The secret airport meeting with Phil Walsh that convinced Alex Keath to join the Crows
Tom Morris – Fox Sports
Alex Keath shook Phil Walsh’s hand and looked him directly in the eye.
It was April 2015 and the unlikely duo were meeting at Melbourne Airport before Keath flew to England to play a season of league cricket in Birmingham.
The Crows were so eager to get in front of Keath, who had just lost his state contract after seven first-class games with Victoria, Walsh jetted in for an hour before boarding a return flight to Adelaide.
No other club came close to wooing the then 23-year-old like the Crows did, although they tried.
This initiative, combined with then-footy boss David Noble’s trip to New Mexico to meet with Hugh Greenwood at around the same time, highlighted Adelaide’s ambition to attract left-field talent.
Six months after Walsh and Keath sat for a coffee at Tullamarine, Adelaide signed the athletic key defender on a two-year contract. They won the race ahead of several other clubs.
But this was no ordinary deal.
Having returned home from England, Keath was promptly snapped up by the Adelaide Strikers and grade club Prospect.
But as per his holding contract conditions with the Crows, the club was prepared to wait until the end of the 2015/16 summer for him to make a call on his future.
All the contract did was permit Keath to train at the club and crucially, not join another AFL team while he was deciding whether to pursue cricket or footy.
Adelaide stipulated it required his attendance at one skills session per week in the summer. But as it became more obvious to Keath that football was going to be his future, he began to spend more time at the club than even they were expecting.
At one stage, the Crows told Keath to ease up on his footy.
The BBL was still running, but he was a squad member and would never play a game for Jason Gillespie’s outfit. He was mightily close on one occasion, but hurt his shoulder in the lead-up to the match.
The timeshare arrangement worked for all parties. The Crows were confident they could get their man, the Strikers added depth, and Keath had choice.
It wasn’t the first time his wide range of talents had allowed him choice. But like 2010 — when he had to choose between cricket and football while still in year 12 — the choice was also a challenge.
In 2010, Gold Coast signed him to a $50,000 per year deal as a 17-year-old, but he never donned their jumper.
The summer game was his passion and, sensing a victory, Cricket Victoria signed him to a three-year deal and promptly compared his skill-set to Andrew McDonald’s.
Six years, 16 domestic one-dayers and five Big Bash League games later, football clubs started calling. A Hawthorn supporter as a kid, Keath was happy to move around.
He’d shifted his life from Shepparton to Melbourne to England and was settled in Adelaide spending the summer of 2015/16 slowly edging towards footy.
Onlookers sat in the stands at Glenelg Oval for Keath’s first SANFL game in late April, 2016. As a cricketer Keath had steered clear of meats and protein. But as a footballer he needed to re-shape his body and had worked hard to do so.
He also hadn’t played any football since 2010 but here he was expected to compete at SANFL level alongside AFL-listed player
The first contest of the afternoon saw Keath leave his man and charge 25 metres from full-back to spoil. Adelaide’s coaches were watching and at that moment, according to one Crows insider, they knew they had plucked a winner.
There have been injuries since that warm autumn afternoon in 2016. There was also a selection log-jam which saw Keath back in the queue of the club’s key defenders.
He was in the 25 for the 2017 Grand Final, but Kyle Hartigan, Jake Lever and Daniel Talia were preferred in key defensive posts.
But from his six games this season, (he played six in 2017 and six in 2018), the 196cm all-rounder in every sense is rated elite for disposals, intercept possessions and intercept marks.
And this week he’s received significant media attention following his performance against St Kilda in Round 6. According to Adelaide co-captain, he’d hate every bit of it.
“He’ll hate this because he hates praise,” Walker told Triple M earlier this week.
“He’s very, very humble, I love him. He’s in mine (All-Australian team) now as well.”
Keath has been on two Big Bash lists and two AFL lists, but played for just one of each. His journey is unique and even bizarre in the modern day landscape.
He’s the modern day code hopper, who has played alongside Shane Warne and against Lance Franklin.
And if his timing pursuing footy is anything like his cover drive, the Crows have unearthed a gem.
A gem that almost certainly would be elsewhere right now if not for the late Phil Walsh and his last-ditch trip to Melbourne airport four years ago.