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From mullet-haired Broken Hill boy to Grand Final captain

Football

Taylor Walker was a seven-year old growing a mullet.

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A Crows fan, he was in raptures watching Adelaide’s first AFL premiership, in 1997. Then the second, in 1998.

“I was a Crows-mad man, I still remember watching it with a couple of mates,” Walker says.

“I could imagine what a little kid would be feeling like next Saturday. Like I was back in ’97-98. It’s exciting.”

The boy from Broken Hill is now a man rated, by peers, as the AFL’s best captain and preparing to lead Adelaide in Saturday’s grand final against Richmond at the MCG.

The Crows plucked Walker from the North Broken Hill footy club in the isolated mining town just inside the NSW border.

The location meant the shrewd Crows got a bargain for a slight bogan.

Walker was a man-child in footy terms.

Walker with his good mate and former Crows best and fairest Bernie Vince. Photo: Twitter

Aged 16, he agreed in 2006 to join Adelaide and was taken with pick 75 in the 2007 draft, a NSW scholarship selection.

He arrived in Adelaide after, as a 17-year-old, kicking seven goals in North Broken Hill’s premiership in the rough-and-ready league.

But Walker reckons he also arrived in Adelaide as the classic stubborn teen.

And he arrived into a Crows outfit run by an uncompromising coach, Neil Craig.

Neil Craig addresses a young Taylor Walker and teammates in 2011. Photo: Ben Macmahon / AAP

The perception is Walker, the young upstart, and Craig, the seasoned campaigner, clashed. That Craig rode Walker rougher than most.

“I wouldn’t say he was harder on me than others,” Walker says now.

“He was just like that. He wanted the best out of everyone. That is what coaches are there for.”

But it’s only with hindsight that Walker, who made his AFL debut in 2009, really appreciates Craig’s tough love.

“Probably not at the time,” he reflects.

“But now that we’re here, he taught me a lot of things – he was awesome to me.

“Most men are pretty stubborn. I was like that.

“When you’re a young kid you sort of think you have got everything under your hat and know what is going on.”

Craig recognised Walker’s weapons and innate footy nous.

But he frequently dropped the youngster, imploring a greater defensive mindset in a kid who just wanted to attack.

In Craig’s last season, 2011, Walker was admonished for having a beer at the footy in Adelaide, when a non-travelling emergency for a Crows away game. He played only 13 games that year, but booted 32 goals.

Under fresh coach Brenton Sanderson in 2012, Walker flourished – 19 games, 63 goals – but the Crows were pipped by Hawthorn by five points in a preliminary final.

“We were a kick away from the grand final, but it wasn’t to be,” Walker reasons, not wanting to dwell on the thought.

Walker did his knee in 2013.

Taylor Walker is taken from the field after his 2013 knee injury, which sidelined him for a season. Photo: Joe Castro / AAP

And when Sanderson exited after the 2014 season, Phil Walsh arrived as head coach.

Walker first came across Walsh at the funeral of Adelaide assistant coach Dean Bailey, who died from cancer in January 2014.

Walker recalls being impressed by Walsh’s off-the-cuff tribute to Bailey, thinking he’d like to meet this man.

They formed an instant bond. The first-year coach asked Walker to be a first-year captain, but he needed convincing before accepting.

Then, July 3, 2015. Around 5am, Walker received a message on his phone from club chief executive Andrew Fagan. The skipper ignored it. Fagan then called.

Walsh had been stabbed to death by his son Cy, who was later found not guilty of murder by mental incompetence.

“It’s still tough to talk about,” Walker says.

The Crows were widely lauded for their resilience to a tragedy which Walker said galvanised the players.

“It created a unique bond for us… and the culture has just got stronger and stronger.

“Hopefully we can carry it on this week and for however long.”

Taylor Walker embraces Phil Walsh’s daughter Quinn after the Crows prevailed in the Showdown against Port Adelaide – just two weeks after the coach’s death. Photo: AAP

Walsh was succeeded as Adelaide coach by Don Pyke. Again, Walker formed an instant bond.

Asked for one word to describe publicity-shy Pyke, Walker cites: “Passionate.”

“He does this job because he loves it, he doesn’t do it for any other reason.

“He has got two daughters but I reckon he has got 45 sons. And that is all of us players.”

Don Pyke has a word with assistant James Podsiadly during Friday night’s preliminary final. Photo: Michael Errey / InDaily

But what’s the publicly-guarded Pyke really like?

“I can’t tell you what he’s like behind closed doors, otherwise it would be outside the doors,” Walker says coyly.

“He has got a very enthusiastic character and is just someone you would love to have a beer with.”

-AAP

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