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Low-key Crows aim to get the job done

Football

Don Pyke has twice followed in Phil Walsh’s wake.

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First stepping in as an assistant coach at West Coast, the club with which he won his two AFL premierships as a player, when Walsh heeded the call to return to Alberton to help to help build a new dynasty.

And then, in circumstances far more sombre and dreadful, to take the senior coaching reins at Adelaide after Walsh’s promising reign ended in tragedy after just 12 games.

It’s not for the first time, then, that Pyke finds himself in the shadow of his predecessor this weekend, as his club marks the anniversary of Walsh’s death. And marks it, thanks to the dubious sensitivity of the AFL draft, with a game against Melbourne at the MCG.

Football is accustomed to marking the passing of its luminaries, but rarely if ever in circumstances such as these.

The unfamiliarity – and the incidental adherence to the usual conventions and strictures of the game’s many tributes – revealed itself when, in a press conference yesterday, Pyke inadvertently referred to July 3 as a “milestone”, before correcting his terminology.

Both Adelaide and Port have been careful to avoid sensationalising or overplaying the significance of the anniversary. The Crows public focus remains firmly on the field, and Pyke insists he’s confident his players have the strength and focus to follow Walsh’s most well-worn mantra – and “get the job done”.

“The group’s obviously aware of the significance of the day,” he said.

“They’ll deal with it all differently, and they’re aware that there’s support for those who need some support… but the group’s also in a head space that they’re playing some really good, positive footy and they’re looking forward to continuing that on Sunday.”

Pyke’s brief tenure thus far has been marked by fostering a positive mindset, engaging with players and staff alike, and symbolised by the Crows becoming the league’s most free-scoring side.

“History says that after going through an event like that there is almost a personal growth development that happens within the group,” Pyke said.

“It’s difficult to really put a finger on it as to what that looks like, but there’s is a certain resolve, a certain bond that exists between the players.”

This week, more than most, he is emphasising that bond, and the positive elements that flow from fostering it.

“Some of that is through playing football together and some of that is through experiences,” he said.

“Unfortunately, the events of last year happened… but that does create an opportunity for growth.”

Adelaide will adopt a low-profile approach to their commemorations, honouring Walsh privately, in accordance with the wishes of his family.

“I think the club has addressed that in terms of trying to respect the wishes of Meredith Walsh and the family in terms of a low-key approach towards a day of some reflection,” Pyke said.

“That is how we’re going to approach it.

“It’s another opportunity to reflect … and it’s not just the players – it’s the staff and the club in general.

“We’ll take a low-key approach.”

Amid the intense focus on Adelaide, Melbourne have set themselves for a ‘mini-season’ as they prepare to mount a late charge for an unlikely finals berth.

Currently 10th, the Demons are one of five sides with a 6-7 win-loss record that sit two games outside the eight and can’t afford any slip-ups with nine home-and-away games remaining.

In normal circumstances, the focus of Sunday’s game might be another match-up between the Crows and their one-time best and fairest Bernie Vince – controversially shopped to Melbourne as Adelaide tried to fight its way back into the upper echelons of the draft amid AFL-imposed sanctions over the Kurt Tippett farrago.

Last year’s encounter proved memorable, with Vince paying close attention to curtailing Adelaide’s then-star midefielder, Patrick Dangerfield.

But this time round, and enjoying a late-career Indian Summer with career-best form for the Demons, Vince is more focussed on the big picture.

“It’s huge … we only spoke about it (this week) about these nine games being almost like a mini-season for us,” he told reporters yesterday.

“We need to beat a lot of teams in the eight in these next nine weeks, but the Crows and West Coast (currently eighth) and those teams around the sixth to 11th range on the ladder are really important to win.

“It’s like a double win or an eight-point game, but you can’t just be looking at them either – we’ve got to plan to beat everyone we play.”

Vince acknowledged it was always “a big game playing against your old team”.

“But being the anniversary (of Walsh’s passing), they want to handle it pretty privately, speaking to a few of the guys… I’m sure they’ll be trying to get up for him to win,” he said.

“We’ll be preparing for their best … we do that with every team. Whether they find an extra little bit in his honour, we’ll see Sunday.”

-with AAP

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