Mind over matter as Crows push for AFL finals: Nicks

Steve Larkin |

Adelaide coach Matthew Nicks is excited by his Crows list ahead of the new AFL season.
Adelaide coach Matthew Nicks is excited by his Crows list ahead of the new AFL season.

Adelaide coach Matthew Nicks calls it the FBI.

Football intelligence.

And he reckons it’s the finishing touches on his Crows rebuild, a factor crucial to returning to the finals after a five-year absence.

Nicks is certain he has the player talent.

“I love our list … I’m really confident that we’ve got a strong list,” Nicks told AAP.

Now, it’s the mind that matters.

“I’ve always thought that the league is extremely close and extremely tight,” Nicks said.

“And there’s a fair bit of footy played between the ears, where a team can get some momentum and belief in themselves, and trust, that anything is possible.

“Something we’re doing a lot of work on this year is that competitive mindset space, we have now brought in some real expertise in that mental space.

“Our ability to direct our focus in key moments and then be in a position to actually organise and instruct your teammates, you need to train that.

“If you use the benchmark, you always go back to the team that has won it.

“(Collingwood’s) Scott Pendlebury is one of the best players in the game because of the experiences he had.

“And he has an awareness, he has a focus about him that allows him to see the game and not just play but help others – critical in key moments.

“Some have it. It’s an awareness. It’s a football intelligence or an FBI, as we call it.”

Nicks said bitter experiences last season had bolstered the Crows’ collective FBI.

The common Crow cry is they would have played finals if not for a goal umpiring blunder in round 23 which robbed them of a victory against Sydney.

Nicks brushes the umpire error aside.

Tom Hickey and Nick Blakey.
Swans players celebrate last season’s controversial round-23 win over the Crows in Adelaide. (Matt Turner/AAP PHOTOS)

And he doesn’t overly dwell on the close losses – five defeats by a goal or less, to premiers Collingwood (one point, two points), beaten grand finalists Brisbane (six points) and finalists Melbourne (four points) and the Swans (one point).

Instead, Nicks looks elsewhere.

“There were other games where if you look back and say ‘why didn’t we get the ultimate and play finals footy?” – well, we didn’t get it done in a lot of those other games,” he said.

“And there’s even more detail in amongst that our players know.

“There’s knowledge, there’s understanding, then there’s actually doing it in a big moment – we are still learning how to do it in a big moment every week.

“We’re really close. I’m super-confident … we’re on track now but it’s not linear though.”

The Crows last season were the league’s highest-scoring team, fired by a high-octane forward line featuring Taylor Walker, Izak Rankine, Darcy Fogarty, Josh Rachele and Riley Thilthorpe.

The 33-year-old Walker booted 76 goals and became the oldest debutant All Australian in history.

Taylor Walker.
Taylor Walker celebrates after kicking a goal against West Coast in Perth last year. (Richard Wainwright/AAP PHOTOS)

This year, the coach expects Thilthorpe – the Crows’ highest-ever draft pick, No.2 in 2020 – to blossom.

“He has come back in beast mode this pre-season, physically and mentally,” Nicks said of the 21-year-old.

Young guns Rankine and Rachele, Luke Pedlar and Jake Soligo will have more midfield time to support captain Jordan Dawson, rejuvenated Matt Crouch and Rory Laird, a triple club champion who has remarkably finished in the top three in the past seven seasons.

The chief query is how does Nicks improve a defence, ranked ninth last season and without Tom Doedee (Lions) and key back Nick Murray, who won’t return from a knee reconstruction until at least June.

“We don’t need to be best (defence) in the competition, we just need to improve that slightly and things change pretty quickly then,” Nicks said.