Sunday, June 23, 2024

‘City will be burning’: How Crows’ slide exposed big list problem as ugly draft truth emerges

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Adelaide’s season is on life support following another disenchanting loss, with pressure piling on the club’s decision-makers amid growing concerns over its list management.

Matthew Nicks’ Crows fell disappointingly to Richmond on Thursday night at Adelaide Oval, prompting specific criticism about the club’s ability to identify talent.

The Crows dropped into the bottom four after Round 13’s action, with just four wins to their name from 13 matches — and with the top-of-the-table Sydney Swans on the horizon.

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Injury-hit Tigers take down Crows | 02:25

The events of 2024 have been a far cry from the club’s 11-win campaign last year, while Adelaide hasn’t staged a 13-win season since it went 15-1-6 in 2017 and reached grand final Saturday.

AFL 360 host Gerard Whateley anticipated backlash in the city of Adelaide if the Crows were somehow toppled by the 17th-placed Tigers.

“The risk for Adelaide is that the town would be burning if they lost against Richmond, and that’s pretty well what has happened, as Adelaide is closing in around the Crows,” he said on Fox Footy on Monday night.

“It’s not the superficial conversation around the coach — it’s much broader, I think, around a lot of decision-making and a lot of people who have been there over a long period of time, and whether what was been built is actually going to come to fruition.”

Post-game on Thursday night, the Crows were scathed for their depth of talent.

“It exposes the poor history they’ve had at the draft; I just don’t think they’ve recruited enough matchwinners,” two-time premiership Kangaroo David King said during Fox Footy’s post-match coverage.

“It’s evident now, when you lose the magic men Izak Rankine and Taylor Walker, all the issues come to the fore.

“Who was going to win that game from them? It was (Jordan) Dawson, who else? (Darcy) Fogarty was good. In the last, say, five or six drafts, who else (is there)?”

AFL legend Jason Dunstall added: “There’s not enough class and A-graders on their list to combat the good sides. He’s (Nicks) probably got to come out and back his players in and say they have a good list, but they’re four or five pieces of the puzzle still missing.”

Darcy Fogarty and Josh Rachele are two of Adelaide’s recent first-round picks. Photo: James Elsby.Source: Getty Images

Nicks penned a two-year contract extension in late March — with some since questioning the prematurity of that decision — but blame has largely fallen in the laps of Adelaide’s long-serving officials.

“It doesn’t look like it (is going to come to fruition) at the moment,” Herald Sun Chief Football Writer Mark Robinson said on Monday night’s AFL 360.

“There (are) a lot of people (in) the gun, and we know a few of them — Mark Ricciuto is one, he’s the head of football.”

One of the Crows’ biggest critics in recent days has been former player and current media personality Stephen Rowe, who lambasted the long-serving Ricciuto and list boss Justin Reid, as well as called out the “boys’ club” headed by CEO Tim Silvers.

“I don’t rate the decision-makers that are now having to make judgement on where we are now, moving forward with the list,” Rowe told FIVEaa.

“You know who I’m talking about. Your football director, Mark Ricciuto — now, people say that I’ve been into him for years. Yeah, because this was always coming, this tsunami of response to where we are.

“Justin Reid, the list management team — that list management group has to 100 per cent go in the Bunsen burner.”

Robinson continued: “The list management, you look at (the list) — everyone has assessed the Crows’ list at some stage this year.”

“And you go ‘maybe, maybe, cross, maybe a tick, maybe, question mark’. There (are) too many question marks (of players) on that list.

“So, they’ve got to work out whether it’s development, whether it’s the recruiting — they’ve got to find some urgent answers.”

Whateley concluded: “They’ve come to the position that the list is not good enough. Well, this is the list that you have built and cultivated over a period of time. And they’ve got the Swans, that high-end assignment, next.”

5-club race for Suns ruck?! | 01:20

The Crows have made 10 draft selections in the first round since 2016: Jordan Gallucci (2016), Darcy Fogarty (2017), Chayce Jones (2018), Ned McHenry (2018), Fischer McAsey (2019), Riley Thilthorpe (2020), Luke Pedlar (2020), Josh Rachele (2021), Max Michalanney (2022) and Daniel Curtin (2023).

Gallucci played 27 AFL games for the Crows over three seasons before being delisted, while McAsey decided football wasn’t for him when he called it quits early last year — aged just 21 — after 10 senior games.

The McAsey retirement especially hurts the Crows, considering the way the 2019 national draft’s first round played out.

McAsey was the No. 6 pick. Between No. 6 and No. 15, the following players were snagged by rival clubs: Hayden Young (No. 7), Caleb Serong (No. 8), Kysaiah Pickett (No. 12), Will Day (No. 13), Miles Bergman (No. 14) and Cody Weightman (No. 15).

After that, there’s a lot of ambiguity with the trajectory of those Crows picks.

“You can put ticks next to them or crosses next to them, or question marks, but the reality is, of all of those first-round picks, there’s none that have just jumped off the page,” Melbourne great Garry Lyon told Fox Footy’s On the Couch.

Thilthorpe, 21, seemed destined for a breakout 2024 campaign after tallying a career-best 21 games last year, however, the burgeoning key forward tore his lateral meniscus in a pre-season scratch match.

“Thilthorpe, from all reports, was flying at the start of this summer and was ready to make a mark, but he hasn’t been able to play (due to injury),” Lyon said.

The On the Couch panel, comprising Lyon, Collingwood champion Nathan Buckley and Brisbane Lions legend Jonathan Brown, awarded their only two list ‘ticks’ to Rachele and father-son success Michalanney.

“We know where (Josh) Rachele is, (Max) Michalanney (has) had a very good year, had a good start to his career,” Brown said.

“Your first-rounders, they’ve got to be your stars — your stars of the team — and there’s not enough there in that crop.”

While Rachele has been scrutinised this year, the pacy hybrid has still averaged career-highs in disposals (15.3), marks (4.1) and inside-50s (3.5) per game.

Michalanney, meantime, has arguably been the most impressive of that first-round bunch, asserting his influence as a one-on-one combatant and intercepting force.

‘I’d listen’ on Lukosius: Dunstall | 01:25

While they labelled him a ‘question mark’, Buckley said key forward Fogarty was one who, while he has taken some time to flourish, has probably been one of the club’s draft successes.

“Maybe Fogarty,” he told Fox Footy. “He was a slow burn, but maybe he could be a tick of sorts.”

The 24-year-old, who was elevated to Adelaide’s expansive leadership group at the start of this year, is a decent chance at eclipsing his career-high 34-goal tally of last year — having dobbed 21 majors from his 13 games thus far.

The Glenelg product is also one of the AFL’s most accurate kicks of the footy — with his accuracy up to 75 per cent at one stage this year — posing as Tex Walker’s most likely long-term successor.

Jones and Pedlar have been largely inconsistent despite scattered promising glimpses, while McHenry seems best served as a substitute option.

Then there’s last year’s first-round prize, Curtin, who has been continually linked to a return to his home state of Western Australia despite nothing concrete suggesting he desires a move.

Instead, what is debatably more concerning is that he can’t buy a senior game despite Adelaide’s back-half injuries and team underperformance, having been limited to just two AFL outings for the year — and he was substituted out of both matches.

Considering the aggressive trade-up conducted for the 19-year-old last November by Reid and Crows national recruiting manager Hamish Ogilvie, they’ll be praying their most recent gamble pays long-term dividends.

While their recent first-round drafting has left plenty to be desired, in a minimal silver lining, the Crows have been able to snag a few gems later on in proceedings — highlighted by Jake Soligo (No. 36, 2021), Brayden Cook (No. 25, 2020) and Josh Worrell (No. 28, 2019).

In the trade space, Adelaide has already been linked to contracted Gold Coast forward Jack Lukosius and off-contract teammate Ned Moyle as they eye personnel improvements in the coming off-season. It was also heavily linked to Melbourne ball-winner Clayton Oliver and swingman Harrison Petty last year.

Amid a concerning plight, Reid, Ogilvie and Co. would surely give thought to paying a hefty price for a Lukosius-type.

5-club race for Suns ruck?! | 01:20

Pulling back to their on-field shortcomings, Buckley referenced the Crows’ pressure drop-off as a contributing factor in their free fall.

“One thing that I’ve noticed — Adelaide’s game was built on pressure, (but) their last two rounds have been two of their lowest three pressure results, and it really does affect them,” he told On the Couch.

“I think their game relies on manic pressure on the ball, really good structure to be able to achieve that; and that’s their ace in the pack. That’s the genesis of the rest of their game, and they’re just not getting that right.

“That takes real fire and energy from every individual, and you need to be able to sustain that over four quarters to be able to put an opposition under that pressure.”

Brown pointed to raised expectations from the supporter base as Nicks’ brigade falters.

“I think there’s an element of they haven’t been able to handle the expectation,” Brown said.

“The expectation that town (had) coming into the season after most people would’ve thought they (should’ve) played finals last year.

“The natural progression, you think ‘we’ll just play finals’. They wouldn’t have been booking their holidays until October.

“It’s a lot of pressure on those lads in that town — they’re going to have to learn to cope with that.”

After a Round 14 home meeting with the sizzling Swans, it doesn’t get any easier for the Crows.

They host the Giants, travel to Brisbane, come back home to play the Saints, before heading to Melbourne to meet the Bombers in their next month.

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