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"If you get on a list, you're equal to everyone else": How Adelaide gamed the draft

Football

With a motley crew of draft steals, the Adelaide Crows are bucking the AFL system – but they’ll have to buck recent history to become premiers next week.

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Not since Adelaide’s last flag in 1998 has a club claimed the premiership without a top-10 draft pick in their side.

Adelaide is the only club remaining in the 2017 premiership race without a top-10 draft pick on its list.

The Crow’s highest draft selection is Daniel Talia, taken with pick 13 in 2009. Should Wayne Milera return to the side, he’ll take that mantle – he was pick 11 in 2015.

But the rest of the current batch of Crows are defying an AFL system that rewards poor performance with top draft selections.

The Crows are proof a club doesn’t have to bottom-out to reach the top – since 2004, they’ve finished lower than 10th just four times, offering no extended opportunity to replenish with top-choice draft picks.

Adelaide’s current list is a lesson in shrewd recruiting – and all the more remarkable given the club was banned from the first two rounds of the 2012 and 2013 drafts, among penalties for the Kurt Tippett contract controversy.

Captain Taylor Walker was a NSW scholarship pick at number 75; his vice-captain Rory Sloane, pick 44.

All Australian onballer Matt Crouch was a pick 23 – his older brother Brad arrived in Adelaide via a Greater Western Sydney mini-draft deal and backman Luke Brown was recruited via a GWS pre-selection deal.

Winger Rory Atkins was a pick 81; utility David Mackay pick 48; midfielder Riley Knight pick 46.

Ruckman Sam Jacobs cost the Crows picks 34 and 67 in a trade deal with Carlton.

The price of his ruck support, imposing forward Josh Jenkins, was a pick 31 in a deal with Essendon.

Then there’s the rookie draft where Adelaide has uncovered some diamonds in the rough.

All Australian defender Rory Laird, fellow backmen Kyle Hartigan and Jake Kelly, and speedster Charlie Cameron are all rookie draft selections.

The Crows have also looked outside the AFL square for Category B rookies – former basketballer Hugh Greenwood was snaffled with pick 48 in last year’s rookie draft; fringe defender and former Victorian cricketer Alex Keath was taken with selection 58 in the same draft.

Adelaide is the master of the rookie draft, pinching esteemed past players of the ilk of Ben Rutten (who played 229 AFL games), Michael Doughty (231 games), Nathan Bock (140 games), Jason Porplyzia (130 games) and Martin Mattner, who eventually won a flag with the Swans and will this Sunday coach SANFL side Sturt in its second successive Grand Final.

But it’s their defender Laird who is the current poster boy for Adelaide’s rookie draft success.

Laird will play his 100th AFL game against Geelong in Friday night’s preliminary final, earning All Australian honours this season along with teammates Matt Crouch and Eddie Betts – who arrived at the Crows as a free agency signing.

Laird believes Adelaide’s accomplished drafting isn’t just a credit to the chosen players.

“It’s a credit to, first of all, the recruiters to find the talent,” Laird said.

“And then the (club) culture. And the coaches have really bought into developing us as young players and fast-tracking us as quickly as possible.

“We have got a a very young list, the majority of our blokes are under 25 but they play consistently good AFL football.

“As a playing group we’re in a really good position to play at a high level for a few years at least … we have played consistent footy over the past couple of years and now we have got a chance to play in a grand final.”

Laird had humble goals after being selected with Adelaide’s first pick in the 2012 rookie draft.

“Most young players wouldn’t come in and be ‘I want to play 150 games straight off the bat’,” he said.

“You work to gain the respect of your teammates and train well in the preseason after you’re drafted.

“I was pretty much aiming to play one game.”

Laird supported the view of his coach Don Pyke: it doesn’t matter what number you’re picked, or in what draft.

“If you get on a list, then you’re a player and you’re equal to everyone else,” he said.

-AAP

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