The Crows flew into the competition’s penultimate week with a 36-point drubbing of Greater Western Sydney in last night’s qualifying final.
Pyke is in his second season as Adelaide coach, appointed after the July 2015 killing of Walsh by his son Cy, who was found not guilty of murder by reason of mental incompetence.
“Our group has been through something really unique,” Pyke said after Adelaide’s 12.12 (84) to 6.12 (48) thrashing of GWS.
“Obviously the passing of the previous coach in Phil Walsh has challenged them. It’s an unprecedented event and these guys have gone through that.
“And often loss is an opportunity for growth.
“So they have got something unique as a group and that is good to be able to work with that because the guys now have a sense of each other.”
Pyke said his players’ “genuine care” for each other was evidenced in their reaction to stalwarts Sam Jacobs and Brodie Smith last night.
Smith is expected to require a knee reconstruction and be denied a shot at a premiership after being hurt just over 10 minutes into the match.
Jacobs fronted despite grieving the death last week of his 31-year-old brother Aaron, whose funeral will be held today.
“It’s never easy when a player is dealing with a tragedy in his family,” Pyke said of Jacobs.
“It was always going to be difficult, to be honest, for Sam. And that is a credit to him that he is able to come in and perform the way he did under those circumstances.
“His commitment to being a professional player and also his commitment to the team, that he didn’t want to let them down.
“You could see that afterwards each player and coaching staff were super-proud of Sam and what he was able to do, but at the same time sad for Sam as well.
“He has lost his brother and the result, as happy as we all are, we’re still sad in our hearts for Sam.”
— AFL (@AFL) September 7, 2017
Smith suffered a suspected torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee only minutes after kicking a booming goal to open the home side’s account.
Thankyou 🙌🏼 #WeFlyAsOne pic.twitter.com/ftXQyZlN2C
— Brodie smith (@Brodiesmith33) September 7, 2017
“He is clearly pretty shattered and we’re shattered for him,” said Pyke.
“He has put a lot of energy and heart and soul into the season and it looks like it’s going to be over.”
Brodie Smith was taken off the field with an injury to his right knee. #AFLCrowsGiants #AFLFinals pic.twitter.com/57lkGToXmt
— AFL (@AFL) September 7, 2017
Pyke is certain vice-captain Rory Sloane will return from appendix surgery for their home preliminary final in a fortnight.
But he is less certain on just how the Crows will approach their prolonged break; they will enter the preliminary final having played one game in 24 days.
“We have got a few ideas, we will bounce them around in the next 24 hours,” Pyke said.
“We have just got to find a balance between training on and probably letting the players almost freshen for a little bit.
“If we keep training, we can end up getting stale because they will be looking forward to the next game.”
Pyke said a likely break from training was balanced by the need to “train with the right intensity and the right method to ensure that in two weeks’ time, we’re cherry ripe and ready to go”.
“We don’t make the draw,” he said.
“The draw says that you win the first week, you’re going to get a preliminary final at home, which we will take every day of the week.”
Adelaide folk hero Eddie Betts had three goals and helped craft another two in a stunning opening half from the Crows which underlined their premiership favouritism.
After leading by 12 points at quarter-time, the Crows clicked into top gear in the second stanza, booting 5.3 to a lonely point from the Giants to hold a commanding 44-point halftime lead.
“It was a real positive first step,” Pyke said.
“Our guys were up for the contest. Our pressure around the ball was high class.”
When he's not kicking jaw-dropping goals… Eddie's just being Dad 🍕😬 #AFLFinals pic.twitter.com/LhYYGX5UtV
— AFL (@AFL) September 7, 2017
Adelaide’s Crouch brothers led a ferocious assault around the packs – Matt finished with 31 disposals and older sibling Brad collected 27 including 11 inside 50s.
Tireless Tom Lynch (25, disposals, 10 marks) was influential, Richard Douglas kicked two goals and Adelaide’s defence, featuring Jake Lever and Kyle Hartigan, smothered the Giants’ tall forwards.
GWS midfielders Stephen Coniglio (27 touches, two goals), Josh Kelly (33 possessions), Callan Ward (32 disposals) and backman Heath Shaw (23 disposals) battled gamely against the tide.
But the only time the Giants gained any serious traction was a three-goal burst in the opening seven minutes of the third quarter to creep within 26 points.
“I challenged our guys at halftime… I said that you can’t serve up that kind of footy in finals,” GWS coach Leon Cameron said.
But the Crows, before 52,805 spectators, rapidly steadied with a trio of majors to kill off the challenge, leading by 43 points at the last change before closing out victory in a tame last term.
GWS managed just one goal in the first half and now face a cut-throat semi-final against the winner of tomorrow night’s elimination clash between Port Adelaide and West Coast.
“They’re a super side, they finished top for a reason and they’re hard to beat here, but I’d just love to have our time over again in that second quarter,” Cameron said.
“But we finished top four for a reason, we get a second chance, and we’ll bounce back.
“I couldn’t sit here and say that we’d bounce back if we had a really poor second half.
“But I was pleased with the second half… I think there’s a lot of light at the end of the tunnel for us.”
The Giants will be without star forward Jeremy Cameron for the Spotless Stadium encounter after he left the game in the second quarter with a hamstring injury.
Cameron missed four matches with hamstring problems in the second half of the season and could struggle to feature again this year.
“It’s his other hammy, it’s not the one that he had a few weeks ago, but we’ll scan it and see where it’s at,” Cameron said.
“It’s disappointing because his back half of the year with those hamstrings have worried him a bit.
“As disappointing as it is to lose one tonight there will be opportunities for boys to plead their case.”
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