IN THE immediate days after Taylor Walker was suspended by the AFL for six matches for racist comments directed at SANFL player Robbie Young, he and the Adelaide Crows deeply considered ending his time in the game.
That Walker had a contract for the 2022 season helped sway the decision to continue, and club and player committed to entering a 14th season together, unsure how it would unfold on many fronts.
"I was in the wrong. It's something that is forever going to be there. It's never going to go away," he said last December.
While Walker will never be forgiven by some, he has made genuine attempts to improve himself in the months after his disgraceful comments. And for the past two weeks he has been back in the AFL, he has made an immediate, positive impact on the Crows' on-field fortunes.
Without one minute of competitive match-play (the AFL ban precluded him from playing at any level), Walker has been the Crows' best player in the two matches of his return, respectively kicking four and five goals against Essendon and Richmond in a four-point loss and surprise 19-point win.
The nine goals in total have taken his career tally to 498. Against the Western Bulldogs in Ballarat in round six, he is likely to become just the 61st player to reach 500.
Most importantly for this young Crows outfit, his return has led to Elliott Himmelberg (four goals against the Tigers) playing the two best games of his short career.
With the cruel unavailability with a knee reconstruction for the remainder of the season of captain Rory Sloane, Walker's presence will be even more crucial as his team attempts to maintain what appears to be genuine progress in 2022. With two wins and three losses from five matches – with two of the losses by a kick (one point against Fremantle in round one, four points against the Bombers in round four) – there is finally cause for hope.
This is a very young outfit. With his great mate Sloane now sidelined, Walker, with 222 matches behind him, and just seven months after an incident which went very close to ending his time in the game, has arguably never been more important to the Crows.
The true cost of Toby's ban
Now that Greene's ban has expired, a full audit of the period can be completed. It was ugly. Coming off a fantastic, against-the-odds elimination final win against Sydney last September, the Giants lost their first game without Greene in the following weekend's semi-final against Geelong.
To open 2022, GWS has gone loss (Sydney), loss (Richmond), win (Gold Coast), loss (Fremantle) and loss (Melbourne, on Saturday night at the MCG). It is a dreadful scoreline for a coach whose nine-year tenure is up for renewal.
Greene will return on Friday night against St Kilda at Manuka Oval. There have been few better big-time performers than him during his time in the game, so he will probably do as he has regularly done, and dominate. He owes it to Cameron and his team to do so not just in round six, but for the remainder of the Giants' season which, because of his absence, is precariously positioned.
Numbers don't lie about Vossy's wild ride
Just as a cricketer's century shouldn't ever be diminished by the amount of chances he may have been given via dropped catches and missed runouts, there is often no need to detract from a football club which has arrived at a positive scoreline via streaky passage.
The record books show Carlton is 4-1. Yes, it could very easily have been 2-3 (it fell in against both Hawthorn in round three and Port Adelaide on Sunday), and maybe even 1-4 (the Bulldogs kicked 2.7 in the final quarter to lose by 12 points in round two). But when it is all said and done, 4-1 is all that matters.
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It already has been a wild ride in Michael Voss' return to coaching. There have been surges of goals for and against, including a 50-point lead before half-time against the Power at the MCG that was whittled away to a three-point win. Against Hawthorn, a 41-point lead became a one-point win.
Voss was absent from a game for COVID protocols, round two against the Bulldogs. He has fully embraced the swings and roundabouts of this patch, drawing on experiences learned in a stint viewed as a failure as Brisbane Lions coach from 2009 to 2013, and then seven seasons as a senior assistant under Ken Hinkley, the man he kept winless in 2022 on Sunday.
During his extraordinary playing career with Brisbane, Voss played in a team whose success was greatly assisted by Jonathan Brown and Alastair Lynch in the key forward posts. And Daniel Bradshaw was a mighty third wheel.
In Charlie Curnow and Harry McKay, the Blues have elite star power up forward, a combined eight goals against Port Adelaide ultimately proving the decisive factor in the win.
Curnow may never get the chance to be the player he was meant to be, with knee injuries ruining two years of his sporting prime. But he is still a very special talent, one of the increasingly rare genuine box-office performers. That he returned for the final four matches of 2021 was of great assistance to his ability to prepare for 2022. He has now kicked 14 goals this season. If he stays fit, Voss can continue to dream big.
Freo's purple patch leaves Dons in real trouble
The glass half-emptiers will focus on the lack of quality in the teams the Dockers have beaten, but the glass half-fullers will maintain they're the real deal and ready for a return to the finals.
I'm in the half-full group. In Justin Longmuir's third season, the nice and steady rebuild is poised to cause a lot of damage. Sunday's win against Essendon at Marvel Stadium was a key result for this team. It was the second of two wins away from home, a fourth victory for the season, and it came via a powerful burst of midfield and forward line dominance in the third quarter.
Andrew Brayshaw came of age with a third-place finish in his side's best-and-fairest count last year, and would likely be leading that award this year. Matt Taberner's seven goals was a 10-season career best, by two goals, and no one has kicked more in a game in 2022. Alex Pearce is so important to this team, and he helped shut down the Bombers' forward line. Sean Darcy took another step on his path to being listed among the AFL's best ruckmen.
The Dockers won seven matches in Longmuir's first year, the abbreviated 17-round 2020 season. They won 10 in 2021, and at certain times looked finals worthy.
It is all coming together very nicely for Longmuir. The same can't be said for Essendon and its coach Ben Rutten.
There have been valid reasons for the struggles at Essendon. Key players have missed a lot of footy, Jake Stringer and Zach Merrett among the outs.
But to finish round five with just one win, and that coming in a slightly lucky way against Adelaide in round four, is now cause for major internal dissection. The simple prognosis is that Essendon is underperforming across all key facets, but most disturbingly so in the midfield. Some big names in there are not enhancing reputations at the moment. Darcy Parish has struggled after a breakout 2021 season. Dylan Shiel is having no impact on matches. There are big questions hovering over Andrew McGrath's ability to reach the very top.