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The Age

Adelaide - 10

Author: Emma Quayle
Date: 12/03/2004
Words: 1303
Source: AGE
          Publication: The Age
Section: Sport
Page: 13
Adelaide played finals football in five of the past seven seasons, but a panel of Age experts predicts an end to their run. Emma Quayle reports on the Crows' chances for 2004.

There are similarities to be drawn between the Crows and ER. The television drama played out its best scripts late last decade and, with the departure of at least one big name, has had its staying power queried at the start of almost each new season since.

Still, it has managed to recruit enough established talent and promote enough long-serving talent to more prominent roles to keep chugging along nicely in the ratings.

Similarly, the Crows were at their most must-see several years ago but have produced a quality product ever since, not garnering any awards but always hovering in contention.

To write Adelaide off in 2004 is, therefore, risky business. The Crows have played finals football in five of the past seven seasons.

They did not drop out of the eight last year, climbed to No. 2 at one point, and could have finished top. Mark Bickley is a loss, but the only big one, and Adelaide's draw looks accommodating enough - seven of its last 10 games are at home.

Should it all fall to star power, the Crows are well cast. Their best players are among the competition's most damaging.

Mark Ricciuto and Andrew McLeod are the sort of players you like to build teams around, and the likes of Ben Hart, Nigel Smart, Tyson Edwards, Simon Goodwin, Tyson Stenglein and Brett Burton have done that very well. Then there is Wayne Carey.

Adelaide's hopes lie again in its midfield, which is not such a bad thing. The credentials of ruckman Matthew Clarke and Rhett Biglands need no explanation; on paper, they, Ricciuto, McLeod, Edwards and co. look second only to the Brisbane Lions, and possibly West Coast.

They are good for goals, too, and will need to be. Defensively, Adelaide looks OK. Hart and Smart are an experienced, very capable pair that the honest Nathan Bassett and Jason Torney sit well alongside.

The Crows have blooded few self-developed youngsters in the past few years but Ken McGregor is one of them, and is homing in on 100 games. He is the sort of nofuss type the club will want to start proving himself more prepared for life after Smart and Hart.

Up forward, things get shakier.

The Carey Experiment was not as successful as was hoped, and Ronnie Burns was not one to rave about, either. Adelaide's leading goalkicker last year was Graham Johncock and he only kicked 30 (the lowest at any club).

Mark Stevens' right knee remains dodgy and without him the Crows look low on marking targets. In a perfect world anything Carey does this year will be icing, not the cake. Johncock should develop even more, Burns and Scott Welsh will have to up their goal tallies and Ian Perrie must impose himself even further.

Same for Scott Stevens.

Should Adelaide's best players play well again this year, expect them to be thereabouts. Should their older players fall in a heap, prepare for possible gore. Recent history (read: Carlton) shows that when clubs, hold too long to youth-resistance a tumble can become more of a free-fall.

QUAYLE'S BEST 22

B: Torney Bassett Hart

HB: Smart McGregor Edwards

C: Massie Stenglein Burton

HF: Goodwin Mark Stevens Johncock

F: Carey Perrie Welsh

Foll: Clarke, Ricciuto, McLeod

Inter: Biglands, Bode, Burns, Reilly

Arrivals: Ben Hudson (draft), Joshua Krueger (draft), Hayden Skipworth (rookie list), Scott Stevens (traded, Sydney), Fergus Watts (draft).

Departures: Mark Bickley (retired), Andrew Crowell, Ben Marsh, Ben Nelson, Daniel Schell, Matthew

AT THE CROSSROADS

Mark Stevens is everything Adelaide needs in its forward line - a hard-working, marking goalkicker. On ability, he is not even approaching the crossroads. What takes him there is the fact that he is a) such a key and b) so troubled by his right knee.

Scott Welsh has been similarly unlucky in the past two years, playing 13 games in 2002 and just 10 last season, with thumb, groin, back and ankle problems. On his day, Welsh can kick a bag. The Crows would like him to kick several of them.

Michael Doughty looked the goods in 2002, playing all 25 games and with some real grunt. But last season he slipped, managing just six games and filling only bit parts. The Adelaide midfield is no easier to break in to than it was this time last year. But having done it before, Doughty must find the confidence to go again.

ON THE RISE

Brent Reilly knows what it means to wait. A broken collarbone wiped out the middle of his second season, but the coaches thought enough to bring the well-balanced wingman back for the second showdown and the first final. Reilly has the grounding and talent to lodge himself in the senior side quickly this year.

Trent Hentschel was known as "Roo Boy" growing up in Darwin and could put his high-leaping game to good use at either end of the ground. That the 21-year-old was an emergency six times in the last half of last year suggests he will get the chance.

Don't expect to see Fergus Watts too soon. But the courageous forward is Adelaide's biggest investment in the national draft since it picked Reilly at No. 12 in 2001, and could be introduced late-season.

Address: 105 West Lakes

Boulevard, West Lakes, SA 5021

Website: afc.com.au

Email: crows@afc.com.au

Captain: Mark Ricciuto

Coach: Gary Ayres

Chairman: Bill Sanders

CEO: Steven Trigg

• THE COACH

After falling short last year, Gary Ayres could have gone the cleanout.

Instead, he continues to place faith in the core of senior players, which is no wonder, because they continue to play good footy. Ayres is often criticised for a supposed lack of tactical nous, but the Crows are the sort of "let's-go" side that probably doesn't have to pull too many rabbits from hats.

• STATS HIGHLIGHTS

• Matthew Clarke and Rhett Biglands got the Crows rolling well last year. Adelaide led the league on effective hit-outs, with an average of 20 per game, and made good use of them, clearing the ball from ball-ups 15 times each week.

Surprisingly, they ranked last for centre bounce clearances, with just 11 per match.

• The Crows are not big bouncers, taking an average of eight per game last year, compared with the Kangaroos' 19. Perhaps as a consequence they also ranked lowest for shepherds, at six per game.

Source: Prowess Stats

DRAW FOR 2004

RD 1 v Kangaroos, MCG, Sun, Mar 27

RD 2 v Bris Lions, AS, Sat, Apr 3

RD 3 v Fremantle, Subiaco, Sun,April 11

RD 4 v St Kilda, AS, Sat, April 17 (n)

RD 5 v Richmond, TD, Fri, April 23 (n)

RD 6 v Geelong, SS, Sun, May 2

RD 7 v Port Adel, AS, Sat, May 8 (n)

RD 8 v Essendon, AS, Fri, May 14 (n)

RD 9 v Collingwood,TD, Fri, May 21 (n)

RD 10 v Hawthorn, MCG, Sat, May 29

RD 11 v Carlton, AS, Sat, June 5

RD 12 v West Coast, Subiaco, Sat, June 12 (n)

RD 13 v W Bulldogs,AS, Sun, June 20

RD 14 v Melbourne, AS, Sun, July 4

RD 15 v Sydney, SCG, Sat, July 10 (n)

RD 16 v Fremantle,AS, Sat, July 17 (n)

RD 17 v Bris Lions, Gabba, Sat, July 24 (n)

RD 18 v Kangaroos,AS, Fri, July 30 (n)

RD 19 v St Kilda, YP, Sat, August 7

RD 20 v Richmond,AS, Sun,August 15

RD 21 v Geelong, AS, Sat, August 21

RD 22 v Port Adel,AS, Sun,August 29



TOP 10, 2003 BEST AND FAIREST
1. Mark Ricciuto                159
2. Tyson Edwards                137
3. Andrew McLeod        117
4. Mark Bickley                 116
5. Graham Johncock      106
6. Brett Burton                 104
7. Ken McGregor                 95
8. Wayne Carey          92,
Tyson Stenglein                 92
10. Matthew Clarke      86
? OUR EXPERTS PREDICT
Dermott Brereton        10th
Rohan Connolly  11th
Jake Niall              10th
Stephen Rielly  10th
Robert Walls    10th
Tim Watson      10th
Caroline Wilson         11th
? THE STORY SO FAR
10th    Adelaide
11th    Richmond
12th    Geelong
13th    Kangaroos
14th    Melbourne
15th    Carlton
16th    Western Bulldogs
 
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