Adelaide's 'sliding doors' realisation over Jason Horne-Francis: 'Should thank them'

The Adelaide Crows missed out on Jason Horne-Francis back in 2021, but it's ended up paying some big AFL dividends.

Jordan Dawson and Jason Horne-Francis.
Adelaide's failed bid to get the top draft pick and draft Jason Horne-Francis in 2021 has ended up paying dividends, with the club instead recruiting now captain Jordan Dawson. Pictures: Getty Images

The Adelaide Crows have enjoyed a sensational start to the season, but some AFL observers believe they wouldn't be in the position they are now if an ambitious trade had gone through back in 2021. After winning three of their first five games, the Crows have been tipped as finals contenders after several seasons in the AFL doldrums.

Their impressive win over Carlton to kick off the 'Gather Round' left many commentators wondering what the ceiling for the Crows could be. Adelaide have brushed aside disappointing losses in their first two games of the season to win their next three on the trot.

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However the likes of Leigh Montagna and David King believe the Crows could potentially have been left worse off if their bid to get the No1 draft pick and draft Jason Horne-Francis in 2021 had been successful. The Crows offered North Melbourne three first-round picks for the No1. selection, a move the Kangaroos knocked back with some justification according to Montagna.

Missing out on the South Australian prospect was a disappointment for Crows fans at the time, but the aforementioned picks were instead parlayed into a potentially more well-rounded return than just the talented Horne-Francis. The Crows' 2021 pick was used to draft Josh Rachele, while the remaining picks offered were used in trades for the Gold Coast's Izak Rankine and then Melbourne player Jordan Dawson.

None of those moves were headline-grabbing in isolation, but Crows fans will be thanking their Kangaroos counterparts for rejecting the 2021 offer. Dawson has since gone on to assume the Crows' captaincy, while Rankine and Rachele have shown plenty of signs in their early stages of their Crows' careers - a massive source of optimism for their future according to Montagna.

“They are coming with a rocket, and it made me have a think about a sliding doors moment,” the former St Kilda star told Fox Footy. “If you remember back to 2021, Adelaide made an audacious bid to get Pick 1, North Melbourne rejected that, and rightfully so.

“They (the Crows) ended up getting Josh Rachele, Jordan Dawson and Izak Rankine with those three picks, so Adelaide fans should be thanking the North Melbourne Football club for saying: ‘Thanks for your offer but no thanks.’ They have changed the football club with what they’ve been able to do.”

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Adelaide's good start to the season has been backed up statistically. The Crows are among the AFL leaders in inside 50s (3rd) and scores per inside 50 entry (1st). Both Rachele and Rankine are in the top 15 goalkickers for the season after five rounds.

Dawson, who began life in the AFL as a defender, has been shifted into the midfield for Adelaide to immediate results. The Crows have won both games he's started in the middle by a combined 95 points.

The accumulation of results left King feeling as though the Crows were well placed to contend in seasons to come. While he believes there is a ceiling on the Crows for 2023, King said the club was well placed to build on any success this season with a list primed to compete among the best.

Adelaide Crows players celebrate during their win over Carlton.
Adelaide have won three games in a row after a slow start to their AFL season. (Photo by Sarah Reed/AFL Photos via Getty Images) (AFL Photos via Getty Images)

“Adelaide has arrived, and think Adelaide in 2025 will be alive and they will be the team that can come with a rush,” King told First Crack. “I was worried about their list, I’ve got to admit, probably two years ago. But since then they’ve added some major pieces in Rankine and Dawson.

“I still don’t think they have the most talent on their list, but what they’re getting out of that talent – through system – I think Matthew Nicks is doing an outstanding job, and so too his lieutenants. They’re averaging over 100 points a game.

"Their ability to win the footy – they’re second-best in contested possessions – and they’re third-best in the AFL at hanging onto (the ball) in the uncontested game. The mix and blend is just perfect."

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