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Walker's rise a tale of dreams

Harry Thring, AFL Media  January 14, 2015 7:10 PM

Country boy Taylor Walker worked hard to pursue an AFL career

Country boy Taylor Walker worked hard to pursue an AFL career

So the message is to any young boys out there: believe in your dream and chase it as hard as you can – you might end up one day like Taylor Walker.

Brought up in Hamilton in western Victoria, Adelaide coach Phil Walsh has a soft spot for country football and the stories it breeds.

The journey for country players into the AFL is far rougher than that of their city counterparts, he said, describing Taylor Walker's rise to captain the Crows as an inspirational tale of the pursuit of dreams.

The 24-year-old was announced as the Crows' seventh skipper on Wednesday, replacing Nathan van Berlo.

Walker grew up in Broken Hill barracking for the side he now leads, but never really believed he'd get the chance to pull on the blue, red and gold hooped jumper.

His dream took a significant step towards becoming a reality in 2006 when the Crows signed him as a scrawny 16-year-old under the now-defunct NSW scholarship system.

They then drafted him with their final selection (pick No. 75) in 2007 after he starred in his local league with North Broken Hill.

"If I'm a young boy growing up in Edenhope, my pathway to AFL football's a lot harder than if I was growing up in Oakley or some suburb in Melbourne," Walsh said.

"You can make it but it is a lot harder for country guys.

"I do love the story; Broken Hill, identified by Mark Ross at a carnival of football, came down here, took him a while to adjust and settle in and now he's the leader of a footy club.

"So the message is to any young boys out there: believe in your dream and chase it as hard as you can – you might end up one day like Taylor Walker."

Tex the straight shooter

Walsh said that upon his appointment as senior coach in October, it was evident almost immediately that Walker had the qualities required to captain the Club.

His teammates are drawn to him – in Walsh's words: "When he speaks or acts, others listen and follow suit".

Along with his competitiveness, Walsh said it was that natural ability to lead that pushed him ahead of several other candidates, including out-of-contract pair Rory Sloane and Patrick Dangerfield.

Walker also brings a wealth of experience to the role, both from a personal and team perspective.

After being dropped from Adelaide's senior side in May 2011, Walker's defensive intensity was criticised by club officials, with football manager Phil Harper insisting he was "among our best players when he has the ball in his hands, but it is what he is doing the other 98 per cent of the game we're worried about."

He's been taught hard lessons during his 84-game career but has returned better for them.

The following season, in 2012, he booted 63 goals in what was a breakout year highlighted by a five-goal effort against Fremantle in the semi-final.

In spearheading the 29-point comeback Walker had emerged as one of the league's most powerful and dangerous key forwards.

But then came the skipper-to-be's biggest test.

Towards the end of the first term against Carlton at the MCG in round five, 2013, Walker landed awkwardly in a marking contest and his right knee buckled.

A year of rehabilitation followed, during which he travelled to the US for specialist treatment, but his dedication saw him elevated into the leadership group for 2014.

Walker was a changed man.

"It's made me mature and look at life a little bit differently," he said.

"That was a testing time as an individual, for 12 months not being able to do what you want to do.

"Over that time you start to look at footy a little bit differently and also life."

It's difficult to believe his conduct during his time on the sidelines went unnoticed by his teammates.

Far more than a talented forward with a gift for practical jokes, here was a man working harder than ever, doing everything he could to return to the field.

When Walker ended any speculation over his commitment to the club by re-signing in November until 2018, Walsh was gushing in his praise.

In hindsight, his mind appeared already made up as to who he wanted captaining his side.

"It says a fair bit about Tex's character ... as coaches we see young men turn into leaders and that's what I think Tex has got ahead of him right now," he said at the time.

"He's 24, he's got his best footy in front of him but he's also a leader of men; I've seen it already, I've only been at the club a short time but he's an influential person.

"When you've got one of the influential leaders of the footy club with those characteristics, what it does is it creates other people with those characteristics."