Crows take heed of Walsh messages

Phil Walsh saw beauty in struggle.


“Great art comes out of a level of frustration,” Walsh said.

Walsh made that comment on June 25, 2015, in the midst of his first season as head coach of the Adelaide Crows.

Nine days later, Walsh was stabbed to death by his son.

“It’s still tough to talk about,” Crows captain Taylor Walker told AAP this week.

“One of our coaches passed away but it created a unique bond for us.”

Ahead of Saturday’s AFL grand final against Richmond, Walsh’s presence still looms large at the Crows.

“It’s always in the back of your mind,” midfielder Richard Douglas said.

“He still gets talked about. And we joke about the time we had with him in the locker room, there’s obviously some great memories there.

“When anything tragic like that happens, it brings the group closer together.

“Obviously it was an awful time for everyone involved. But no doubt it brought us closer together as a footy club and a team.”

Douglas said much of Walsh’s blueprint for success remained intact within the club.

“He put some things in place that are still happening today, so that is very nice,” Douglas said.

And it’s not just Walsh’s football program. But also Walsh-speak.

Get the job done. Man conversations. Elite standards. One man down, another man up.

All were favoured phrases of Walsh, who died at the age of 55 – his son Cy was later found not guilty of murder by mental incompetence.

Adelaide’s chief executive Andrew Fagan readily, and naturally, used some Walsh-speak on Wednesday.

Fagan was in his first AFL season as the club’s chief when Walsh was killed – he was tasked with contacting Crows players with the news.

Some didn’t believe him. Some wouldn’t believe him. All were in shock.

Adelaide’s players had instantly gelled with Walsh, a self-confessed bogan from Hamilton in western Victoria.

Walsh enjoyed a fruitful playing career, playing 122 games at three clubs – Collingwood, Richmond, then Brisbane – from 1983-90.

In the mid-90s, Walsh went to Geelong as fitness coach and team runner; leaving in 1999 to become an assistant coach at Port Adelaide.

Walsh’s astute footy knowledge helped deliver Port their only AFL premiership in 2004. Five years later he joined West Coast as an assistant coach.

In 2014, Walsh returned to Port Adelaide as an assistant coach. Later that year, he was courted by the Crows and accepted their offer to become a head coach.

Walsh formed an immediate bond with his players, particularly Walker.

And, by midseason, the notoriously media-wary Walsh was starting to revel in his role.

Which is why, at a press conference at Adelaide’s West Lakes headquarters on June 25, 2015, Walsh was trying to explain his frustration at the inconsistency of his side, with six wins and five losses to date.

And he found himself talking about Vincent van Gogh’s painting, Sunflowers.

Walsh had looked at the painting at a gallery in Amsterdam.

And he couldn’t help but relate to van Gogh, thinking: “There is a man with great frustration.”

“I looked at that painting Sunflowers. And for a bogan from Hamilton like myself, I could actually see beauty in that frustration,” he said.

“I will sound again a bit like a weirdo.

“But great art comes out of a level of frustration.”

Walsh was killed the next week; he was lost to Adelaide’s quest to produce an AFL masterpiece.

On Wednesday, club chief Fagan was among 10,000 people who flocked to Adelaide Oval for the Crows’ last public training session on home soil before the grand final.

What would Walsh have thought?

“He would be looking down tremendously proud at what the boys have achieved so far,” Fagan said.

“But I also know that he would be absolutely focused on getting the job done come Saturday afternoon.”

Should the Crows get the job done, it will be in Walsh style.

He was a coach who demanding daring attack – the Crows have been the league’s highest-scorers for two seasons now.

And Walsh was so enamoured with the game, he famously pitted his then-star Patrick Dangerfield on Fremantle’s Nat Fyfe – just for the sheer spectacle of it.

“If you play that boring, sideways, lockdown footy and win a premiership, I don’t want to be a part of it,” Walsh had said.

“Simple as that”.

Fagan and the Crows know Walsh could be a defining chapter in a potential premiership story.

“It has been hard. But all clubs have their stories,” Fagan said of Walsh.

“Regardless of the result, but particularly if we win, it will be a really emotional day.”