I first met Jed Adcock in bizarre circumstances. I was driving a cab in Brisbane, in the early hours of Mad Monday in 2004. The Lions, at the end of their golden run, had just lost the grand final to Port Adelaide. This was the infamous Mad Monday where Martin Pike was alleged to have headbutted the club’s then-CEO Michael Bowers.
Adcock hadn’t played in that game – he’d played only two in his career to that point – but I can’t imagine him being involved in any shenanigans. It was past four in the morning after a traumatic day for the club when I picked him up in the suburbs, and despite the time and occasion, he seemed entirely sober.
I recount this anecdote because even then it was apparent that Adcock carried himself with a poise beyond his years. He carried the mantle of a future captain early, and has long been groomed for the job, filling in at times while Jonathan Brown was injured last year.
”I sort of eased into it a little bit last year,” he says. ”It’s not foreign to me, it’s fair to say. It’s a good feeling so far. Not a lot’s happened yet. Obviously once games come around, that’s when you probably come into your own a little bit more, and start taking control of the group a bit more.”
Adcock’s captaincy begins a genuine new era at the Lions. He has waited a long time for the old guard from the premiership years to either move on (former captain and coach Michael Voss), retire (Simon Black) or step aside (Brown) before he got his chance to run the ship himself.
Now 28, with two young children, he is just four years younger than Brown. But without criticising his predecessor, he speaks of a ”generation gap”, and says he has a different relationship with the players coming through. Perhaps his empathy comes more from experience: Adcock never knew the success of his older teammates.
”I’m sure Browny’s got a fantastic relationship with the players, I’m not saying that at all, but it’s probably easier for me to connect with the younger guys than what it might be for him,” he says.
With the Lions boasting a young list, Adcock’s ability to connect with the cubs will be crucial. ”Look at the guys who went home last year,” he says, referring to the five young men who left the club at the end of a tumultuous season. ”You’d never see that [before]. I guess players are brought up a little bit differently these days.
”When we got here, there was very, very little talk of the go-home factor. There was a couple of players who used to use it for their contract negotiations, but very few. And now it’s part of AFL footy; players are always looking to go home. There’s free agency, too, so there’s always that carrot that’s going to be dangling.”
The player exodus of 2013 was the one factor that the playing group at the Lions felt they at least had some control over, and some ability to prevent happening again. Everything else – Voss’ sacking, the board schism that tied the club up for months – was beyond their grasp.
It’s not just a matter of letting kids from interstate go home more often. That, he says, needs careful management, given how often the Lions fly already compared to Melbourne-based clubs.
”We found that not only was it the players who felt like they were unhappy, it was also the families back home as well,” he says. ”We’ve got to involve [them] a lot more; probably try to get them up to Brisbane and spend some time around the club; keep them up-to-date with everything we can.”
Through all of last year’s travails, it gets forgotten that the Lions actually played some pretty good football. Notwithstanding Essendon’s travails, they missed the finals by a kick, failing to upset Geelong on their home patch by a single point in the last round, allowing Carlton through.
Yet the club is a popular pick for the bottom four this year. Adcock’s not having it, but he is circumspect, too. ”You’ve got to think you can make it,” he says. ”Without talking finals though, you look at last year … The stats were if you win the NAB Cup, you finish top four. We sure blew that one out of the water.”
He confirms that the team will play a more defensive brand of football under new coach Justin Leppitsch. ”We’re probably just trying to own a little bit more of the ball, not trying to go as quick as what we did last year. If we get our defence right we can not only help our defence, but our offence as well.
”We’re very cautious now not to look too far ahead … Realistically, we’ve got to keep our senior core together. We acknowledge that we haven’t got the experience as you go further down the list, so it’s important for us to keep our senior guys fit. But we’re hopeful to find a couple of really good players in a few of the young kids.”