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Edwards shaped by Crows' forgotten eras

By Daniel Brettig 05/06/2009 01:42:12 PM Comments (0)

The story of an AFL club is commonly recalled as a series of eras with some fondly remembered and others not so much.

Fans of Adelaide will happily quote chapter and verse from the days of Malcolm Blight, when back-to-back premierships, 1997 and 1998, were stolen from under the unsuspecting noses of St Kilda and North Melbourne.

Likewise they will look misty-eyed at the earliest years, when Graham Cornes coached a then-fledgling team, including glamour full forward Tony Modra, to within a hair's breadth of the 1993 grand final.

Less popular in the collective memory are the seasons of Robert Shaw, who followed Cornes, or Gary Ayres, who replaced a burnt-out Blight.

Imported from Victoria, Shaw and Ayres were considered coaches who took the Crows backwards.

Shaw was unable to reach the finals in his two years at West Lakes, while Ayres appeared to leave the club on a fairly shaky footing when he quit midway through 2004.

Yet when Tyson Edwards enters the field of play for his 300th AFL appearance on Sunday, he will do so with a fairly sizeable debt to both.

Without Ayres, 32-year-old Edwards may never have become the tireless and classy midfielder he is known as.

Without Shaw, Edwards may still be kicking around the South Australian country hamlet of Wynarka, with its population of around 20 people.

Initially the jump from Wynarka, a place so small that Edwards said "everyone knew everyone's business", to the big smoke of Adelaide, looked as though it would be too much for a diminutive if talented teenager.

Playing for West Adelaide in the SANFL, Edwards earned strong reviews, but could just as easily have gone the way of his older brother, who returned home after 20 games for the Bloods.

Shaw saw enough in Edwards to countenance his selection in the pre-season draft of 1995, and a debut duly followed.

It said much about the adolescent nature of the club - and the town that followed it - that the match against the Bulldogs was celebrated as some kind of major milestone, for it was the Crows' 100th AFL game.

"My first couple of years were with Robert, all I wanted to do was get a game and was lucky enough to do that in my first year and played out the rest of the year," Edwards said.

"I was just learning, watching and analysing everyone and trying to take bits and pieces from all the players and coaches.

"Robert had a lot of really good game plans and structures and things, probably too many, he probably had too many ideas really and in those days, as we saw with Blighty, he had a pretty simple game plan and that seemed to work quite well.

"Shawy was a big learning curve for me and I spent a lot of time watching other guys."

Shaw's departure brought Blight and maturity to the club.

Premierships followed, but Edwards remained a peripheral figure despite playing in both grand finals.

A perennial forward or back pocket, he never quite found his place, until Ayres arrived and declared Edwards would make a useful midfielder.

"I could play back pocket, forward pocket, midfield, everywhere, never had a set position," Edwards said.

"And that's frustrating at times because you're never sure where you're going to play, so when he gave me my chance I really wanted to make the most of it.

"So that was definitely a turning point of my career really."

The belief required of a midfield general had been growing in Edwards from the day he first walked into the Adelaide club rooms, but it took Ayres to recognise it.

"He was the one who gave me the opportunity in the midfield and let me play there, so that was the difference," Edwards said.

"I had a good relationship with him and he was able to give me that and I guess I went from strength to strength from there."

Since 2000, Edwards has never played fewer than 22 games or notched any less than 400 disposals, making him arguably the best midfielder never to win a major individual honour, be it All-Australian selection, a best and fairest or a Brownlow.

It is a fair effort from a country soul who grew up in a town of fewer inhabitants than a football team fields players, and offers a reason for Crows fans to look back on Shaw and Ayres with something other than anger.

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