier got the Crows out of the gates emphatically with one of his trademark long bombs from beyond 50m.
The devastation was plain to see on the face of every Adelaide coach and staff member who consoled Smith in the dugout; each one of them knowing just how vital a component the 143 gamer is in the makeup of the side, and just how big a blow it was to both the club and to Smith personally.
Smith has been praised all year for the growing maturity he has displayed in both his attitude and his on-field endeavour and demeanour; on a night where his season had been tragically cut short, he displayed outstanding maturity in selflessly remaining a beacon of positivity for every one of his teammates who spent time on the interchange bench, despite their obvious heartache in seeing their good mate in such a terrible predicament.
The predicament certainly was not lost on any of his midfield teammates, whose tasks had just become that much more difficult. The situation called for a herculean effort from the onball brigade, who were now one man short against the best running side in the League.
Enter young endurance king Riley Knight, who repeatedly threw himself into every contest with manic intent and unrivalled will. If not for the brilliance of the Crouch brothers, he might well have been BOG. Knight was able to turn every contest he was close enough to impact into a win for his teammates - his efforts on the night could not be understated, as he laid 10 tackles - more than any other Crow on the night.
The longer this season goes on Knight continues to prove he doesn’t need to hit the scoreboard to have a lasting effect on the contest. The 22yr old Clare Valley product seems to thrive on the big stage; his game is undeniably built for finals.
He may not get the fanfare of some of his more esteemed teammates, but Knight is as important a cog in the Adelaide setup as any other. His determination and elite tank will be even more vital for the Crows as they advance without the services of Brodie Smith moving forward in this year’s finals series, and beyond in season 2018.
Finals debutante Hugh Greenwood continued his exceptional debut AFL season, cracking in at the stoppages all night on his way to recording a remarkable 17 contested possessions – one shy of the record for a player making his finals debut.
It was a personal best and game-high for the breakout midfielder, who added a game-high 8 hard-ball gets, 7 clearances and 7 tackles. With Rory Sloane missing on the night, all eyes fell on Greenwood as he carried the crushing weight of expectation on his broad shoulders; he did not disappoint in the slightest.
Brad Crouch was undeniably the best player on the ground. The older of the Crouch brothers, Brad was absolutely inspirational; he tackled like a monster, smothered, spoiled, ran extremely hard both ways, impacted the scoreboard and provided invaluable support for his defenders.
Brad showed his fitness worries are well behind him as he frequently exploded out of packs - dispelling the misguided perception many in the media seem to hold that he is slow across the ground. Crouch chased as hard defensively as he did in running offensively; propelling his side forward with his 11 inside 50s by far the most of any player on the night, to go along with his 27 disposals, 8 tackles, 6 intercepts, 3 clearances, 1 goal and 1 goal assist at almost 80% efficiency.
It was the game Adelaide fans had been waiting years for and it could not have come at a better time.
The younger of the Crouch brothers, All Australian Matt ran typically hard all night, racking up possessions at his usual prolific rate and was only behind his brother in terms of best players on the night. His hands in close brought back memories of Andrew Jarman and Chris McDermott in the clinches, slicing through congestion and dazzling opponents by firing out lightning-quick "crow-throws".
Matt’s standing in the game continues to grow as he goes from strength-to-strength, displaying outstanding consistency all year having picked up where he left off in 2016.
The competition is starting to take notice of both he and Brad. The two brothers revelled in the cold, slippery conditions as if it were a dry night. Like great white sharks in their natural habitat, the Crouch's hungrily patrolled their surroundings, closed in on their prey at max speed and ripped shreds off their victims in the wet.
Veteran Richard Douglas continued on with his strong return to form this season, the 218 gamer was a workhorse in the midfield, covering every blade of grass with his elite tank and nous inside 50 constantly a thorn in the Giants' side.
Having trailed by 44 points at the main break, the Giants started the second half with an early three goal burst and were suddenly back in the contest trailing by a more manageable 26 points; remarkably, the game was in the balance after looking like an inevitable whitewash.
Enter Douglas, who stood up when his team needed it the most. The veteran Crow took the game by the scruff of the neck as the Giants were threatening, firing home two crucial goals for the term to ignite his side and hammer home the final nail in the GWS coffin.
Douglas first intercepted a GWS kick-in at the nine minute mark, nailed the subsequent goal and extending the Crows’ lead back out 32 points to wrestle back momentum for the Crows. Exactly 20 minutes later, after Lynch, Betts and De Boer had traded blows on the scoreboard and as the three quarter time siren was fast approaching, Douglas threaded a checkside goal on the run to see the Crows back out to a 45 point lead, all but killing off the contest.
He and fellow veteran teammate David Mackay were outstanding for the Crows; the experienced pair led by example all evening as their finals experience shone through emphatically.
The most courageous display of the night however, went to ruckman Sam Jacobs. After a week of absolute turmoil in his personal life, having lost older brother Aaron to his long battle with illness, Jacobs’ performance was nothing short of inspirational. Big ‘Sauce’ had the better of big ‘Mummy’ in their ruck duel after dedicating the game to his late brother.
His selfless act in not only getting up for the game, but performing admirably in what was a crucial final, was not lost on anyone at the club or at the ground on the night. The embrace he shared with ACL victim Brodie Smith spoke wonders of the closeness shared among the playing group, and the message it sent was equally as powerful; even in their respective darkest hour, both found the time and cared enough to console one another. The image will live long in the folklore of the Adelaide Football Club.
All the talk of "No Sloane, no Crows" was put to bed in sensational fashion as the minor premiers went into battle, against the AFL's most talent-laden midfield no-less, with their spiritual leader and indisputable best player watching on intently from within the coaches’ box.
The joy on Sloane's face at the conclusion of the match was unmistakable; his pride in his teammates' efforts painted across his trademark smile stretching from ear to ear. His teammates had just gifted him passage into a Preliminary Final return from injury, to be played at home in front of the legions of fans who adorn him so.
A blockbuster matchup with the winner of the Sydney-Geelong Semi-final awaits Adelaide as it looks to secure its first Grand Final berth in 19 years, having fallen agonisingly short at the last hurdle four times over that period of almost two decades, by an average losing margin of just under 15 points.
The entire country will be watching on as this Adelaide team look to continue on a path borne of adversity, yet destined for greatness.
Stats courtesy of footywire.com, AFL.com.au and AFC.com.au