The Crows’ qualifying final victory over GWS gave them just their second ever home preliminary final, and offered supporters a chance to dream of the ultimate success that has eluded them for almost two decades.
But already there are those who know they will not finish the journey.
Most notably, important rebound defender Brodie Smith, who came of age on the finals stage in 2012 and today had his worst fears confirmed – that he would sit out not just the season but likely all next year after rupturing his ACL in the first quarter of last night’s game.
“It’s put a bit of a sour note on what was a great night for the club and the playing group – it’s a tough industry isn’t it?” reflected midfield coach Scott Camporeale today.
“But he’s a resilient guy, and he’ll be back.”
He said Smith would continue to be a motivating presence for the team. Fans with long memories will be hoping he joins a long line of crowd favourites forced to watch their team win the big one from the sidelines: Modra, Ricciuto, Vardy, Liptak…
“He’s a fun guy, he’s cheeky… he does all the stuff around the club that you love,” said Camporeale.
Defender Brodie Smith spoke earlier about his injury news. See what he had to say: https://t.co/77nub5TCaJ #weflyasone pic.twitter.com/73beBYtD9d
— Adelaide Crows (@Adelaide_FC) September 8, 2017
It was perhaps symbolic that the Crows and GWS met again today, with a scratch match to give their reserves – neither of whom will taste finals action in their respective state leagues – a September hit-out.
It played out in the spring sunshine – a far cry from the farewell mist of winter rain through which the seniors shone last night – before a small crowd, a few hundred diehard fans who revisited their old Football Park haunt, sitting in the familiar old blue bucket seats – those that haven’t already been ripped out or buried beneath the fossilising pigeon droppings.
Some who took the field might allow themselves the silent hope that an eye-catching performance could see them earn a senior recall in time to take part in chasing the elusive premiership dream.
Retiring veteran Scott Thompson perhaps, named as an emergency for the qualifying final. Or young Wayne Milera, squeezed from last night’s Crows side, who jagged two first quarter goals today to help the Crows skip to an early lead which they never relinquished.
Or, for the Giants, the unmistakable presence of Stevie J, the Geelong premiership star for whom one last finals hurrah now seems a bridge too far.
But for most, this game was a consolation. They know they are a part of something – but not the central part. And they already know it won’t be their names called to the dais on Grand Final Day.
So, a day for the hopers, and for those without.
There was plenty of hope in the stands, as fans watched on, finally daring to dream.
It’s been so long between drinks for 32-year-old Luke Drewett that he wasn’t actually old enough to drink the first time round.
“My family have been Crows members since they started,” he tells InDaily.
“I didn’t get to go to the last [Grand Final win] but it’s special going to a preliminary now anyway.”
He’s been to a few over the years, and recalls the experience as “a bit of heartbreak”.
Even his two-year-old son Rory, whom he brought today because “every morning he wakes up wanting to go to football”, has endured his share of heartbreak.
“He went to the Hawthorn [semi-final loss] two years ago, when he was six weeks old,” Luke recalls.
“Poor fella, we drove to Melbourne and he didn’t see much of the game…
“He had no choice but to be a Crows supporter, with a name like Rory.”
It wasn’t quite a homage, but “we do like Sloaney”, says Luke who, after beating GWS, finally feels “a little more confident”.
“At least we get to come back [in two weeks] and the other teams get to bash each other up,” he says.
“It’s just special this year…”
He’s not sure why exactly.
“I have a running joke with the boys that I think it’s because of Matty Crouch – I’m a big fan,” he laughs.
“But I think they play as a team, more than individuals,” he adds, alluding to the likes of Richmond star Dusty Martin – or even, perhaps, the departed Patrick Dangerfield.
“They play a good team football.”
That’s something with which Camporeale concurs.
“We’d rather have a team ethos rather than one or two jets,” he said.
“Because that doesn’t win finals.”
Coach Don Pyke last night spoke of a “special bond” forged, in part, by the death of his predecessor Phil Walsh.
Camporeale, who galvanised the team as caretaker coach, concedes the tragedy was “one of” the elements that brought the group together, but “I don’t think it’s the only thing”.
“We’ve been through a bit over the last seven or eight years… you guys know what we’ve been through as a club,” he told reporters.
The group faced another test of resilience this week, after the death of ruckman Sam Jacobs’ brother Aaron, whose funeral was held today, attended by a smattering of teammates.
“It’s bloody tough any time you lose a family member, let alone a brother,” said Camporeale.
He described Adelaide as “a real club of resilience”.
“Whatever gets thrown at it, the boys just keep responding.
“We’ve been knocked around a fair bit, but with that disappointment comes belief and resilience… the ability to draw on those situations and have a belief.”
Supporter Rick Sandland, sitting in the West Lakes stands, noted “a bit of a harder edge” in the playing group in recent weeks.
“I didn’t expect it would be that easy actually,” he said of the GWS win, which the Crows repeated today with a 45-point victory, 14.9.93 to 6.8.48.
But Sandland said he was just there “to see young blokes that could make it eventually”.
“I’m not here to win this game by five goals or whatever, I just want to see young guys out there having a go, and hopefully they develop,” he said.
There will be some in particular that romantic Crows fans will hope to see feature prominently in the club’s future – names inextricably linked with past glories.
Ben Jarman has been slowly developing throughout the season and could yet reach great heights, despite his lack thereof.
Jarman last year became the Crows’ first ever father-son pick, via the rookie draft.
He’s likely to be followed this year by Jackson Edwards, who pulled on the Crows jumper today at West Lakes, under the watchful eye of dad Tyson and mum Mandy.
“We’ve got him out of school so he’s pretty happy,” laughed Camporeale.
No doubt his dual-premiership-star father’s mind was on the future today. But he might have allowed himself a few moments to reflect on the past as well, and hope that by month’s end he will no longer be a member of Adelaide’s last premiership team.
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