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Pyke's Crows fall in love with AFL again for new season

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Don Pyke and the Adelaide Crows are feeling the love again.

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Pyke sees a silver lining from the dark clouds of 2018 when Adelaide tried to deal with an AFL grand final loss, a controversial pre-season camp and a rash of injuries.

Pyke concedes the Crows, as a collective, somewhat fell out of love with footy.

But now, footy is fun again.

“It was a disappointing and frustrating year for all of us,” Pyke told AAP.

“The one thing is, the game is a game of passion and a game of love. And at the end of the day it’s important we remember that.

“I talk about making sure the players come in here and enjoy coming to work and enjoy the environment and having some fun.”

Pyke learned from Adelaide’s unexpected slide from beaten 2017 grand finalists to 12th spot.

While now emphasising fun, the fourth-year head coach has overseen changes to the club’s fitness program partly to blame for a succession of injuries to key players.

“The players have really embraced those changes,” Pyke said.

“We have had good numbers on the track pretty consistently through the whole preseason … the squad is in a really good spot.”

Taylor Walker and his new co-captain Rory Sloane have joined Matt Crouch, Eddie Betts, Tom Lynch, Daniel Talia and Richard Douglas in complete pre-seasons – all missed chunks of last year because of one injury or another.

Brad Crouch, who missed the entire year because of a groin complaint, is back, while dashing defender Brodie Smith is primed to build on his two games late last season when returning from a 2017 knee reconstruction.

Now the negative fog has lifted, Pyke can see the positives.

“It did create some great opportunity, we saw the emergence of a lot of guys,” he said.

Pyke believed mid-tiers Wayne Milera, Hugh Greenwood, Tom Doedee, Paul Seedsman and Cam Ellis-Yolmen should be heartened by shouldering extra responsibility last season, while youngsters Darcy Fogarty, Jordan Gallucci, Lachlan Murphy and Myles Poholke got opportunities.

“It has meant that our squad is now deeper,” Pyke said.

“And that is why selection now becomes harder because we have got guys who we know can perform at AFL level and we have got guys who historically have been really strong performers.”

Pyke has “tweaked marginally” his game plans for a squad undoubtedly rich in talent.

His attack boasts mainstay weapons Walker, Betts, Lynch, Josh Jenkins and the emerging likes of Fogarty and Gallucci.

His midfield contains proven A-graders Sloane, Bryce Gibbs, Matt Crouch and ruck Sam Jacobs; his defence has All-Australians Rory Laird, Talia, Smith, Rising Star runner-up Tom Doedee, and unheralded stoppers Luke Brown and Jake Kelly.

Pyke has added two first-round draft picks, Chayce Jones and Ned McHenry,  recruited fringe Richmond goalsneak Tyson Stengle and lost only wantaway forward Mitch McGovern (Carlton) from his first-choice team.

On paper, it’s formidable. But after last year, Pyke is taking nothing for granted.

“We want every player, year-on-year, to basically get better – that is our ultimate aim,” he said.

“If everyone is getting better, that puts pressure on for spots and the internal competition is still a really strong driver I reckon.

“The margin is so fine, it takes bad couple of weeks, some injuries or something else to happen and all of a sudden you can drop a couple of games.

“As we saw last year, we won 12 and we finished where we finished (12th) whereas 12 wins maybe three years ago would have got you in the finals.”

– AAP

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