No wonderland in Alice for Crows
THE Crows continue to astonish me. How can a team have so many injuries yet perform so consistently well?
Surely it has to catch up with them at some stage. If intuition or simple old-fasioned gut-feel is anything to go by, the Crows will lose to Melbourne in Alice Springs Sunday.
Eventually having your best players on the sidelines must take its toll. Walker, Sloane, McGovern, Brad Crouch and Smith were so important in the Crows juggernaut of 2017.
We've barely seen them this season, yet the Crows sit, albeit precariously, in the top four. Melbourne on the other hand is an emerging team on the rise.
The enthusiasm and confidence is infectious, and while it is true the Demons record in Alice Springs is underwhelming, you sense there is a new resolve driving them. After so many years of mediocrity, this is a team of destiny.
However, the most impressive thing about the Crows this year is the number of lesser-known players who have flourished with the extra opportunity and responsibility that coach Don Pyke has given them.
Cam Ellis-Yolmen and Hugh Greenwood in particular have been driving forces in the engine room of modern football. In today's increasingly congested, ugly game those big-bodied, inside mid-fielders who can win the contested ball are a team's most valuable players.
Cam Ellis-Yolmen has made a remarkable recovery from a knee re-construction. One wonders how good a player he could have been had his potential been rewarded earlier.
Instead, he was a player who was always on the edge - up and down off the rookie list and never rewarded with a long-term contract.
He made the selectors pay attention with impressive pre-season form and has emphatically continued that good form. He is a classic case of a player who has made the coach pick him.
Greenwood, similarly has picked himself. Despite the tragedy of losing his mother, he radiates open-faced optimism and good nature. He is not a classic footballer but he plays with an intensity and hardness that belies his devout Christian faith.
Other lesser-rated players like Doedee, Seedsman, Atkins, Kelly and even the under-rated veterans Douglas and McKay, have been crucial to the team's continued good form.
The recognised stars - Laird, Crouch, Betts, Gibbs, Talia and Jacobs would form the nucleus of any good team but it's the depth that will ultimately determine the team's success.
The big question is: when a team is so challenged by injury, without being able to settle its line-up, can it win consistently? There has to come a time.
Melbourne, under a new-generation coach, Simon Goodwin has had its inconsistencies as well but it is at full strength Sunday.
With Max Gawn, arguably the best ruckman in the competition, a ferocious mid-field and a prolific forward line, it has put the rest of the competition on notice.
Yet, amazingly, the club has sold two its home games - tomorrow's in Alice Springs, and round 16 when they play Fremantle in Darwin.
Those games could have been played at the MCG like most of its other games, where it would overwhelmingly be favourite.
They should have learned from the Richmond experience in 2018.
When you have that enormous advantage of playing on the MCG, why not exploit it to the maximum. Jake Lever, who walked out on the Crows at the end of last season will get off lightly.
He won't have to suffer the jeers and ridicule of an Adelaide Oval crowd. He could be a significant factor as he has made no secret of his disdain for a couple of his ex-Crows teammates and will be determined to make them suffer. He loves a scrap too, so don't be surprised if there are fireworks.
It's been a remarkable year so far for Pyke and the Crows - a testament to resilience and optimism. He has never used the excuse of injury but eventually those injuries have to impact.
A win tomorrow will strengthen the team's top four credentials and underline Pyke's talent as a man-manager. It would also teach this old footballer not to rely on gut-feeling.