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Match Of The Day: Eagles outlast Pies in another classic

Despite a desperate dive from Collingwood’s Tyson Goldsack, Jack Darling’s snap gives West Coast the lead back in the final quarter. Photo: GETTY IMAGES

Match Of The Day: Eagles outlast Pies in another classic

Rohan Connolly    

Sometimes you need to listen to history. Particularly when it concerns West Coast, Collingwood and finals.

Before Saturday night in Perth, over nearly three decades, the Eagles and Pies had faced off in six finals. One had ended in a draw, another gone to extra time, and another decided by just two points. Only one finished with a margin of more than 20.

There’s just something about these two sides when they clash. Which is why another tremendous final between them shouldn’t have come as any great surprise.

It was a belter, easily the best of week one. And in the end, it was West Coast which prevailed. But only by 16 points (10 until after the siren). Only after 12 changes of lead and neither side in front by any more than 18 points for the entire game.

Only after two hours or so of genuine fingernail-chewing tension. And only after the Eagles retrieved a dangerous-looking situation with their best quarter of the night when it mattered most.

West Coast dug as deep as it has all season to turn things around. And while it will be little consolation for not going directly through to a preliminary final, Collingwood left nothing on the park, either. Particularly considering find itself behind the eight ball early on.

Travelling teams always want a decent start to take the home crowd out of the equation, particularly in a Perth final. Collingwood didn’t get that.

After a couple of missed opportunities, it was West Coast which struck first, ruckman Nathan Vardy deftly grabbing the ball from a throw-in and snapping over his left shoulder. The Eagles’ pressure was red-hot, as Willie Rioli nailed Josh Thomas in a tackle.

West Coast was taking the marks it needed to create attack, and its small forwards looked dangerous, none more so than Liam Ryan, who bobbed up with the next two goals, a beautiful shot from the 50-metre line, then a snap after he got on the end of a Jack Darling handball. The lead was 18 points and for the Pies, trouble loomed.

Collingwood badly needed a steadier. It came via the agency of Travis Varcoe, somehow fronting up after the tragic loss of his sister Margaret, for whom a pre-match silence was conducted.

Varcoe coolly slotted one on the run from just inside the boundary 50 metres out, a superb piece of skill. Around the same time, the Eagles lost the services of important back man Brad Sheppard with a hamstring strain. And suddenly, fortunes swung wildly.

Including the Varcoe goal, Collingwood would kick seven of the next 10 goals, including the first three of the second term to hit the front, Brody Mihocek, Taylor Adams and Chris Mayne all getting on the scoreboard.

The Magpies began to completely dominate in the middle, where at one stage they’d won eight of nine centre bounces, Brodie Grundy huge in the ruck, Steele Sidebottom superb at the drop of the ball with 10 second-term disposals.

The other important change came in the Collingwood forward line where, early on, as he had in the teams’ round 17 meeting, Eagle key defender Jeremy McGovern was on fire, taking seven marks in the first term alone, consistently peeling off opponent Mihocek.

Collingwood coach Nathan Buckley made McGovern more accountable with a more mobile match-up in Chris Mayne. Instantly, the Pies’ looked more dangerous near goal and McGovern less influential.

Indeed, West Coast’s whole modus operandi was disrupted, the Eagles taking just 11 second-quarter marks after 33 in the first.

It was Jamie Cripps who broke the run of Collingwood goals to get the Eagles back in front, and from there it was goal for goal for the rest of the half, the lead in the second term changing hands on no fewer than seven occasions.

It was the Magpies three points to the good at the long break after Jaidyn Stephenson pounced on an errant McGovern handball for the Pies’ sixth goal of the quarter.

And by the last break, it was Collingwood you would have had your money on. In a pitched battle of a third quarter, the Pies won the clinches, their tackling ferocious, Grundy now dominating the hit-outs, goals to Adams and Thomas the reward, West Coast’s only answer from the previously out-of-sorts Kennedy.

The Eagle spearhead was clearly struggling for touch and confidence after his long lay-off, and against the attentions of an opponent who himself had had a season-long lay-off, Tyson Goldsack.

Come the final break, Kennedy and Jack Darling had managed just three marks inside 50 between them. The deficit was now nine points, and a team which despite most of its efforts this season had still found its fortitude questioned, was now being asked the toughest question of the season.

And the response was emphatic. The old maxim “big men don’t get any shorter” was underlined within seven minutes of the hectic last quarter as Kennedy took a big grab and converted from a tight angle. His partner in crime Darling snapped the next, and West Coast was back in front.

As you’d expect, Collingwood wasn’t going to go quietly. And the Pies were back in front after a nice lead and mark from Jordan de Goey with just under nine minutes remaining. Varcoe looked set to burst through the defences to increase that lead, too, until he slipped at a crucial moment and the Eagles breathed again.

The Pies still led with a tick over five minutes left. But West Coast had worked all season for this hard-won home advantage, and with almost 60,000 roaring themselves hoarse, now made it pay.

Lewis Jetta had copped a critical bucketing for not going hard enough at an earlier contest. He more than made up for it, slipping in between two Collingwood defenders to intercept a handball and snapping on his right to put West Coast in front.

It was the 12th and final lead change of this absorbing contest, but a game still to be made safe. Darling all but did that when he latched on to a hurried kick from Mark LeCras and booted his second of the final term with only three minutes and 40 seconds left.

And the Eagles were already there as only seconds before the siren, a hurried and harried clearing kick from James Aish lobbed up for Jack Redden, outstanding all night on the ball to add a little decoration with the siren already having run and celebrations underway.

A home preliminary final gives West Coast every chance of winning a premiership most will still continue to doubt their capacity to deliver.

Collingwood? Well, the Pies are far from done, and will have the sort of crowd advantage next Saturday at the MCG Richmond took into last year’s preliminary final against GWS. And after this cracker of a contest, to still genuinely be in the hunt is something both of these sides deserve.

WEST COAST 3.3 6.7 7.11 12.14 (86)
COLLINGWOOD 1.3 7.4 9.9 10.10 (70)
GOALS – West Coast: Ryan 2, Darling 2, Kennedy 2, Vardy, Jetta, Sheed, Cripps, Rioli, Redden. Collingwood: Adams 2, De Goey 2, Mihocek 2, Stephenson, Thomas, Varcoe, Mayne.
BEST – West Coast: Yeo, McGovern, Ryan, Jetta, Sheed, Redden. Collingwood: Sidebottom, Goldsack, Adams, Grundy, Treloar, Mihocek.
UMPIRES: Nicholls, Meredith, Harris
CROWD: 59,585 at Optus Stadium

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