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Relaxed Rory enjoying second September

Katrina Gill  September 15, 2016 11:31 AM

Rory Atkins on Semi-Final Young midfielder Rory Atkins speaks to Channel Crow about how he feels heading into just his 3rd final this weekend at the SCG.
I knew what to expect this time around

Two-and-a-half quarters of football in last year’s finals series was enough to prepare promising Crow Rory Atkins for his second September campaign.

In just his eighth AFL game, Atkins was part of Adelaide’s thrilling Elimination Final win over the Western Bulldogs. The wingman, who appeared to fatigue after forcing his way into the team in the latter part of 2015, was substituted out of the game midway through the third quarter.

He was left out of Adelaide’s Semi-Final team the next week, but said his cameo on the September stage had been invaluable experience.

“I didn’t know what to expect against the Bulldogs, being my first final,” Atkins said.

“I didn’t play the way I would’ve liked, but it was great to get the win.

“I noticed the (greater) intensity around the contest. You’ve got that split second less with the ball. Sometimes, it (your disposal) doesn’t have to be pretty. You’ve just got to get it out of your area.

“It held me in good stead … I knew what to expect this time around.”

Atkins played his second final and 31st AFL game against North Melbourne on Saturday night.

The 22-year-old had a greater impact, collecting 18 possessions, eight score involvements and four clearances in the Club’s 62-point Elimination Final win.

“I felt more comfortable out there (on Saturday night) compared to last year,” Atkins said.

“Last year, I didn’t see myself playing well enough to get selected (for the Semi-Final) the week after.

“On the weekend, I thought I played my role and contributed how I could. I thoroughly enjoyed it.”

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Atkins has played all 23 games in his fourth season with Adelaide.

The left-footer has established himself in the Crows midfield group, displaying poise and an ability to break the lines. He ranks No.2 at the Club for metres gained, third for inside 50ms and running bounces and fourth for kicks.

An astute pick at No.81 in the 2012 National Draft, Atkins was one of seven Crows selected in the AFL Players’ Association best 22Under22 squad for 2016, and signed a new two-year deal in June.

Atkins put his progress down to “natural maturation” and a strong, injury-free summer.

“I’m one year older and another year stronger,” he said.

“Also, I had a good pre-season. I did most of the sessions and spent a lot of time in the gym with the strength staff here. Getting stronger and being able to stay out on the park really helped.

“I’m enjoying my footy a lot this year. To play with the AFL side for the full year has been great. I’m learning a lot from the more senior players in the team and I think I’m developing as a player.

“I look forward to getting better and growing with the team.”

Atkins will get his opportunity to play in an AFL Semi-Final when Adelaide travels to Sydney to play the Swans on Saturday night. The former Calder Cannon has never been to the SCG. He’s one of a handful of Crows set to play their first game at the venue.

“I’ve seen the SCG on the cricket (television coverage)! It looks pretty nice and I’m looking forward to getting out there and running around,” he said.

“At training, we had the cones out there (at Football Park) to replicate the SCG. It’s a bit wider and a few metres shorter at each end.

“It doesn’t sound too much, but when you see it on the ground it’s probably goal-square length.”

The Crows and Swans last met at Adelaide Oval in Round Four. On that night, the home team put in one of its best performances of the season to beat Sydney by 10 points in an enthralling contest.

“I think our pressure around the ball at that time of year was at its best. Hopefully, we can get back to that. I think we took a good step on the weekend,” Atkins said.

“We’ll need to match their midfield, get the ball in our forward half, try and lock it in and, hopefully, kick a good score against them.”

The stakes will be high in Sydney, with the winner progressing to a Preliminary Final against Geelong and the losing team knocked out of the premiership race.

Atkins isn’t the type to let the pressure get to him. The laidback Crow’s pre-game routine involves plenty of laughs and light-hearted moments. He can often be seen smiling, while some of his teammates seek solitude and do their best blue steel impersonations.

“I try to keep it pretty simple. I’ll have a singalong to myself with my headphones on and stuff like that. That’s the way I get in the zone,” he said.

“We’ve got some psychologists around the Club. They always reel off stats and they think that if you’re happier you’re more of a chance to switch on and focus, so I tend to go down that path.

“I know the players that I can and can’t do that with. Some guys get in the zone and don’t really liked to be talked to, so I pick and choose who I muck around with.

“When it’s time to switch on I do, but I like to enjoy myself before the game and have a fun time.”

A relaxed Rory Atkins heads out for a pre-game warm-up at Adelaide Oval