DOWN UNDER: Why Adelaide is Crowing at AFL start

Alex Broun 20:13 23/04/2017
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Adelaide are the team to beat so far.

While it’s tempting to focus on the horror show that is the start to the season, 0-5 and rock bottom of the ladder, at the other end of the table there is another, slightly more positive, story emerging.

The Pride of South Australia [apologies Port fans], Adelaide Crows, are currently enjoying their best ever start to an AFL season, that includes their premiership years of 1997 and 1998.

It was 1998 that the Crows last won the flag and fans can be excused for starting to hope that the 19-year drought will end this year.

It’s not just the 5-0 start, it’s the nature of the victories that has the City of Churches buzzing. They started with a 147-91 hammering of the Greater Western Sydney Giants, a team who went within one game of last year’s Grand Final.

They followed that up with a 113-89 victory over Hawthorn, who have won three of the last four premierships. Next up was a 100-83 triumph over city-rivals Port Adelaide in Showdown 42. Port had also been undefeated up to that point.

Last weekend Adelaide made light work of Essendon (153-88), then on Saturday beat the Gold Coast Suns by an almost identical margin (153-86). The Crows winning margins this season have been 56, 24, 17, 65 and 67.

They deservedly sit on top of the pile with a percentage of 152.4, just above the Geelong Cats (also 5-0). The only other undefeated side is Richmond who play Melbourne on Sunday at The G.

But Crows coach Don Pyke is working hard to temper expectations, as Adelaide have swiftly become premiership favourites.

Instead, the two-time premiership winner with West Coast, is focused on the Crows’ mysterious hamstring toll with eight players suffering the injury this season, Riley Knight and Daniel Talia joining the growing list in the Crows’ demolition of the Suns.

The 48-year-old was adamant the injury, which is AFL’s most frequent, has nothing to do with the club’s training programme.

“It’s something we’ll look at but that’s footy and that’s what happens,” Pyke said. “It’s an endurance game and we’ll back our high performance guys in. That’s just what happens.”

Other players to suffer from the ‘hamstring curse’ include Brad Crouch, captain Taylor Walker, Mitch McGovern, Jake Lever, Kyle Cheney and rookie Alex Keath.

The injuries aside, or perhaps because of them, Pyke was elated with another performance from the top drawer.

Best of all was the consistency across the park. There were no less than 13 goal kickers, eight of whom kicked two or more goals.

“It [the spread] is not by design; that’s just how the game evolved,” Pyke said. “Our midfielders hit the scoreboard as well as our forwards.

“We’d like to have a nice and even contribution and we got that again tonight. It’s hard to look through and find players who didn’t contribute in some way or capacity and that’s how we want to play our footy.”

The Crows have managed to rebuild after a horror stretch in 2015 when then coach Phil Walsh was stabbed to death mid-season. The incident sent shockwaves through the club, especially after Walsh’s son was later arrested.

The good work done by Walsh, the team was seventh at the time of his untimely passing, has been built on by Pyke. He has his team playing a tough, attractive style of football and they kick a lot of goals.

The Crows this season average 133-points per game, two goals better than last season’s club record in Pyke’s first season as coach — and five goals up than the 2015 group he inherited.

But the defence is still a “work in progress” with the Crows conceding an average of 87 points, an extra goal per match on 2016.

The Crows face their toughest test so far next weekend when Richmond visit Adelaide Oval on Sunday. Geelong meet Collingwood at the MCG at the same time, hoping to keep the pressure on.

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