The Adelaide Crows entered the 2021 AFL Season with little expectations and many predicting they would contend for the wooden spoon again.
However, the Crows made it clear from the first round that teams should not write them off and underestimate them, as on their day they were good enough to compete with any team in the competition. The Round One match-up against 2020 runners-up Geelong showed this stunning the Cats by 12 points.
The Crows had early-season success, sitting at 3-1 after the first month of footy however the season started to take a turn for the worse from then on. The club struggled in the middle part of the season, having a period of only two wins from 13 games.
There were still plenty of highlights for the season, handing Melbourne its first loss in Round 10 in a one-point thriller and coming back from five goals down in Round 13 against St Kilda to steal victory with a Riley Thilthorpe snap over the head in the dying seconds.
While more off-field issues plagued the club at the backend of the season, the 44-point victory over North Melbourne in the final game of the home and away season ensured the Crows finished 15th on the ladder with seven wins to their name, exceeding the expectations of many.
The Adelaide Crows entered the 2021 season with a clearly defined game plan and identity, as a contested ball-winning team that looked to move the ball quickly in their forward half.
This was clearly a focus of Matthew Nicks who wanted his team to be difficult to beat on the inside, ranking fifth for the season in contested possessions.
Following the disappointment of 2020 where the Crows look like a team without an identity, they now have a defined game plan for their young players to buy into which proved to be successful at points in the season is a massive positive for the club’s future fortunes.
The Crows were also able to get significant game time into many of their young players of the future. Adelaide blooded eight players into their senior side in 2021 the second most in the competition.
Sam Berry managed 17 games and proved himself as an elite tackler. Mature age recruit James Rowe was an excitement machine and kicked two goals in both upset wins over Geelong and Melbourne.
To add to the exciting first-year players, Crows’ number two pick in the 2020 draft, Riley Thilthorpe burst onto the scene with a five-goal hall against Hawthorn in his debut.
The Crows other young players such as Shane McAdam, Harry Schoenberg, and Jordon Butts all took massive leaps in their second years, playing significant roles and look like the next set of Crows stars.
The Crows big signing of the 2020 off-season was Greater Western Sydney’s 2018 first-round pick, Jackson Hately. Hately was meant to be the Crows’ next midfielder of the future having been starved of opportunities at the Giants.
However, Hately was unable to force his way into the senior side managing just the three games and taking until Round Six to make his Crows debut. In his three games, Hately had little impact being dropped after just two matches before being recalled to the side in Round 16 where he was the medical sub.
Hately spent most of the season in the SANFL, where he played 10 games but had his season ended early due to a groin injury.
The Crows also struggled to find avenues to score goals that were not named Taylor Walker. Walker was the in-form forward of the competition for the first month of the season scoring 20 goals in four games.
However, the Crows became overly reliant on Walker to kick a bag every game. Walker would often get the Crows off to a strong start to games kicking goals early, however, once teams game planned around this the Crows struggled to find other goal scores.
This was showed in Round Seven when the Crows only managed to score 39 points against the Giants with Sam Taylor keeping Walker to just two and the week later in the Showdown, where Allir Allir kept Walker scoreless for the first time in 2021, with the Crows only managing five goals for the game.
Walker was unable to get adequate support from the other Crows talls for the majority of the season, with the likes of Darcy Fogarty, Billy Frampton, and Elliot Himmelberg all having patches of inconsistency and unable to hold their spots in the side.
Paul Seedsman had an expectational 2021 season where he proved himself to be one of the elite wingmen in the AFL, earning him a spot in the 40-man All Australian Squad.
The 29-year-old relished the opportunity to play a larger role within the side and for the first time in his career played all 22 home and away games. Averaging 26 disposals, 19 effective disposals, 5.4 marks, and 606.2 meters gained per game ranking him as elite in those categories.
Ben Keays has been a tremendous pick-up for the Crows and bought in completely to Nicks’ game plan which paid dividends this season. Keays was an inside beast, racking up 28.1 disposals, 6 tackles, and 11 contested possessions a game.
To add to this Keays was one of the best pressure players in the league averaging 24.9 pressure acts a game, ranking him in the top 10 in the league. Keays also added another level to his game in 2021, proving to be a goal-scoring threat kicking 12 for the season to go along with 11 goal assists and 5.7 score involvements a game.
Harry Schoenberg had a breakout year and looks to be a star in the making. Schoenberg had a very under-rated season where he flew under the radar in comparison to his fellow 2019 draftees.
Schoenberg’s last two months of footy were expectational, averaging 22 disposals and 5.1 tackles a game. His excellent form saw him earn the Round 19 rising star nomination after an excellent game against the Hawks where he collected 24 disposals and 6 tackles.
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Leading into the Crows Round 10 matchup with the Demons, no one gave them a chance with Melbourne at the unbeaten while Adelaide had lost five straight matches.
Adelaide was able to stay level with Melbourne with the first half going into the half-time break all tied up. Melbourne was expected to come out from the half-time break and run over the Crows in the second half.
This appeared to be the case with the Demons having a 16 point lead with just 10 minutes to play but two Taylor Walker goals and a Darcy Fogarty major pushed the Crows into the lead in the dying seconds to take home a famous victory in front of their home fans and hand the Demons their first loss of 2021.
The Round 17 Friday night match-up against the Bombers was a record-breaking night for the Crows for all the wrong reasons.
Scoring 21 points for the match, Adelaide fell to Essendon by 63 points, it was the lowest score at the final siren in the club’s history and the lowest score of any team at Marvel Stadium ever.
The Crows only managed two goals for the game, taking until the 22-minute mark of the second quarter to find their first.
Adelaide was lucky to escape the match only losing by 10 goals as Essendon had 29 scoring shots for the match, kicking 18 behinds.
The Adelaide Crows have already announced that experienced duo, Tom Lynch and Daniel Talia will not be offered contracts beyond this season, as they continue to rebuild their list.
Forwards, Elliot Himmelberg and Billy Frampton may also be on the chopping block after disappointing seasons where neither could hold their spot in the side, and both failed to have much impact up forward.
Himmelberg only managed eight goals from eight games and his disposal and tackling numbers were worse than last year with shortened quarters.
What could play in Himmelberg’s favour is the Crows lack depth up forward and with Taylor Walker’s set to turn 32 next season and his future uncertain, the Crows may hold onto Himmelberg for another year.
For Frampton, he has not had the impact Adelaide would have hoped for after coming over from cross-town rivals Port Adelaide at the end of 2019. Now at 24 years of age and 202cm, Frampton was expected to offer support to Taylor Walker who is in the twilight of his career, however only managed two goals in 10 games this season.
Frampton saw himself in and out of the side all season long, where his form in the SANFL was strong however was unable to translate it to AFL level. The Crows even tried Frampton down back in their last game against North Melbourne.
However, with the Crows already having strong defensive stocks the writing may be on the wall for Frampton and his time at AFL level may be up.
Number one off-season priority
With the Crows losing more experienced players through delisting’s and the retirement of David Mackay, an important priority for this off-season will be trying to get experienced players into the club which fit with the club’s current timeline.
The Crows currently have a lot of young players and then a handful of experienced older players, but not much in between. Therefore, in the offseason, the Crows should look to do what they did in the 2019 off-season picking up Ben Keays and in 2020 acquiring Jackson Hately.
Trying to poach want-away players from rival clubs and delisted players to bolster their playing group, should be a priority.
It is all well and good to have lots of young, developing talent however the Crows need to ensure they have the support around those players with experienced players who can mentor the younger players and players who have experienced different on-field situations.
With Crows Club Director, Mark Ricciuto telling Fox Footy that he believes the Crows could push for finals in 2022, “with a bit of luck,” the team is going to need more experienced players if that’s the direction they are wanting to go.
The Adelaide Crows come out of the 2021 AFL Season having exceeded the expectations of many. Many would have called you a fool if you said the Crows would win seven games for the season and knock off the likes of Geelong, Melbourne, and St Kilda at the start of the season.
The club continued to show impressive progress with their rebuild and look to have an exciting group of young players, which are developing nicely.
Despite exceeding expectations, the Crows still look a few years off contending for a top-eight spot, with large patches of inconsistency throughout 2021.
With an unfavourable list demographic, the Crows may have to go backward next season in order to go forward in the future.
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