28/02/2024

Bernie Vince and Taylor Walker post-match Photo design: Will Cuckson

This Saturday when Taylor Walker steps onto Adelaide Oval he will become one of just nine players in Adelaide Football Club history to reach the 250 game milestone.

With a career that has now spanned 16 years, Walker will become the 277th player to play 250 games, a feat that only 2.12 per cent of players in the competition have ever achieved.

Drafted at pick 75 in the 2007 draft, Walker was already familiar with the club having spent time with the group as part of the NSW Scholarship program in 2006. It was here that he first crossed paths with former teammate and great mate Bernie Vince.

As a 16-year-old from Broken Hill, Walker was quite different from the athlete we have come to know.

To mark the occasion, The Inner Sanctum spoke exclusively to Bernie Vince.

“He (Walker) was pretty raw when he first came down, he looked like a real country bloke [and] he was skinny with a really thin mullet not like the mullet he would end up with later,” Vince told The Inner Sanctum.

Despite being drafted in 2007, Walker’s AFL debut would not come until 2009 after spending time developing his craft in the SANFL. Vince would play in Walker’s first game, a thriller at the MCG that saw Adelaide win by three points and kickstart the career of one of the Adelaide Football Club’s most loved players.

“We were playing against Collingwood at the [MCG], he kicked his first goal that day and being a close game at the ‘G it was pretty memorable,” Vince said.

Walker went on to play 12 games straight that season, but struggled to keep his spot in the side consistently while playing under Neil Craig. This lead to speculation about him and the coach not seeing eye to eye, something Vince says couldn’t be further from the truth.

“Anyone who is not in the team is frustrated especially when you are playing at a SANFL level, but Tex (Walker) would tell you that it was great for him and I think we can all agree that he (Craig) got the best out of Tex,” added Vince.

“’Craigy’ (Neil Craig) was huge for us early on I don’t know why but a lot of people think that we don’t get on with him, he taught us how to train, how to be fit, how to be professional and just how to be good, we love ‘Craigy’.”

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The time playing under Craig would help build the foundations of the career that Walker has had today, teaching valuable lessons that set him up to play at the consistent levels, those of which we still see in 2023.

“Neil Craig made him earn his spot and he had to put in a number of good performances, but that is what made him (Craig) a good coach [is that] he got the best out of us and he challenged Tex early, but when he came into the side he was actually ready and performed.”

With Adelaide being a well-known football bubble where it seems that all eyes are on the players, the pressures that come with this can sometimes be a struggle for players. Vince and Walker would become housemates and form a strong friendship which helped alleviate some of these pressures.

“We are pretty similar people and we never took anything too seriously, the one thing we always did was train hard, we hated missing any training but we enjoyed the fun side of footy too,” Vince said.

“At home, we never had any pressure on ourselves which probably helped things as we wouldn’t talk about footy, it was always about other stuff and we loved our cricket.”

Vince and Walker getting ready for the Cricket at home: photo via Bernie Vince’s Instagram

Within the football world, Walker’s love for pranking team members and officials within the club has been documented, something that Vince says has been a key part of Walker’s relationships with those around him.

“I ended up being involved in [the pranks] because I lived with him, but he was always up to something and he is always suss when someone is around him, but it is usually something that he has brought on himself,” Vince added.

“He has a youthful personality and that has kept him young and has kept his relationships at the footy club, no matter what someone’s age was how many games they played or where they sat in the pecking order, his relationships were the best I have ever seen.

“He is very inclusive no matter who you are and what you have done which is a great characteristic to have.”

It was this relationship building that would see Walker appointed as the captain of the club in 2015, under then head coach Phil Walsh. The appointment caught many people by surprise, but after seeing Walker develop over the years, Vince was not of those people.

“Early on I didn’t see captaincy for him. He was always loved and was always a popular member of the group but whether that would transpire to being a leader, I wasn’t sure but people loved him and loved being around him,” Vince recalled.

According to Vince, it is Walker’s love for the game that makes his leadership unique to most other players and that love for footy is something he shares with those around him.

“He simplifies footy and makes it fun along the way, he brings fun to training and games and brings the enjoyment factor of it, [it is] our job but let’s enjoy it while we are doing it,” he said.

“Even in tough pre-season sessions he would get people to enjoy it, he would bring the fun and that is why it was so good having him around because he just found the fun side of it. I found the fun side too but the enjoyment factor was always there when Tex is around.”

After 16 years in any industry, you are bound to have your struggles but for Walker, his football career has thrown him more challenges than most.

He has overcome long-term injuries, form slumps, and most uniquely, the pressure of leading a side that tragically lost their head coach. The passing of Phil Walsh saw Walker face the burden of loss in the public eye whilst staying strong for his teammates.

“He has had to go through more than just about any other player has had to go through being captain and losing the guy who made you captain when people were initially surprised by the decision, [it] was a huge thing to go through,” Vince said.

“With his knee injury, that was 12 months out and he handled it really well. He has gone through lots of adversity and has gotten through it because of who he is, he takes every [setback] with a grain of salt and gets on with things.

“He has always wanted to get the best out of himself, he had that vision and by going through those challenges on the way that most people wouldn’t be able to get through, he has come out the other side a better person.”

The past few seasons have seen Walker produce career-best form, Vince says that life outside of football has been a big contributor to his current on-field performances.

“I think that after having kids he has had a new lease on life and has realised that there are things other than footy and there are things [post] footy, before kids I think a lot of guys do forget that.”

With a friendship that has spanned over Walker’s entire career, the two now bond over games of golf, and when asked to describe Walker, Vince had the following to say about his great mate.

“He is a loyal larrikin with a big heart that is loved by everyone he comes into contact with, everything you could ever ask for in a best mate.”

Walker will play his 250th game Saturday, June 10th against the West Coast Eagles at Adelaide Oval, where he will join other club greats such as Andrew McLeod and Scott Thompson as players who have played 250 games for the Adelaide Crows.

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