Adelaide Crows' first win keeps the circling vultures at bay

Crows' Shane McAdam and Lachlan Sholl celebrate the club's first win of the 2020 season. Photo: James Elsby/AFL Photos via Getty Images
Crows' Shane McAdam and Lachlan Sholl celebrate the club's first win of the 2020 season. Photo: James Elsby/AFL Photos via Getty Images

One of the nicer moments of AFL season 2020 came in the Adelaide rooms on Tuesday evening after the Crows had finally broken their duck against Hawthorn.

After 13 straight losses this year, 16 in a row counting the last three games of 2019, and 395 days since it had last tasted victory, Adelaide once again had the chance to burst into its theme song based on the official hymn of the US marines.

As is now the custom, those members of the team who hadn't been part of an Adelaide win before stood in the middle of the circle.

This made things pretty crowded, Shane McAdam, Harry Schoenberg, Ben Keays, and Lachlan Sholl also joined by Matthew Nicks, who'd endured the longest streak without a win by any rookie AFL coach.

There was plenty of joy, a tonne of relief, and gallons of Gatorade flowing freely.

But also now, hopefully, a bit more realism and a little less gloom and doom about Adelaide's future.

Not so much from Nicks and the Crows themselves, who've largely managed to hold things together and remain relatively positive this year, but from a football world which seldom cares for cool-headed perspective when a knee-jerk reaction will do.

And the prospect of Adelaide becoming the first team to go an entire (albeit five games shorter than usual) season without a single victory since 1964 certainly had the vultures circling, despite some obvious brighter moments throughout that period.

The Crows had held West Coast to only four goals in a half in round six.

The following week, against St Kilda, they'd trailed an obvious improver in 2020 by just single digits midway through the final term, eventually losing by 23 points.

The week after that, they were even closer, losing by only three points to Essendon after completely dominating the final quarter but missing a succession of gettable opportunities to grab the win.

That was all forgotten, however, after Adelaide turned in a bona fide stinker against North Melbourne, thrashed by 69 points.

And thus began another round of death-riding, the talk in some quarters even about Nicks' continued tenure as coach of a side he'd now led in just nine games.

Former Port Adelaide premiership player turned outspoken radio commentator Kane Cornes was particularly scathing.

"It's probably the worst team we've seen in the competition since the Gold Coast entered (the AFL) and GWS entered - and their teams were full of 18-year-old kids," Cornes said.

Was that true?

Far from it, in my view.

In fact, statistically, Adelaide hasn't even been the worst side of the past couple of years.

In 2018, Carlton won just two of 22 games.

The Blues finished with a percentage of only 59.3, suffered no fewer than three 100-points-plus beltings along the way, and had an average losing margin of 48.9 points.

Last year, Gold Coast won just three games, lost 18 straight, endured three 90-points-plus beltings, and had an average losing margin of 46.9 points.

Even in that context, and before Tuesday's win over Hawthorn, Adelaide already stood up a lot better.

The Crows have lost two games by under a goal, six by under five goals, had only one defeat of more than 70 points, and its average losing margin has been 36 points.

More importantly, Nicks has done exactly what he had been entrusted to do, that is rebuild a team whose previous incarnation had clearly come to the end of the road.

Adelaide has already used 38 players this season, a figure exceeded only by the injury-plagued Collingwood and Western Bulldogs.

Nine players have made their AFL debuts. On a list of 44 players, there's now just four still to have a taste of senior football.

And Nicks hasn't used the "newbies" only fleetingly, either. McAdam and Fischer McAsey have each played 10 games of 14.

Ned McHenry and Will Hamill have both made eight appearances, and Schoenberg, Sholl, and Andrew McPherson at least five each.

There's been genuine promise shown by several of the debutants, too.

McAdam is an exciting talent, Hamill was showing good signs before being concussed, and Schoenberg has clearly added a bit of grunt and attitude to the mix since he came into the line-up in round 10. Then there are the players already on the list who now have more opportunity to flourish after the clearing of the decks at the end of last year.

Key forward Darcy Fogarty has commanded much of the attention. However, Elliott Himmelberg has shown enough to suggest he is a potential long-term key forward candidate. And there's a definite replacement for Eddie Betts in the wings in Tyson Stengle.

He's had to bide his time thus far, and made headlines for all the wrong reasons earlier this year after a drink-driving charge, but Stengle's obvious class is beginning to make itself more apparent by the week, and he looked particularly good against Hawthorn.

Tuesday's win may well be Adelaide's only taste of victory in 2020, its remaining games against GWS, Carlton and Richmond, but for a team which was at least upfront before this year about its longer-term goals, there's still going to be enough to mark down on the positive side of the ledger when the season reviews are done.

That might not be enough to prevent the critical blowtorch any time a young and inexperienced combination comes a cropper, but even the youngest Crows may already have learned that in football these days, there's often a yawning chasm between hyperbole and reality.