AFL Rd 5 - Adelaide v Fremantle
ADELAIDE, AUSTRALIA - APRIL 18: Crows players, Tom Lynch, Paul Seedsman, Tom Doedee slump to the ground after the loss of the 2021 AFL Round 05 match between the Adelaide Crows and the Fremantle Dockers at Adelaide Oval on April 18, 2021 in Adelaide, Australia. (Photo by Sarah Reed/AFL Photos via Getty Images)

After being the outright worst team in the league in 2020, the Crows held themselves in much better stead throughout season 2021.

However, some off-field issues in the latter stages of the season did mar what was a holistically improved year for Matthew Nicks' team.

Season finish: 15th

Record: Seven-wins and 15 losses

2021 season snapshot

The Crows started off the campaign with a bang by upsetting 2020 grand finalists Geelong at Adelaide Oval in what was a feel-good beginning to 2021.

A month in and they'd won three out of their opening four, a huge stride considering they only managed the same number of wins for the whole of season 2020.

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However, that would largely be as good as it would get, with the Crows only managing a further four-wins in their remaining 18 games.

It's not to say that all their huge victories came in the opening month, with upset wins over St Kilda, Hawthorn, and most notably, the previously undefeated Melbourne to Adelaide's fans hope.

They did show that they could stick it to teams above them, but not on a regular enough basis to warrant them being considered potential finals material.

The likes of Rory Laird, Ben Keays, and Paul Seedsman were hard-working through the middle of the ground while key forward Taylor Walker re-captured form from yesteryear, finishing with 48-goals in 17-matches.

Star Player: Rory Laird

The Crows on-baller simply could not be separated from the Sherrin all year with the 27-year-old cementing himself in the heart of Matthew Nicks' midfield.


Laird beat out fellow on-baller Ben Keays by three-votes in Adelaide's Club Champion count, with the former defender having one of his best years to take home his second club best-and-fairest.

The two-time All-Australian was ranked inside the top-10 for many metrics across the entire league including contested possessions per game (third), disposals per game (fourth), and stoppage clearances per-game (seventh).

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Despite Keays having a great year as well, Laird was a well-deserving winner of the Malcolm Blight Medal.


Breakout player: Jordon Butts

The 21-year-old became a mainstay in the Crows' back-six after only managing to chalk up two-games last season.

The key defender appeared in all 22 of Adelaide's matches and put up some decent figures for a player in his first real season of AFL football.

Butts' strengths lie as a one-on-one defender, with the youngster also having a great instinct for intercepting. The big man averaged 5.4 spoils and 4.9 contested one-on-ones - above average and elite figures respectively for a defender.

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With Jake Kelly leaving in the summer for Tullamarine, and Daniel Talia retiring, there is no better time for Butts to put his hand up as one of the side's defensive leaders.


Establishing style of play 

After having no clear game plan in 2020, the Crows finally seemed to create a brand of footy to build from.

Their work around the contest has improved immensely with their midfield troops excellent at winning the ball at the coal face and moving it quickly.

Whilst their forward-line still has some holes in it, the aforementioned fast movement of the ball meant that when they won games, it didn't particularly matter who was within the offensive arc.

This game style saw them claim victory on seven occasions, with the team making real progress in establishing their identity.

Youngsters being blooded 

The Crows have a host of youngsters that fans can hang their hopes on.

Riley Thilthorpe, James Rowe, Sam Berry, Harry Schoenberg, and Lachie Sholl amongst others have all taken a step forward with the side in 2021 and offer coach Matthew Nicks plenty.

Thilthorpe in particular could be the key forward that the Crows so desperately need, booting 18-goals in his 14-appearances - not bad for a kid in his first year of AFL footy.

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Despite not having a good first year at West Lakes by any standards, Jackson Hately is still one that could come through the ranks especially if he gets a good pre-season under his belt.

2022 could be another big step in the right direction for Adelaide, as the club aims to get back to finals footy as quickly as possible with the help of their youth.


The Taylor Walker incident

In a controversy that rocked the Adelaide Football Club and threatened to tear apart the playing group, the reputation of team leader Taylor Walker was disgraced after the 31-year-old made a racial slur at SANFL player, Robbie Young.

The scandal saw Walker suspended for six-games by the club, with the forward reconciling with Young through a highly scrutinized apology video.

The incident was extremely disappointing for the Crows and marred the remainder of their 2021 campaign that the key forward had played such a pivotal role in.

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Adelaide has said that Walker will be reprimanded no further and they expect him to report to pre-season training, however, the legacy left by the key-forward will now be forever tarnished by his shameful actions.

Forward-line blues

Adelaide, despite drafting Thilthorpe, are still without have a forward-line decent enough to make a serious impact.

Fringe players such as Elliott Himmelberg and Billy Frampton haven't been good enough when they have been called upon, with the former especially disappointing considering his form at times in 2020.

With picks 4, 33, 75, and 80 at this year's national draft, the Crows have an opportunity to capture a forward who could partner Thilthorpe for the future and give Adelaide a cutting edge.

If another route is chosen, the time for Darcy Fogarty to sharpen his upward trend is now.

For now, however, with Taylor Walker not getting any younger and his supporting cast not firing, this remains a big headache for Matthew Nicks.


Season grade: C

Considering the side that they wield and the position that they found themselves in last year, the Crows showed some real promise in 2021.

There were some close losses in there to teams such as Port Adelaide, Collingwood, and Carlton that they will look to for improvement, however, there were also some ugly ones against the Bombers and Giants where they were battered from pillar to post.

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A young side with plenty of promise is nothing to scoff at if you're an Adelaide fan. Add in the arrival of Jordan Dawson from Sydney who will shore things up down back, and there is no reason the Crows can't aim a little higher up in 2022.