Ball-winner: Leigh Adams battles the Crows.LEIGH Adams will not need any extra motivation today as North Melbourne heads into a critical clash with St Kilda. That’s how it is when you have been overlooked in the national draft, had to claw your way to a career and then been struck down by serious injuries.
Adams, North’s tough-as-teak on-baller, played just eight games in his first three seasons with the Kangaroos. He blew apart his left knee twisting on a sandy patch at Werribee one day, requiring a reconstruction, he had a bad shoulder injury and a heart malfunction. At the end of 2009, he thought his career might be over.
”But I was lucky enough to get a couple of games at the end of 2009 which gave me some confidence that I could make it,” he told The Sunday Age this week. ”I owe a lot to North Melbourne for sticking with me at that time. It would’ve been pretty easy to say, ‘He’s injury prone. Let’s get rid of him.’ But they showed a lot of faith in me and hopefully I’ve started to repay that now.”
Those days have long gone. Although he mostly escapes notice, Adams has quietly logged top-five finishes in North’s club championship in 2010 and 2011. A 23-disposal, three-goal game in the Roos’ ground-breaking win over Adelaide last weekend was typical.
The hard times help inspire him. ”I wouldn’t have it any other way. It makes it so much more worth it when you come out the other side. It makes you love your footy so much more. It gave me a work rate that I didn’t realise AFL footy was about. Having to deal with a knee reconstruction in my second year of footy makes you realise how hard you have to work to get back. That’s given me the work rate and desire to make it at the top level.”
His good form would not surprise anyone who saw the boy from Woori Yallock starring at under 18 level, captain of a winning Victorian Metro team. But his height (176 centimetres) was against him in recruiters’ eyes. He was continually told he was too small. Ultimately he would go to Arden Street via the rookie draft.
”The time when I was coming through was that phase when they were trying to get the athletic type and make them into players,” he said. ”There was a craze there and I was overlooked. But I always thought I was good enough to make it. It was about getting the opportunity. Once you get there, everyone’s treated the same.”
North has been hot and cold in 2012, but last week’s win puts Brad Scott’s team in the hunt for the finals. Significantly, the Roos play most of the teams around them in the latter part of the year, starting with the Saints at the Docklands today.
The key, says Adams, is contested ball. While there is a debate about the value of the contested possession statistic this year, with North it is simple. The Roos have lost when they were beaten in that category, and won when they were on top of it.
That’s because Scott’s game style is based around hard spread from the contest, and chains of handball. If you can’t win the football, you can’t execute that style of game.
”When we play good footy, we’ve won the contested footy and spread from there away from the contest,” Adams said. ”We get chains of handballs, that kind of stuff going. We’ve probably not won the contested footy regularly enough to get our style of play going.
”With the young side we’ve got, if we can win the footy, it saves you having to defend to try and get it back. It’s a real barometer for where we’re at. You can have all the outside run and spread you want, but if you don’t win the ball you can look pretty slow going the other way.”
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