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Moments from mediocrity, Eagles can now have much more


Eric Mackenzie crashes into the point post, saving a behind, and the game, for West Coast against Port Adelaide. Photo: GETTY IMAGES

Moments from mediocrity, Eagles can now have much more

Rohan Connolly    

Perhaps it shouldn’t have surprised that in a season as tight as 2017, a year’s hard work for an AFL club could end up hinging on a moment. Or in the case of West Coast, two or three.

Eagles’ fans of frail constitutions have certainly been put to the test lately, for those moments just keep coming.

Against Adelaide, it was Lewis Jetta slipping in between two would-be tacklers and calmly check-siding the goal which put the Eagles back in the eight on percentage.

On Saturday night, it was Eric Mackenzie somehow contorting his body and smashing into a point post with 38 seconds left to ensure his side had a crack at extra time. And, of course, Luke Shuey’s ice-cool finish for an unforgettable win, just the fifth man in history to deliver a finals victory for his team after the siren.

Ten months or so of sweat and toil reduced to a couple of kicks and a desperate dive. It seems ridiculous. And in West Coast’s case, ironic as well. For all those moments reeked of resilience. The very quality the Eagles have been said to have lacked right throughout the season.

And that handful of moments have now taken West Coast from within minutes of missing the finals altogether to within two wins of a second grand final appearance in three years.

That’s obviously a long way off still. But it’s also a far cry from the widespread hand-wringing and calls for the head of coach Adam Simpson that were about to ensue before those few seconds here and there.

How quickly things can change. And while we’ve panned the Eagles for their failures on the road and their failure to hang on to a lead this season, perhaps we’ve all overlooked their resilience on a larger scale, simply to keep plugging away in spite of all those setbacks, eking out enough wins to stay alive.

There’s been more than enough occasions this season in which West Coast might have thrown its hands up in the air and said it was all too hard.

Like going into the mid-season bye, when the Eagles managed to lose by a kick to a Gold Coast which had won only three games.

Like after the 32-point round 16 loss to Port Adelaide, the Eagles’ third defeat in four games at the supposed fortress of Domain Stadium. And like after the round 20 loss to St Kilda, West Coast’s fifth defeat in seven games this season decided by single-figure margins.

And again, even as late as eight seconds before the halfway mark of last Saturday night’s extra time. Here were the Eagles, away from home and with a 3-7 record on the road this season, 13 points in arrears before Josh Kennedy’s poke off the ground kept the pulse flickering.

The regular giving up of leads and the narrow defeats are the stuff which is always going to draw more critical attention. Yet the less “sexy” glass half-full view could also have been that West Coast generally remained competitive.

Six defeats by a total of only 41 points meant the Eagles were effectively seven goals off finishing the regular season with 18 wins instead of 12. Of their 10 defeats, only three were by any more than 21 points. For all the angst, it remained a pretty fine line between a season declared a waste and one which now suddenly promises a lot more.

And West Coast’s efforts generally have clearly been far less selective in the two huge wins over the two South Australian teams.

The Eagles ranked a dismal 15th for clearance differentials this season, but won that category against Adelaide, ranked third. They fared even worse for clearances in 2017, ranked second last. But on Saturday night, they beat Port (ranked sixth) in that stat as well.

Clearly, there will be much speculation about whether the potential return of Nic Naitanui to the ruck can improve those stoppage and hard-ball figures further still. But if Simpson and co. aren’t convinced by his capacity to see out a high-intensity final, it’s not as though they need to pull any rabbits from the hat.

As a ruck tandem last Saturday night, Nathan Vardy and Drew Petrie might have conceded the hit-outs to Paddy Ryder, but were far more effective in general play, Petrie’s cool head and finals experience in particular valuable. That could be the case again this week, too, with the Giants’ No.1 ruckman Shane Mumford out of the picture.

West Coast has already pushed the Giants close enough twice this season. And it’s only a bit over a year since a famous win over GWS at Saturday night’s finals venue. That was yet another of those moments, Naitanui’s snap from a clearance right on the siren pinching the win.

If nothing else in recent times, the Eagles have developed a capacity to hang in there, no more effectively than in their past two games. And in this crazy, unpredictable season, who knows just how far that quality might take a team when the next of those big moments arrives.

2 Comments
  1. Thank you, Rohan. Spot on and a relief in a sea of attempts to delegitimise one of the clubs best ever wins.

  2. The reason this game was so close was because of the mediocrity of both teams. Sub standard attacking from both teams led to the high farce of extra time where an umpire finally applied the mercy rule with a free kick.

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