Footy Fix: Amazing Adelaide resurrect their season with one of the great wins… but how on earth did they pull it off?


There’s plenty of time left in the 2024 season, so there’s a chance we will see a better win than what Adelaide produced to stun Carlton on Saturday afternoon.

But it will be a pretty good effort to produce one more remarkable.

With their season on life support after four consecutive losses, having faced a barrage of criticism for everything from their game style to the form of their biggest stars, the Crows got off the canvas to play a slick, electric brand that at a stroke reverted them to the scintillating team that very nearly surged all the way into September last year.

Then, when it seemed like they had done their dash and been kept at bay by a very, very good Blues outfit, trailing by 16 points midway through the last quarter with a strong pro-Carlton crowd at fever pitch, they found a second wind from God knows where to dominate the final ten minutes, pile on the game’s last three goals and pinch a win that at no stage in the entire night would they have been favourites to claim.

The Blues were looking to go 5-0, while the Crows were after their first win of the season ????

Relive the thrilling last two minutes of #AFLBluesCrows, thanks to OMO Australia.

— AFL (@AFL) April 13, 2024

Matthew Nicks flipped the magnets, made some brave calls, encouraged a fearless approach with both foot and mind, and the result was his finest victory at the helm by some margin.

The rebirth began at the centre bounce; a fearsome strength for the Crows in 2023, ranking third for clearances and fourth for centre clearances, they retained strong numbers in 2024 without them having the faintest impact on their inability to score.

Across the first month, Nicks has consistently stuck with the same centre bounce trio: beneath Reilly O’Brien, as it was at the end of last year, it’s Jordan Dawson, Rory Laird and Matt Crouch in there more often than not. All three attended at least two-thirds of the Crows’ centre bounces up until Saturday afternoon, with Dawson up at 78 per cent.

That trio has obvious leg speed limitations Crows fans have been lamenting all season long; combine that with Dawson’s sudden serious kicking issues, little wonder they were dead last for marks inside 50 by a long, long way despite sitting fifth for average entries. There was no spark, no imagination, stale ball movement crippling a forward line that was once the envy of the league.

Nicks hinted at radical change with Dawson spending considerable chunks of time up forward in the loss to Melbourne, but at Marvel Stadium the switch is fully flipped. Izak Rankine, who in the first four rounds had attended a total of 21 centre bounces, features at 20 of 33; Dawson and Laird attend less than half, Crouch narrowly over.

A regular feature for the third week in a row, but this week expanded even further, is Jake Soligo, a tyro who has an extra yard of pace on Crouch and Laird and attacks the footy like it said something mean about his mum. Rankine, meanwhile, is given one job: dash forward at every possible opportunity, make yourself dangerous, and the rest of the team will cover you if we don’t win it.

The Crows ended up splitting the centre clearances and losing at stoppages in total across the ground, 15-15 and 39-35 respectively the numbers by the final whistle. For just the second time for the season, all those losses included, they lost the inside 50 count, the Blues finishing with three more entries to feed two red-hot forwards in Charlie Curnow and Harry McKay.

Mark Keane and Mitchell Hinge celebrate defeating Carlton. (Photo by Quinn Rooney/Getty Images)

But it didn’t matter. This was not a midfield assembled to accumulate empty numbers; this was one to make the most of every opportunity that came their way, and boy did they achieve that.

Of Rankine’s 23 disposals, just one came inside defensive 50, and two from more than three metres into the Crows’ defensive half. It would be a waste to have such an offensive weapon need to bust a gut two-way running, after all.

Nevertheless, the Crows’ jet ran 14.1 kilometres for the game, fifth-highest on the ground, with his top speed of 32.5 kilometres and hour better than everyone’s. He ran, he ran hard, he ran fast, and he continually ripped the Blues to smithereens.

Two clearances for the game outlines his job description perfectly: he was to remain outside, allow Laird, Crouch and Soligo to hunt the hard ball, and then go for broke when the ball came to him.

Not a single Blue could go with him, nor had any inclination where he’d go next, as evidenced by his six marks inside 50 for the match – equal-most for the Crows along with Taylor Walker and more than they have managed as a team in two of their first four matches. It was among the more remarkable roles you’ll ever see a midfielder play.

Right place, right time, Rankine ????#AFLBluesCrows

— AFL (@AFL) April 13, 2024

Dawson, meanwhile, was recast in the role of outside nomad, just about completely shunted out of the inside role he was moved into so successfully last year. It’s a story for another day whether a 12-disposal, one-goal effort from one of the Crows’ nominal stars is a necessary sacrifice to this new-look game plan, but it speaks to how well everything else worked that such a quiet, peripheral role from the captain wasn’t a barrier to victory – and he’ll be a handy man to inject back into the on-ball brigade if Crouch gets a week for a high hit on Jack Carroll in the last quarter.

The result of this new-look midfield was a stark improvement in the Crows’ efficiency in attack. In the first four rounds they’d mustered a hilariously awful 26 marks inside 50, nearly 50 per cent fewer than even West Coast, the poster boys for inept footy these days. Taylor Walker, the Crows’ premier forward for donkey’s years, had eight, a tally he nearly doubled at a stroke on Saturday.

Fast ball movement left a Blues defence that is usually so watertight scrambling to cover angles; whether from clearances or from half-back, when the Crows got the ball it was all systems go.

For the first time all year they backed their kicking to pass with attacking intent through the central corridor and lace out targets; up until three quarter time, seven of their 12 goals had come from intercepts, with three coming from chains starting in the defensive half.

Walker, who looked finished when he was treated with disdain under high balls galore by Alex Pearce a fortnight ago, relished the open space and leading lanes afforded him: while athletically giving up plenty to Jacob Weitering, his innate ability, forged through more than a decade at the highest level, makes him lethal with any space whatsoever.

His kicking for goal was back to its best after a wayward run, with 3.5 for the season heading in: he bagged four straight, and knew his limitations perfectly, passing off chances he understood were beyond him from the boundary line or long range. 10 score involvements for a key forward on the wrong side of 30 is a damn impressive effort.

Tex is on target early ????#AFLBluesCrows

— AFL (@AFL) April 13, 2024

Nicks’ new style manifests in totality midway through the last quarter; from a long kick down the line from the Blues, Sam Berry, the freshly activated sub, puts his head over the hard ball and dishes to the hard-running Mark Keane, whose duel with Curnow has proved a titanic one despite the Blue’s four goals.

His first thought is attack, with a sweeping handball down the line finding Crouch. Often derided for his lack of ambition with ball in hand, often resorting to backwards or sideways passes as a first option, he kicks perfectly down the line and nails Walker on the lead.

He’s a long way from home, but such a beautiful kick makes his ideal hands to be kicking inside 50, and so it proves; for the second pass in a row, a difficult kick is made to look easy, as Waker passes to Keays right on the boundary at half-forward.

The Crows surge in numbers forward; Josh Rachele, another Crow who has become recently maligned, busts a gut into the forward pocket to get on the end of Keays’ pass. His celebration after kicking the goal, shushing the Blues fans in the crowd despite still being behind, overshadows the brilliance of the goal, a superb snap under pressure that never looked like missing.

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It’s plays like that which nearly stole them the game against the Demons in Gather Round; and more of them are to come.

With six and a half minutes to go and trailing by 10 points, the Crows’ centre bounce trio reflects their mindset: there’s Laird, the experienced head, Soligo, the young tyro, and Rankine, the X-factor.

It’s the younger duo who win the day: Rankine sharks O’Brien’s tap, and with sublime deftness and lightning thinking, handballs between two Blues to not only get the ball to Soligo, but open a path for him to dash forward. Could Crouch or Dawson pull something like that off?

At the subsequent stoppage inside the Crows’ 50, Rankine lines up directly next to George Hewett, but his running patterns are utterly fascinating. As the ball is thrown up, he runs hell for leather to the goalsquare, even with the ball in dispute behind him.


???? Watch #AFLBluesCrows on ch. 504 or stream on Kayo:

— Fox Footy (@FOXFOOTY) April 13, 2024

Hewett remains at the contest, but the Crows win it courtesy of a crunching Chayce Jones tackle spilling the ball clear; under pressure, Keays sharks the loose ball and gives to Berry, who thumps it to the hot spot.

Rankine is goal side of the nearest Blue, Blake Acres, and in a perfect spot to crumb if Darcy Fogarty, one out with Jordan Boyd, can bring it to ground. He does better than that: with Fogarty holding Boyd out of the drop spot, Rankine runs back with the flight and drags in a superb mark.

It doesn’t happen if Rankine behaves like a normal midfielder would, and stays at the contest. That’s what can happen when your most dangerous player suddenly becomes a threat running back towards goal, rather than up from them.

When he goals, more than five and a half minutes remain, and the Crows have all the run.

The attack is there again when Mitch Hinge takes a kick-out after a Blues behind and instantly hits the accelerator. He hits Brodie Smith, who marks and instantly gives to the running Will Hamill, whose pass is a cracker out to Crouch on the wing.

Once again, Crouch of all people wheels and goes, and then the true nature of the attack becomes clear: the Crows outnumber the Blues in their own attacking 50. It leaves Zac Williams in two minds, with Rankine behind him and Fogarty in front; he’s able to defend neither, and over the top, Rankine marks Crouch’s kick.

He misses, but the intent is clear. The Blues will struggle to merely hang on; they still need to win it themselves.

Yet again, after the Blues surge forward and nearly score the winner, the Crows gather the ball on the last line and again dash. This time it’s Jones clearing and going for open space on the wing, with Smith, Patrick Cripps and Berry haring after it.

Smith arrives first, and knowing the numerical advantage, cleverly taps it to the loose Berry, who has space ahead of him. With no clear options, he takes the safest one: long, strong, and in the vicinity of Walker.

Weitering spoils magificently, but the Crows again swarm on the loose ball; Fogarty gives to Walker, who goes long to an unlikely target: Keane, sent forward and off Curnow for a Hail Mary mark, nearly clutches it, before Boyd forces it to the boundary line. Another near miss for the Blues. How many more can they survive?

As it turns out, none. Because the Crows are irrepressible.

From the throw-in, Rankine’s handball falls into dispute, but Crouch wants it the most. He wears a tackle and gives to Keays, also under duress. He only has a second, but he makes it count: he gives to Berry, in two metres of priceless, priceless space. And the sub delivers.


— AFL (@AFL) April 13, 2024

The Crows had averaged 57 points a game in the first month. They put 100 on the Blues, on the road.

The Crows had taken 26 marks inside 50 across that first month. They took 18 on the Blues, on the road.

The Crows were 16 points down and all but gone halfway through the final term. They beat the Blues, on the road.

What a win it was. And what it means for a season suddenly alive might be just as memorable.

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