For a fun, probably insignificant evening the Crows remember how to be brilliant

The key is Tom Lynch. He is not Adelaide’s best player, but he is the symbol of what makes the Crows most special.

Before they’re Eddie Betts’s dribbling goals or Taylor Walker’s booming launches, the Crows are the little things that Lynch does. He is central to everything they do – an inside-out footballer, who dashes to the wing, receives the outlet kick from half-back, then cuts the ball into the corridor, incisively and decisively, to the runner with paddocks of space and a feast of decisions and angles.

When Adelaide is on, Lynch is everywhere with his small, precise moments – the superbly weighted handballs from a stationary position to an inside runner, the spearing low passes after playing on, the simple, clinical set shot finishes.

On Thursday night, the Crows were ‘on’ in a way they haven’t been in months. Squint a little and you could see 2017. It wasn’t perfect – it was like watching someone try and clutch at a memory sometimes, but when they got a grip it was thrilling.

The whole team participated in plenty of those Lynchian passages, where the defence absorbs the entry then slingshots out to the wing before a rapid, never-stopping, gilt-edged chain of delicate handballs leads to space and more of it, and then eventually a forward running into an open goal.

The Cats are always a strange opponent, a team oddly suited to be the backdrop to someone else’s story. Geelong had the ascendancy early, gave it away, then lingered around as if out of obligation. The Crows were sloppy, almost too ecstatic to be playing well again, lacking the killer polish that they deployed so reliably last season.

Credit to Geelong, the lingering got scary at the end. They were within striking distance at the death despite largely being outplayed by a team that had much more to play for. Ultimately they were undone by their own sloppiness – Cam Guthrie (again) picking the worst parts of the ground to spray turnovers, Wylie Buzza doing Wylie Buzza things, and Brandan Parfitt executing the worst kick in the history of humankind.

The Crows had their mojo back, but at the same time Thursday spoke to why they are going to have to go 5-1 (at least) to even make the eight. Key personnel are still missing, which has been the season’s curse. Daniel Talia’s absence was felt, although Alex Keath does inspire an odd confidence.

Taylor Walker, as is too often the case for a player of his talent and standing, had a weirdly blank performance, his only moments of note taking out Zach Tuohy, kicking one important goal, and then a sumptuous, caressed pass inside 50 to Josh Jenkins that looked like a violin.

As excellent as Rory Sloane and Matt Crouch are in the clinches, the Adelaide midfield always seems a little too susceptible to being overpowered, lacking the height and raw burst of other elite midfields. There’s always been a bit too much Rory Atkins about this side, and dropping Atkins earlier in the year didn’t solve the problem.

Sometimes, like for exquisite, damaging outbreaks on Thursday night, the lack of force doesn’t matter because the finesse is too powerful in its own right. Rory Laird is magnificent, and Wayne Milera was decisive against the Cats. Hard, purposeful running and precise kicking can make muscle look silly.

Thursday night will probably have no repercussions beyond itself. The Crows are coming from too far back. Yes, the competition beyond Richmond is eminently beatable, and anyone who makes the eight will have more of a shot at making the Grand Final than perhaps any other year in recent memory. But the Crows will probably have to win four finals on the road, three if they were to luck into Port Adelaide. And that’s if they even make it, which is a long shot.

But the win against Geelong was significant, even if it’s insignificant in the ladder and premiership points scheme of things. It was a reminder that the Crows were once special, and still can be again.