ADELAIDE's courageous 2015 journey will continue for at least another week after the Crows outlasted a brave but inaccurate Western Bulldogs to win by seven points at the MCG on Saturday night, booking a semi-final clash with Hawthorn.
Adelaide took an 11-point lead into three-quarter time after leading narrowly from late in the opening term, but the Bulldogs looked set to record a fairytale win when they kicked four of the opening five goals of the final term – two to Tory Dickson – to jump to an eight-point advantage.
But the fighting spirit of the Crows has never been in doubt in a season when they've had to rebound from the tragic death of coach Phil Walsh, and they dug deep once again to kick the final two goals and seal a 16.13 (109) to 14.18 (102) win.
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If Eddie Betts was the star with five goals, skipper Taylor Walker was the match-winner, nailing a 50m set shot at the 17-minute mark of the final term to bring the Crows back to within one point.
Walker then set up Charlie Cameron's late sealer when he took two bounces along the wing and hit the small forward with a pin-point centring pass.
No one would have criticised the Crows if they let their season slip after Walsh's death on the eve of round 14, especially when, in their first game back a round later, they fell out of the top eight for the first time in 2015 after losing an emotional encounter against West Coast by 56 points at Domain Stadium.
But Adelaide regrouped under interim coach Scott Camporeale, winning six of their last eight home and away games to make the finals, and on Saturday night they showed the same steely spirit to down the Dogs.
Every Adelaide player rated from Saturday night's game
Walker finished with three goals for the game, while Scott Thompson (27 possessions), Patrick Dangerfield (25) and Rory Sloane were important for Adelaide through the midfield.
Full-back Daniel Talia had an absorbing battle with Jake Stringer, while Ricky Henderson (29 possessions) and Rory Laird (22) also gave the Crows a lot of drive from the back half.
After the Bulldogs bolted from the blocks to kick four of the game's first five goals, the Crows hit the lead late in the first quarter and did not relinquish it until Dickson goaled at the 11-minute mark of the final term.
However, the Crows never got further than 15 points in front – at the 20-minute mark of the second term – as the Bulldogs had the better of general play but struggled to convert their chances in front of goal, with a 3.6 return in the third term particularly costly.
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The Bulldogs won the clearances 46-26 and inside 50s 65-55, but the Crows were lethal on the counter-attack and highly efficient inside their forward 50.
Camporeale praised his team's fighting qualities after the match.
"I'm just so proud of the group and footy club to get to this point. One to make the finals and earn the right, and then obviously to get the result tonight was great,” Camporeale said.
"I thought we were able to score and that was the thing that was keeping us in the game. Some of the key stats for us weren't ideal, but to the boys' credit they just found a way to keep hitting the scoreboard and keep ticking it over.
"I never felt [we were] out of the game."
The Bulldogs, who finished 14th in 2014, lost no admirers in defeat and, despite their youth, showed no signs of stage fright on the finals stage.
Dickson was outstanding with 5.0 on a night when most of his teammates struggled to convert in front of goal, while Marcus Bontempelli (24 possessions and seven clearances), Mitch Wallis (26 and seven) and Jackson Macrae (19 and six) were instrumental in the Bulldogs' dominance of the stoppages.
Stewart Crameri was also lively in attack but blighted his copybook with a 2.5 return, while Lachie Hunter (28 possessions) and Robert Murphy (26) were prolific ball-winners for the Dogs.
Dogs coach Luke Beveridge was proud of his team's effort after the "gut-wrenching" loss, but lamented its inability to convert set shots.
"I just said to the players – they’re obviously extremely disappointed – just to walk out with their heads held high for everything that they've done for our footy club and how far they've come," Beveridge said.
"But I'd like to say well done to the Crows. Obviously they've been through a hell of a lot of adversity this year and it was quite an amazing game in the end, but they held on and they withstood everything we threw at them and they've had an amazingly creditable year.
"I think they kicked 10 in a row from set shots at one point and the contrast with ours was quite significant. It does hurt you but to our credit we just kept coming, we didn't drop our bundle and that shows a fair bit of mental strength and I'm unbelievably proud of them."
Every Bulldog rated from Saturday night's game
The game started at a frantic pace, with the young Bulldogs making a mockery of their experience to slam on the first three goals.
They were dominating at the stoppages – winning the centre clearances for the first term 8-1 and overall clearances 13-6 – and the Crows struggled to get the ball inside their forward 50 in the first 15 minutes.
However, Adelaide was extremely dangerous on the rebound, with Rory Sloane running hard through the centre corridor and Eddie Betts relishing an open forward 50.
Betts had a hand in four of the Crows' first five goals, kicking three of them, while Adelaide's efficiency in attack was best summed up by the fact it goaled from each of its first four inside 50s.
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After Stewart Crameri kicked the Bulldogs' fourth goal at the 11-minute mark, the Crows piled on the first term's final five goals to go into quarter-time nine points up.
The game predictably slowed a little in the second term as both teams tightened up defensively.
The Crows got out to a 15-point lead at the 20-minute mark after Riley Knight converted from 35m with a wobbly mongrel punt, but the Bulldogs hit back when Jack Redpath goaled two minutes later and went into half-time eight points down.
WESTERN BULLDOGS 4.6 7.10 10.16 14.18 (102)
ADELAIDE 6.3 9.6 13.9 16.13 (109)
Western Bulldogs: Dickson 5, Crameri 2, Redpath 2, Stringer 2, Dahlhaus, Jong, Grant
Adelaide: Betts 5, Walker 3, Knight 2, Cameron 2, Henderson, Lynch, Sloane, Thompson
Western Bulldogs: Dahlhaus, Dickson, Hunter, Bontempelli, Wallis, Murphy
Adelaide: Betts, Thompson, Walker, Henderson, Laird, Sloane, Dangerfield
Western Bulldogs: Nil
Western Bulldogs: Caleb Daniel replaced Mitch Honeychurch in the fourth quarter
Adelaide: David McKay replaced Rory Atkins in the third quarter
Umpires: Nicholls, Hosking, Schmitt
Official crowd: 60,782 at the MCG