After finishing with the wooden spoon last year, not much was expected of the rebuilding Crows, but they shot from the blocks with a 3-1 start and were competitive most of the year. With big seasons from their veterans and emergence of young talent they sprung a few surprises before a late fade-out. All in all there was plenty to like despite the finishing position on the ladder.

What worked

When the Crows ran out this year, you knew exactly what you were getting. They were a high-pressure, high-contest, physical team that got in your face and, aside from two or three exceptions, were ultra-competitive. They blooded and developed a heap of youth with Harry Schoenberg, Lachie Sholl, Ned McHenry, Chayce Jones, Jordon Butts and No.2 draft pick Riley Thilthorpe all showing they would be best 22 players for years to come.

14:03 Mins
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Out of finals? We review your team's 2021 season

Nat Edwards and Cal Twomey look at the big positives and burning off-season questions for the teams that missed out on finals

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What failed

Trying to figure out the forward line mix was a puzzle Matthew Nicks battled to solve all year. Taylor Walker, prior to his suspension, was the only regular tall, with much-improved Darcy Fogarty, Thilthorpe, Elliott Himmelberg and Billy Frampton all tried with varying levels of success. The small forwards were also inconsistent with early season regulars James Rowe and Sam Berry overlooked as the year wore on. Locking in with the same six or seven never quite happened.

MVP

Following a move to the midfield in the latter half of 2020, Rory Laird had a magnificent season there in a full-time role. The former half-back showed a nose for the ball like few others in the competition, among the leaders in disposals, clearances and contested possessions across the AFL. Week after week he was the centrepiece of Adelaide’s midfield.

Adelaide's Rory Laird gathers the ball during round four, 2021. Picture: AFL Photos

Surprise packet

With just two senior games to his name prior to this year Jordon Butts had a breakout campaign, locking in the role of No.1 defensive stopper. Coming back bigger and stronger last pre-season, Butts took the opposition’s best tall forward every week and penciled himself in as the long-term successor to Daniel Talia.

Disappointment

He battled with groin soreness for much of the season, but more would have been expected of first round draft pick Jackson Hately after coming across from Greater Western Sydney last off-season. Hately played just three senior games and struggled to impact. He’ll be hoping for a strong pre-season and healthy 2022.

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Best moment

Following five straight losses, a win over then-unbeaten Melbourne in round 10 was an incredible triumph. The Crows trailed by 16 points late in the final quarter, but Taylor Walker’s clutch set shot inside the final minute gave them the lead, much to the delirium of the Adelaide Oval faithful.

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Highlights: Adelaide v Melbourne

The Crows and Demons clash in round ten

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Low point

Just a month after signing a one-year contract extension, Taylor Walker was suspended for six matches and fined $20,000, among other sanctions, for a racist comment at a SANFL match. The suspension carries over into 2022 and leaves his future in limbo.

How should they approach list management?

The priority is another trip to the draft to acquire as much high-end talent as possible to fit alongside its current crop. The Crows have moved on from veterans David Mackay, Daniel Talia and Tom Lynch, paving the way to possibly chase some South Australian talent in their mid-20s from around the competition to fill a void in the club’s age profile – there’s some older heads, a lot of younger ones, and not much in between.

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Early call for 2022

Again, there won’t be any great expectations, but there will be a demand for improvement, and that means challenging the fringe of the finals without necessarily making it. More games into more young players with a hope for pushing into September in 2023.

Overall rating

4 out of 10 – Not a lot of wins, but Adelaide overdelivered on expectations with its consistent competitiveness.