At half-time of the 2017 AFL grand final Richmond led Adelaide by nine points but it might as well have been 900. The Tigers looked at an opponent unravelling and knew the premiership trophy was theirs for the taking. “They’re squabbling, they’re arguing, they’ve lost their connection,” Richmond players conferred, before resurfacing for the second half and pounding the Crows into the MCG turf. Almost three years have passed, and the connection at the Adelaide Football Club is still nowhere to be found.

Put delicately, the Crows are rebuilding. Put bluntly, they are a club in crisis. Either way, the rest of the competition is observing the erosion of an institution as one might watch a Donald Trump news conference: unsure whether to laugh or cry, but certain that you feel pity. It’s said you have to go there to come back, but on the evidence of Sunday’s soulless loss to Fremantle it’s anyone’s guess how far the Crows will plummet before turning the corner.

It’s never wise to expect much when 17th plays 18th five rounds into a season, both clubs seeking their first victory, but the tripe dished up at Metricon Stadium was so excruciating that any expectation should henceforth cease for either club in 2020. As for the Crows, one goal at the half-time siren and no goals in the final quarter should come as no surprise from a team showing no heart. More damning than any statistic, there seems no pride in performance from the supposed pride of South Australia.

The Crows were dazzling in their ineptitude on Sunday: fundamental skill errors, missed targets, missed tackles, laughably bad kicking for goal. Fremantle were no good either but Adelaide trumped them in the woeful stakes. The Crows are officially the worst team of 2020; it’s hard to think of a more mediocre outfit since Greater Western Sydney and Gold Coast fielded boys against men in their formative years.

At least the expansion clubs had an excuse. Adelaide have refreshed much of their playing list but ten of the 2017 grand final team played against Fremantle on Sunday; make that 11 had Brodie Smith not missed that decider through injury. The fact is Adelaide still possess a rich array of talent, but are still so very bad. Their hubbed existence on the Gold Coast is neither reason nor excuse; the Dockers are even further from home and life in Queensland has done no harm to the Crows’ city rivals, Port Adelaide.

Adelaide Crows

Adelaide Crows players leave the field after yet another defeat. Photograph: Dave Hunt/AAP

There is more to Adelaide’s fall from grace than the shutting of premiership windows or the peaks and troughs of a supposedly equalised competition. There can be no greater knock on a footy club than to question its culture, but in question it is. “When you walk into the Adelaide Football Club, it’s not a particularly warm place,” dual Norm Smith medalist, Andrew McLeod, revealed last month. Enough said.

The Crows might have been the AFL’s standard bearers in 2017 but, as Richmond identified at the MCG, the cracks were already beginning to show. Jake Lever’s unrest and the inevitability of his impending departure, formed a rift in the playing group, one that the captain of the time, Taylor Walker, fuelled with his failed demands to have Lever axed for the grand final. The Crows have been divided ever since, with attempts to steady the ship falling flat or worsening an already bad situation.

Adelaide’s first order of business after the 2017 season was to employ consultancy group Collective Mind, which choreographed the now infamous pre-season camp the following year. Players were reportedly confronted by soldiers with fake guns, tied to trees and made to listen to the Richmond club song on loop, blindfolded. Worse still, some accused the club of privacy breaches when details of past trauma were used against them. Trust, the richest of all currencies in clubland, was shattered.

Since then, the Crows have treaded water both on and off the field. Adelaide’s internal review, commissioned late last year after missing the finals for consecutive seasons, cost head of football, Brett Burton, and assistant coach, Scott Camporeale, their jobs. Don Pyke, the coach, jumped ship before the findings were made known. Players have come and gone, mostly gone. If Hawthorn became known as a destination club during their golden run, the Crows are now a departure club.

“It is ridiculous how many players have requested to leave that place,” James Brayshaw, the former North Melbourne chairman, observed. Lever, Charlie Cameron, Mitch McGovern, Alex Keath, Cam Ellis-Yolmen: these are players who for one reason or another wanted the exit door. Richard Douglas, Eddie Betts, Josh Jenkins and Hugh Greenwood were either delisted or moved on, the latter now starring at the Suns. The most meaningful impact of Adelaide’s one key arrival in this time, Bryce Gibbs, is a cramping of the salary cap.

The airing of dirty laundry has not helped. Crows director and club great, Mark Ricciuto, raised eyebrows on live radio recently when accusing high-profile departures of being money hungry, revealing dollar amounts of player salaries to boot. Ricciuto’s comments were labelled “appalling”, “insulting” and “unbecoming” in various quarters, with long-time AFL journalist Caroline Wilson saying the 2003 Brownlow medalist has failed to “accept or acknowledge that Adelaide have a problem”. Ricciuto was at it again last week, engaging in a to-and-fro on Twitter with Greenwood after the midfielder had helped the Suns to a big win over the Crows at Metricon. Not a good look.

The Crows are not flying as one. It’s just as well first-year coach Matthew Nicks is as bald as a cue ball – reconnecting the dots at the Adelaide Football Club would be enough to make anyone pull their hair out.



Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here