Adelaide answered the critics with a superb victory over Geelong at Adelaide Oval on Friday night.
The Crows got physical, the bullied became bullies, and their assertiveness around the stoppages won them the crucial clearances.
Despite a last-quarter flurry of goals from Harry Taylor and holding Adelaide goal-less to give Geelong faint hope of an amazing recovery, overall the Crows were far too good.
Patrick Dangerfield played for the Cats, but did not have a huge impact, while the other star in doubt, Adelaide's Rory Sloane, was magnificent with a best-on-ground performance, showing no effect of concussion from a heavy knock last weekend.
Eight-game Adelaide player Hugh Greenwood ran through and flattened Dangerfield late in the third quarter. The field umpire reversed a free kick and it resulted in a goal to Geelong, but the powerful message Greenwood and the Crows sent to the competition was loud and clear.
The Crows showed they were tough enough to win finals, and have placed the focus on Geelong and whether they can retain a top-four spot.
And while Adelaide coach Don Pyke had copped the wrath from critics for not changing his game plan when they lost to the Cats in round 11 by 22 points, he came up with some masterstroke tactics and with his coaching staff coordinated a great win.
He surprised by using Riley Knight to wear Joel Selwood down, and with Dangerfield unable to seize control of the game either on the ball or at full-forward as much as he usually does, the Cats lost much of their usual grunt.
The Crows didn't rely on the brilliant run-on play that Geelong had previously undone. They were calculating under the pressure, made the Cats work harder by switching the play, and had a clear edge by taking inside-50 marks – something that Geelong struggled to do.
The Cats predominantly played a handball game especially early – the Crows kicked short and with more precision. They worked the ball; Geelong were rattled and for most part struggled to get cohesion moving into attack.
The Crows knew they needed a good start to set the tone. It took just 22 seconds for their first goal, and when they matched Geelong with their aggression it was obvious early the Crows would not be brushed aside easily again.
Adelaide also came up with an unlikely striker in attack – Richard Douglas. He has been a terrific player for a long time, but he was the dangerous goalkicker and not the regulars. The club champion produced his best game when it mattered so much.
Greenwood was sensational, not just with his clever mid-air kicks that led to a Sloane goal and later one of his own from 20 metres out, but his creativeness, polish and fierce attack on the ball. To cope with the midfield pressure and shine against the likes of Selwood and Dangerfield was impressive.
There were two crucial passages of play, over four minutes in the first term and for 10 minutes late in the second when the ball seemed struck on the members' side wing.
It was incredible pressure, both sides throwing themselves at each other and the ball; dozens of instant tackles, spoils and bumps.
We expected Geelong to withstand this pressure - they're a hardened finals side, but for Adelaide to respond in great fashion was a clear indication this side is better than most may have believed.
Greenwood is the basketballer turned AFL player, while Alex Keath, the Victorian Sheffield Shield cricketer turned Crows defender was making his much-anticipated AFL debut.
Keath, 25, competed well without starring. He did his job on the toughest of nights.
They key was having unrelenting support around him, especially Daniel Talia with his thumping punches to clear the ball, and the emerging talents of Jake Kelly, who took on more responsibility and covered the loss of Jake Lever well.
The loss doesn't suggest the Cats have slipped back in the finals race. This was about Adelaide telling everyone it deserved to be in front for at least this stage of the season. Most of all, the Crows showed they had a lot of dirt in them like everyone else.
By the numbers
ADELAIDE 5.2 9.5 13.9 13.13 (91)
GEELONG 1.4 4.6 7.8 10.10 (70)
GOALS – Adelaide: Douglas 4, Sloane 3, Lynch, Jenkins, Greenwood, Walker, Cameron, Brown. Geelong: Taylor 5, Menzel, Dangerfield, Blicavs, Hawkins, Duncan.
BEST – Adelaide: Sloane, Greenwood, Douglas, M. Crouch, B. Crouch, Atkins. Geelong: Taylor, Duncan, Tuohy, Blicavs, Dangerfield, Menegola.
INJURIES - Geelong: Blicavs (ankle).
UMPIRES – Hosking, Chamberlain, Ryan.
CROWD – 50,464 at Adelaide Oval.
This story first appeared on Brisbane Times.