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Critics of Taylor Walker are trying to have it both ways

Taylor Walker: Self-assured and unfiltered. You can’t champion that only in victory and not recognise sometimes it can backfire. Photo: GETTY IMAGES

Critics of Taylor Walker are trying to have it both ways

Luke Michael    

It’s funny how quickly perceptions can change in the AFL community. Two weeks ago, Taylor Walker was being celebrated for uniting the Crows after the tragic passing of Phil Walsh in 2015, taking a club in mourning to the top of the ladder and into the grand final.

Walker’s larrikin personality, brash leadership style and unwavering loyalty won him much support from the public. Now those same traits have been used against him in a number of public attacks on the Adelaide skipper.

First, he was criticised by Robert Walls on Fox Sports for his less than inspiring grand final performance, which saw him gather just 10 disposals as the Crows went down by 48 points in a lopsided contest.

Then he was called a “sore loser” on social media for his curt captain’s speech during the post-match ceremony.

And now his admittedly blunt comments to Jake Lever – in which he told the departing defender he was “choosing money over success” – have seen David Schwarz label Walker “a bit of a goose” on SEN, and Mark Robinson in the Herald Sun claim Walker was “a buffoon”.

Robinson even suggested Walker give the Adelaide captaincy up to Rory Sloane. But calls such as these surely are a severe overreaction.

Yes, Walker had a poor grand final and was understandably disappointed with both his team’s performance and Lever’s decision to leave. But his post-game speech and his comments to Lever are the actions of a man who bleeds for the Adelaide Football Club.

Footy fans are a fickle bunch. We love characters such as Walker who are passionate and amusing and speak their minds freely. However, when things begin to go wrong, we quickly turn on the same players.

At a time when loyalty in the AFL seems a romantic relic of the past, Walker continues to embody it. Maybe after watching a procession of talented Crows leaving the nest, Lever’s defection was the final straw.

“I did not have a crack at him,” Walker said on Adelaide’s Triple M. “I was pretty honest because I don’t like people leaving our footy club. I said if that was the decision he wanted to make, then I’m not going to agree with him because I don’t like people leaving our footy club.”

At least Walker still had the grace to thank Lever for giving all he had to the club.

“I give full credit to Jake, because he rocked up every day [to training], he bought into our program, he trained hard and he set high standards, and that’s all I can ask from a player,” Walker said. “Right to the end, he gave us all he had.”

These are not exactly the comments of the unhinged, spiteful captain some would have you believe.

And when assessing Walker’s standing, one only has to look to the recent AFL Player’s Association Awards to see his respect among the playing community.

This year, Walker was named the AFL’s best captain for the second year in a row. In 2014, Adelaide finished 10th on the ladder. After Walker took over as skipper, the Crows have gone from seventh to fifth to the top of the ladder, an impressive trajectory.

While initially gaining popularity for his famous mullet, there is no doubt Walker is a serious player who has stamped his authority on big finals in the past.

His goal from outside 50 during the 2015 elimination final against the Western Bulldogs, when the game was in the balance in the last quarter, stands out as such a moment.

In instances like that, it is easy to laud Walker for his cockiness and brashness. But you can’t have it both ways. You can’t champion players who are self-assured and unfiltered only when they are achieving success, and not recognise that sometimes this can backfire.

As captain, Walker will have to navigate his club through a soul-searching period this off-season, as it strives to make amends for a woeful grand final appearance.

It will be next season when Walker’s mettle as a leader will truly be tested. If he manages to take the Crows one step further, he will again be celebrated for his leadership style and unwavering loyalty to the group.

And if that happens, you can back it in many of the people patting him on the back will be those currently calling for his head.

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