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Tarnished Crows star could break new ground

Football

No Crows-centric player has ever crossed West Lakes Boulevard to join the Port Adelaide Football Club. Michelangelo Rucci expects an Adelaide club champion will find it easier to defect, despite concerns about drugs and a brush with the law.

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Brad Crouch has cost himself as much as $3 million with a big weekend on Hindley Street. But his brush with the law on Monday morning – and the police citing for possessing an illicit substance, allegedly cocaine – will keep the 2019 Adelaide Football Club champion on the cusp of football history.

But which page will Crouch rewrite, particularly in the history of the Crows-Port Adelaide rivalry?

Not in question is the big money being written off the AFL free-agency offers to Crouch’s management. The list of suitors is not falling, despite the concerns raised in the extensive public commentary since Crouch and team-mate Tyson Stengle were stopped by police on Grenfell Street while riding in a taxi.

A year ago, Crouch’s manager Gary Winter was chasing at least a five-year deal worth $1 million a season. Now the price is around $500,000 a year, with a four-season contract to ensure Adelaide does not use its right to hold a restricted free agent. A $5 million pay day has become $2 million.

The bidders have not run away from Crouch with a “buyer beware” chill – they are just offering less.

Not a deal-breaker

On Wednesday, Richmond – the club that in 2009 gave drug-troubled Brownlow Medallist Ben Cousins his second chance two years after he was sacked by West Coast – joined the bidding that has been led by Port Adelaide and Geelong ahead of Carlton and Essendon. Australian football, as former St Kilda captain Nick Riewoldt notes, had a habit of being attracted to “damaged goods” in the belief their “club culture” can straighten an errant but talented player.

Riewoldt says “nothing” changes in the clubs’ eagerness to sign Crouch; the police stop on Crouch will have “no impact on the decision of bringing him into a club.”

“If it does,” adds Riewoldt, “clubs are being highly hypocritical or wilfully ignorant if they believe that issue (of drug use) does not already exist in your football team.”

Leading football influencer Caroline Wilson agrees saying: “This is not going to be a deal-breaker (for Crouch and his suitors) with Port Adelaide being very much in the mix. Clubs tend to back their culture and their ability to rehabilitate someone if he needs (help).”

One of the clubs that has backed its culture to re-focus AFL talent is Port Adelaide, both with spectacular success and failure. Former Port Adelaide captain Travis Boak certainly was leaving the door open at Alberton for Crouch, particularly when the 26-year-old inside midfielder is a major need for a line-up that will lose valued experience in the next two years.

Asked in his regular spot on MIX102.3 radio if Crouch was now off Port Adelaide’s wish list, Boak answered: “No, (he) is not completely ruled out. As a leadership group you want to get the full details. As humans we make mistakes – and you don’t want to judge a person on one event.”

History in the making

So in a game renowned for second chances, one major storyline for the upcoming AFL trade period will remain. Will Crouch be the:

FIRST Malcolm Blight Medallist to leave the Crows to join the in-town rival Port Adelaide? Still most likely.

FIRST restricted free agent to have his club block a transfer by matching the best offer of a rival AFL club? Now less likely.

FIRST Victorian recruit to rebuff significant “come-home” offers to Melbourne BUT still demand a trade … to the other South Australian AFL club in Adelaide? Still likely.

Crouch will remain a headline act during the AFL trade period that opens with free-agency offers on October 30 and closes on November 6.

After eight challenging years at Adelaide, the Ballarat-reared midfielder is out of contract and eligible to take up the free-agency path after last year being courted by Gold Coast.

“He obviously has more suitors this time (as a free agent),” says Crows premiership coach Malcolm Blight.

A snapshot of the “Crouch file”

He wants to stay in Adelaide.

He has wanted for many months to see an offer from the Crows. Adelaide was first deferring until it noted the “market value” determined by the free-agency auction. The weekend police stop on Crouch gave the Crows new reason to hold off any offer.

He is not interested in a “short-term” deal, that is any less than four years.

He has played 95 of a possible 177 since 2013 – 22 and 16 in the past two years after having 2018 wiped out by serious groin surgery in Sydney.

For all of the 2020 football season, Crouch has filled newspaper holes and radio chatter with how far the Crows should go to keep the bullish midfielder who loves a scrap to win the ball.

Free agency was to inevitably bring, as Blight notes, more suitors, in particular from Victoria where the bids are still on the cards from Geelong (on the recommendation of former Crows team-mate Patrick Dangerfield), Richmond, Essendon and Carlton.

But the Victorian-based AFL clubs started to fall behind Port Adelaide last month when Crouch made it known in his Channel Nine television spot that he wanted to stay in the city of Adelaide.

“I love Adelaide as a place and I love the footy club,” said Crouch, who has his younger brother Matthew as a team-mate in the Crows midfield and has a South Australian as his life partner.

“I really want to stay in Adelaide, so it’s a really hard one for me.”

Crouch fits Port Adelaide’s needs – and vice versa

Before the drug bust it was already tougher for Crouch to remain a Crow while Port Adelaide had a four-year deal worth $2.6 million (average $650,000 a season) to put on the bidding table. This will fall to $2 million now.

Port Adelaide’s list-management strategy is heavily aligned to working the free agency market that – without having to haggle with draft picks – has brought West Coast premiership ruckman Scott Lycett, former Brisbane captain Tom Rockliff, Geelong midfielder-forward Steven Motlop and Richmond wingman Matt White to Alberton since free agency began in 2012.

Port Adelaide needs – as football chief Chris Davies said last Thursday – “midfield depth” in anticipation of restocking its squad to cover impending retirements of former vice-captain Brad Ebert and Rockliff. There is also the end coming for Boak and Robbie Gray.

Before Monday morning, was Crouch prepared to become the first real Crow to cross the great divide between West Lakes and Alberton?

“I’d definitely consider it … it suits me in terms that I could stay in Adelaide,” Crouch said on radio FIVEaa last week when he left his “exit meeting” with the Crows frustrated in being without a deal to consider from Adelaide.

Crouch now might have only one real option in Adelaide – Port Adelaide.

So what happens next? And how could SA football’s landscape change with it?

From October 30, Crouch can declare he wants to accept the free-agency path to Port Adelaide.

The Crows would have three days to match – an option no AFL club has ever taken (the closest the game came to this moment was in 2015 when Dangerfield defected to Geelong after the Crows and Cats opted to work a trade).

Or Adelaide could let Crouch make the walk to Alberton knowing it will still get a first-round compensation draft pick from the AFL – more likely late in the first round rather than, as is often speculated, the No.2 pick that would have given the Crows the grand bounty of the first two calls at the AFL national draft in December. Crouch’s loss of millions on his salary also hurts Adelaide’s compensation from the AFL for losing a free agent.

Port Adelaide will not trade for Crouch. It is a “free hit” or nothing. There will be no haggling over draft picks during the general trade period that will operate from November 4-12.

Adelaide has to decide if it can afford to match Port Adelaide’s deal. Or should it? No longer is there a PR black eye from the first major defection across West Lakes Boulevard.

A transformational moment?

“It is going to happen one day, just like it has happened in SANFL football and in Melbourne for the past 100 years,” Blight told InDaily.

“Free agency has changed football. It could change the rivalry here in Adelaide too.

“Everyone – the Crows, Port Adelaide and Crouch – will have big decisions to make. For Brad, the question of loyalty is simple – the most important people in that loyalty question are himself and his family. The rest follows.”

So far, the only Crows-listed players to make it to Port Adelaide’s AFL squad are four Port Adelaide originals – Magarey Medallist Scott Hodges, ruckman Brett Chalmers, rover David Brown and full back Darryl Wakelin, via St Kilda.

After in the inaugural Adelaide squad was formed in 1990, Wakelin was the first Port Adelaide player drafted from Alberton to the Crows when he was called at pick No.11 in the 1993 AFL pre-season draft.

“I had interest from Carlton and St Kilda where (twin brother Shane) was and I told the Crows to respect my wishes by letting me go to Melbourne,” Wakelin told InDaily. “I wanted to go to St Kilda to be with my brother.”

Why not Port Adelaide? He would be joining a team that is a genuine finals contender. He gets to stay in Adelaide.

Wakelin was granted this wish after Adelaide delisted him at the end of the 1994 season in which he won the Jack Oatey Medal as best-afield in Port Adelaide’s SANFL grand final triumph before moving to St Kilda in 1995.

“It was always uncomfortable at the Crows,” Wakelin recalled. “No-one spoke to you (if you were from Port Adelaide that was bidding to be Adelaide’s in-town AFL rival).

“(Coach) Graham Cornes spoke to me just twice – when I arrived, asking about my Teal Cup experiences (as a junior), and when he called me to delist me.”

Crouch does draw deep debate on the merit of signing him to a long-term deal of at least four years – a spoil of free agency and having many clubs wanting to sign him. The critical question is Crouch’s durability while he is seen as vulnerable to soft-tissue injuries.

“I’d back the Port Adelaide fitness staff,” Wakelin said. “It would be a great coup for Port Adelaide. Brad would be great in that midfield. They have the salary cap space to pay him. He is in his prime. He has proven himself since missing all of 2018 by winning the Crows best-and-fairest in 2019.

“Brad has to decide where he thinks he will get his best opportunities. Why not Port Adelaide? He would be joining a team that is a genuine finals contender. He gets to stay in Adelaide. In his position, I’d be saying, ‘Why not?’

“Now it comes down to how much Adelaide wants him.”

Adelaide has been vague in answering this question.

Before the weekend’s events with Crouch and Stengle, the Crows declared they wanted Crouch to stay at West Lakes. But they would not detail just how far they are prepared to go in a new contract. Now they can be even more circumspect.

Adelaide is no longer weighed down by the loud chorus of advice on this front. Former Crows midfield coach Scott Camporeale was first on the public record, appealing from the ABC radio studios for negotiations to stay to a limit of a three-year contract extension – a theme endorsed by former Crows recruiting master Alan Stewart.

“I’d retain Brad,” Stewart told InDaily last month. “We’ve seen in the past month what you get with Brad around the ball. He applies pressure on opposition midfielders; he creates lots of opportunities to get the ball going forward; he is pretty important to that midfield because he is a naturally fierce competitor.

“Who are you going to bring in to fill that role if Brad goes?

“And keep in mind how the two brothers (Brad and younger sibling Matthew) play so well when they are together in that midfield.”

Adelaide’s first AFL match for premiership points in 1991 put two brothers on Football Park as rivals – Andrew Jarman as a Crow and younger sibling Darren with Hawthorn. The first Showdown of 2021 could have Brad Crouch in Port Adelaide’s black-and-white bars jumper opposed to his younger brother Matt.

Adelaide’s list-management decisions no longer are influenced by a PR dilemma. Crouch has cost himself millions, but he has spared the Adelaide Football Club another  summer of questions on why it cannot retain players.

The torchlight will be on Crouch – and the club that backs itself to rebuild his public image.

CROSSING THE GREAT DIVIDE

Players who moved from Port Adelaide to the Crows

Inaugural squad, 1991: Bruce Abernethy, David Brown, Scott Hodges, Danny Hughes, Darren Smith and Simon Tregenza

Greg Anderson, via Essendon in 1992

Darryl Wakelin, 1993 pre-season pick No. 11

Simon Pedler, 1993 pre-season pick No. 55

Eugene Warrior, 1993 national draft No. 44

Brett Chalmers, via Collingwood

Brett Higgins, 1994 national draft No. 50

Andrew McLeod, via Fremantle in 1994

Scott Hodges, 1995 national draft No. 45

Ian Downsborough, 1997 – first AFL trade between clubs

Bryan Beinke, 1998 national draft No. 34

Ricky O’Loughlin, 1999 national draft No. 51

Graham Johncock, 2000 national draft No. 67

Matthew Bode, trade in 2000

Scott Thompson, via Melbourne in 2004

Brad Symes, trade in 2007

Billy Frampton, trade in 2019

From Crows to Port Adelaide

Brown, trade in 1996

Hodges, trade in 1996

Chalmers, trade in 1997

Wakelin, via St Kilda in 2001

COACHES

Who moved from Port Adelaide to the Crows

Phil Walsh

Josh Francou

From Crows to Port Adelaide

Tyson Edwards

Trent Hentschel

Tony McGuinness

David Pittman

Shaun Rehn

Scott Thompson

OFFICIALS

Who moved from Port Adelaide to the Crows

Board member Robert Hoey on inaugural board in 1991

From Crows to Port Adelaide

Hoey on Port Adelaide entry to AFL in 1997

For the rest of the AFL season, you can read news and insights from Michelangelo Rucci – SA’s most experienced and credible football writer – every Friday in InDaily.

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