“There’ll be some challenges along the way, but hopefully some really enjoyable times too.”
– Taylor Walker, 25 March, 2015
Taylor Walker headed into the 2015 season confident he was the right man to lead the Adelaide Crows.
The way he saw it, he had been picked as skipper because of the leadership he’d displayed before it was an official responsibility.
At the AFL captains day in March, he told aflplayers.com.au he didn’t think he’d need to adjust anything much in order to be a good skipper.
“There’s obviously been some challenges, with losing Phil, but there’s also been some upside” – Taylor Walker on 2015
“I’ll toss the coin and then all I’ve got to do is play my role.”
After Round 13, Walker had done a pretty good job. His side sat seventh on the ladder, with seven wins and five losses, and looked likely to make its first finals appearance since 2012.
But nothing could have prepared Walker for what was to happen next.
After coach Phil Walsh’s unprecedented tragic death, the knockabout 25-year-old from Broken Hill was left to lead the Crows through the most challenging time in the club’s history.
Walker had anticipated challenges when he took the reins as skipper, but nothing like this.
Less than three months on, Walker has drawn praise from all corners of the footy community for the leadership he’s displayed.
Incredibly, after the first week of finals, his Crows are still in the hunt for the 2015 premiership. Much of this is Walker’s doing.
It seems the key to his, and his side’s, success has been an ability to keep things simple and look for positives.
“There’s obviously been some [challenges this year], with losing Phil, but there’s also been some upside,” Walker told aflplayers.com.au ahead of his side’s final against Hawthorn.
“Getting to run out with 21 of your teammates every Saturday and enjoy playing the game we all love” is a feeling he hasn’t taken for granted.
“There’s been times throughout the year when my form hasn’t been to a standard that I’d like, [particularly] being able to try and lead the way as well.”
But last week, in the club’s first final since its heartbreaking five-point preliminary final loss to Hawthorn in 2012, Walker shone.
His setting up of the final goal of the game, a stirring run down the wing followed by an immaculate kick across the body to set up small forward Charlie Cameron, will be remembered as one of the finest moments of Adelaide’s season.
Days later, Fox Footy panelists debated which was a more impressive kick; that, or his pinpoint pass from halfback that hit Patrick Dangerfield lace-out in the centre corridor earlier in the match.
It was fitting that Walker’s three goals – including a 60-metre bomb that cleared the fence and pushed the Crows’ lead out to a 10-point margin – barely received a mention.
While Walker headed into 2015 planning to lead by consistently performing his role on gameday, his ability to bring teammates into the game has proven just as significant.
It’s a quality Walsh clearly saw in Walker when he anointed him skipper.
“Tex influences others to follow him in the direction I want this football club to go,” Walsh had said.
As Tex has led, many teammates have followed. And though Walker’s on-field focus has been on playing his own role, he’s paid close attention to his teammates’ improvement throughout 2015.
“Tex influences others to follow him in the direction I want this football club to go” – Phil Walsh
He has loved sharing the forward 50 with Eddie Betts, who’s kicked 63 goals so far in the best season of his career.
“His brilliance around goals, his ability to pressure the opposition… he’s been great for us this year,” Walker said.
Up the other end, he’s enjoyed watching a young defender maturing.
“Lairdy [Rory Laird] has been great, watching him evolve as a player.
“He’s learned a lot of things along the way – especially from Darren Milburn, our defensive coach, who he works closely with. Daniel Talia’s another one that he works closely with.
“To watch him have a really consistent year – he might be All-Australian – it’s been amazing to watch.”
While Walker’s role as skipper has clearly been significant, he’s quick to praise the Crows’ other leaders, who he says have taught him a lot.
“Inside the club, I’ve got Thomo and VB (Scott Thompson and Nathan van Berlo), who are senior experienced players around here and are also in our leadership group.
“Outside the club, you just watch and learn [from others] … you watch a lot of leaders to see how they go about it.”
Walker has been at the helm for less than a year, but has already stamped himself as a leader other sides will be watching closely from hereon in.
— Adelaide Crows (@Adelaide_FC) September 16, 2015
At the AFL Players’ MVP Awards on Tuesday night, players from rival clubs acknowledged Walker’s efforts by voting him the third-best captain of the season, behind fellow first-year skipper Bob Murphy and dual-premiership leader Luke Hodge.
It’s hard to think of a captain in the game’s history that’s had to deal with more than Tex has.
And while he’ll lead his side onto the field on Friday night with Phil Walsh’s legacy, hopes of a preliminary final berth and the expectations of thousands resting on his shoulders, Walker will be doing his best to keep things simple.
He headed into the season believing that by playing his role the way he always had, he’d give himself and his teammates the best chance of success.
That mantra has served him well so far.