You cannot argue with success. The West Coast Eagles entered the AFL in 1987, and have since added four premierships to their trophy case, with their fourth coming in an epic clash against Collingwood this afternoon.
Despite trailing for most of the afternoon, the Eagles peppered the goals in the last quarter, taking the lead with less than two minutes remaining.
Here’s The Mongrel’s good, bad and ugly of the 2018 AFL Grand Final.
The Liam Ryan hit on Brayden Maynard
There are moments in a game when you can see the momentum shift – you can almost feel it. They are times of courage, of superb skill and then there are times when one of your teammates just drops the shoulder into an opponent and lays them the hell out.
In the second quarter, the game went up a notch. After a Magpie rampage in the first 20 minutes of the first quarter, the Eagles battled back to go into the first break down by 17 points. In what was a real arm-wrestle in the second, Liam Ryan took things into his own hands. Brayden Maynard was fed what used to be known as a “hospital” handball. Long and high, it gave Liam Ryan the chance to make the ground between him and Maynard, and when he got there, it spelt trouble.
With hands above his head to retrieve the ball, Maynard was wide open, and Ryan took the opportunity to drop his shoulder into the exposed midsection of the Pie defender. It took the air out of him, and left him gasping for breath on the MCG turf. It was a singular act, but it spoke volumes – the Eagles were willing to mix it up and would not back down.
The feel of the game changed after that moment. Players started to run at each other to make room for a teammate. Bodies started hitting each other harder, and eyes started going off the ball, just for a split second, as things became a little more willing. What that one hit did was change the game – only slightly, but change it nonetheless.
It was an action of a young man who was sure of himself and not afraid to play footy the old fashioned way. Too many times this season I’ve watched players let others off the hook by avoiding actions just like that of Liam Ryan. The diminutive Eagle cleaned Maynard up. It was hard, it was fair, and it was damn good footy. Here’s to more of it – the bump is alive!
Jack Darling’s third quarter
How many people were ready to write Darling off at half time?
At the long break, Darling had been a complete non-factor, with his opponent, Jeremy Howe, arguably amongst the best players on ground at that point. But the third quarter… well, it was now or never for Darling, and he decided it was NOW!
There must have been some demons on his shoulders, whispering in his ears after his last Grand Final failure. What would they have been whispering? You don’t belong in Grand Finals? You’ve got a track record here? Remember how you failed last time?
To see Darling shrug those demons off in the third quarter was so gratifying, and it must have been such a relief for him. He clunked mark after mark as he continually presented as a marking target for the Eagles. With pressure coming from all angles, he rallied to lead all players in contested marks on the day, totalling four. Many will talk about Cox clunking marks in the fourth quarter, and we’ll get to him, but when West Coast needed him, Darling stepped to the fore and proved he did belong, that his track record didn’t matter, and that his failure last time was just that – last time.
Of course, he had a bit of a last quarter flashback when he fumbled a mark in the goal square that would’ve sealed the game, but all’s well that ends well, and after a terrible start, darling righted the ship in the third quarter with the kind of power-marking display the Eagles have wanted from him, and got in the first ten weeks of the season.
Luke Shuey breaks the game open
I want to mention the third quarter again, because it was at this point that not only Darling stepped up, but Luke Shuey as well. He’d already had a big first half, with 18 touches, but exploded for 11 in the third quarter alone.
Shuey made Nathan Buckley regret sending Levi Greenwood to Elliot Yeo (Greenwood did a good job on Yeo, for what it’s worth) by being the most dominant midfielder on the ground. By the time Buckley decided to stop the bleeding, it was like putting a Band-Aid on a bullet wound. Shuey was already in a groove, and Yeo started working into the game.
Shuey had 19 contested touches amongst his 34 disposals, and had an equal game-high nine clearances. Add to that two direct goal assists and eight overall scoring involvements, and you start to get a picture of just how influential Shuey was. He pumped the Eagles inside 50 on eight occasions and worked hard back into defence to provide both run and carry out of defence, as well as consistent pressure, finishing with eight tackles.
Whilst I would’ve been tempted to award the Norm Smith Medal to Mark Hutchings (oh, we’ll get to him – believe me), you can’t deny Shuey’s claim on one of the most prestigious awards in footy. The best player in the biggest game of the year.
Mark F’n Hutchings
Told ya we’d get to him.
In Round 17, Mark Hutchings held Steele Sidebottom to a then-season low 18 touches. His efforts were lauded, and rightfully so. In the Qualifying Final, the tag did not eventuate, and Sidebottom had the influence the Magpies needed. Many wondered why Adam Simpson didn’t repeat the dose, but at the time I theorised that he had the feeling the two teams may meet again in the Grand Final. It’s nice to be right sometimes.
Sidebottom had relatively free rein in the Qualifying final, but today, Hutchings pulled those reins, and Sidebottom didn’t know what to do. He was stopped at every turn, pushed off the ball, harassed and bumped. He had no opportunity to use that creativity he is renowned for, and that was simply because he was given no opportunity at all.
In true Hutchings fashion, he snuck forward in the second quarter and added a kick in the guts to Sidebottom with a goal of his own to draw the Eagles closer. At the end of the second, Sidebottom had just eight touches and zero influence. Mr September was being completely shut down and being hurt on the scoreboard as well.
Unbelievably, Hutchings did not get one vote in the Norm Smith Medal. Seriously, I would’ve given him the three or two at the very least.
I sat in a room with two others watching this game, and at three quarter time, I was asked what I thought would happen in the last quarter. I said that whoever got the first goal should go on and win it. It took 45 seconds of actual game time for Collingwood to slam through two goals.
In truth, that should’ve been it. Mihocek got out the back as McGovern hit the deck on a spoiling attempt, and he slotted the first. That was followed seconds later by de Goey receiving a handball from Will Hoskin-Elliott and slamming through a goal from 50 metres. It brought the house down, and the Collingwood supporter to my left pumped the air with his fist. The game had a definite Collingwood feel to it at that stage, and I started to wonder whether West Coast were up for the challenge.
They were, and then some.
A goal to Nathan Vardy drew them back before Mason Cox extended the lead again. Liam Ryan hit the post for the first of four consecutive Eagle behinds before the amazing kick by Dom Sheed on the boundary split the middle and gave the eagles the lead.
And if you don’t mind, let’s talk about that kick, shall we? How many players would’ve tried to run around, or execute a banana kick at that point of the game? How many wouldn’t have trusted their skills, and the kick they were taught as kids – the drop punt?
Sheed almost played on before going back, lining up and guiding the ball through beautifully. It was head-dropping stuff for the Magpies, and threw the challenge squarely back at them.
But there was nothing left in the Magpies. Even a dropped mark to Jack Darling couldn’t provide them with the opportunity to fire back. They were spent, and as they booted the ball out of their defence, it was Luke Shuey marking the ball.
The Eagles showed plenty today. They showed plenty all year, but many segments of the media refused to acknowledge them as a contender. Now they have no choice. West Coast answered every challenge the Pies, and season 2018 threw at them. They smashed the Tigers and beat their Grand Final opponents on three occasions.
The media may not have wanted to acknowledge them as contenders, but they have no option but to acknowledge them as champions.
Credit where it’s due; Chris Mayne proved a lot of people wrong this season.
He was looked at as an abject failure last season – a bust. Many thought him as a man who no longer belonged on an AFL list, but credit to Mayne – he worked hard and came back this season looking like a changed player.
Leaner and more agile, he was a valuable contributor to the Pies all year. It wasn’t possessions that hurt today; it was his tackling. He threw himself into his role, registering 14 tackles for the game. This is the third highest amount in AFL history, behind only Jimmy Bartel in 2009, and Ryan O’Keefe in 2012.
Barrass v Cox
I have a feeling it was only an inspired second half from Mason Cox that prevented a young man named Tom Barrass from walking away with the Norm Smith Medal.
Whilst a lot of the defensive credit will go to Jeremy McGovern, it was the ability of Tom Barrass to fly and contest with a man who is basically a telephone pole with arms and legs that enabled the Eagles to clear the defensive zone time and time again.
Barrass’ ability to time his leap, and thump the ball away from the fully outstretched American was outstanding, and he did was able to render his huge opponent absolutely useless for the entire first half.
Cox broke the shackles in the third and registered his first goal and picked up how work rate in the last quarter. At one stage, it looked as though Cox may end up the match winner. He clunked several contested marks and looked somewhat like the player he was against Richmond just a week ago.
But it wasn’t enough. Barrass was supreme across half back for most of the game. He had 17 touches and nine intercept possessions. More importantly, he had 13 one-percenters for the game, with some spectacular defensive leaps at the ball to thwart Cox.
The runner up in the Norm Smith Medal has had a brilliant season, particularly after the injury to Adam Treloar. It was as though he was given permission to be Taylor Adams at that point, and he relished it.
He was the best Pie on the park this afternoon, almost matching the output of Shuey.
Adams had 19 contested touches, equal game-high with the Norm Smith Medallist, and added nine clearances as well. With Sidebottom and Pendlebury both down, the Pies needed a lift, and it was their new breed providing it. Adams, Treloar, Crisp and Langdon were amongst Collingwood’s best on the day, and in truth they really needed more from the senior players.
Look for a feature from us on this bloke in the coming week.
At just over 100 games, have a look at what he’s achieved. Record numbers of intercept marks, three times an All-Australian, now a premiership player and could’ve very easily been a Norm Smith Medallist today.
I want to touch on the one passage of play that made the difference in the game. Yes, it was Dom Sheed marking and kicking the goal. Yes it was a cracking mark by Liam Ryan at half forward as the link in the chain, but it was the defensive prowess, the ability to read the play, and the hands of steel of McGovern that started it all.
As the ball went long into the Collingwood forward line, a goal would’ve put the result beyond doubt. McGovern wasn’t having it. He left his man to attack the contest, got a run at the ball and rose into the air to clunk a wonderful intercept mark. It was his decision and ability to execute aerially that allowed the Eagles the chance to counter-punch and score the match-winner.
Many will look at the game of Sheed and applaud it – and rightfully so. Many will look back at the mark of Liam Ryan at half forward, which was absolutely brilliant. Many will focus on Dom Sheed threading a goal from the boundary to put the Eagles in front, but none of that happens, and perhaps the entire result changes without McGovern backing himself, making the contest and clunking that mark.
I don’t think it’s a stretch at all to say that Jeremy McGovern saved that game for the West Coast Eagles, and is putting together the kind of career that may see him go down as one of the greatest defenders the game has seen.
The Two Headed Monster
And for the second week in a row, the weak spot of the Eagles becomes their strength. Scott Lycett and Nathan Vardy will never dominate a game individually. It just won’t happen, but together… well, together they have put the brakes on both All-Australian ruckmen.
They combined to combat the influence of Max Gawn last week, and did it again this week against Brodie Grundy.
I’m an unashamed Grundy fan. I love his work ethic and his second efforts, but simply put, apart from some nice taps to advantage, he was beaten around the ground by the Lycett/Vardy combination.
Grundy was restricted to just 10 touches for the game; all contested, which meant he did not get involved in the Magpie handball chains around the ground the way he usually does. In contrast, Lycett, and in particular Vardy, stepped to the fore late in the game to stamp their authority on the contest.
Vardy’s intercept marks allowed for repeated Eagle attacks, like waves crashing against a slowly eroding cliff face. Eventually, the cliff wore away and the West Coast wave washed over the Pies. Without the two-headed monster to combat Grundy, things may have been vastly different, but as it stands, they claimed to huge scalps in successive weeks.
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Steele Sidebottom’s season low
They called him Mr September, and they gave him the Gary Ayres Medal for being the best player in this finals series, but on the last day of the season he was completely blanketed.
They say it’s hard to stop a guy who plays mostly outside, and in the Qualifying Final, Hutchings didn’t lock down on Sidebottom. The result was an incredibly influential Sidebottom having 27 touches.
It wasn’t going to happen again.
Sidebottom simply could not get his hands on it. Averaging 33 touches per game in this finals series, maybe he was due for a bad one? But to have his season-low disposals in the biggest game of the year… maybe he thought it was already October? Because he should probably shed that title of Mr September after this performance.
People have been praising Sidebottom for the past month, and deservedly so, but when you take the credit, you’ve got to cop the whack as well. Today he deserves the whack – he was terrible. Overshadowed by Hutchings in the middle, and beaten by Schofield up forward, Sidey could not buy a win anywhere.
This will be a very long off-season for Sidebottom. We’ve already heard about the Grand Final demons that have haunted both Elliot Yeo and Jack Darling. Both those men went a fair way to exorcising them today, but Grand Finals are a funny beast. As one demon is exorcised, another gains power, and sitting on the shoulder of Steele Sidebottom, should he ever get back to the big dance, will be a little demon, whispering doubts into his ear.
I hope he gets the chance to exorcise it as Darling and Yeo did today.
Taylor Adams’ kick out of defence
Many will look at the Collingwood runner getting in the way and blame him for Elliot Yeo getting on the end of the Taylor Adams kick out of defensive 50 in the third quarter. I’d have to stop them right there.
I don’t think Stephenson could’ve made that contest even with a clear run at it. Adams’ kick was terrible – a coach killer, a Grand Final dream destroyer. In a low-scoring game, giving a class player like Yeo a clean shot from 50 metres is a cardinal sin, but that’s exactly what he did. Yeo had struggled to get into the game, and Adams didn’t just provide the opportunity to have a big impact on the contest – he practically rolled out the red carpet and invited him.
Yeo marked, went back and slotted a huge goal in the context of the game from 55 metres. It gave the Eagles their first lead of the game and instilled belief.
And it should not have happened. I have been a big supporter of Adams this season, as you can see from his appearance in the “good” section above, but kicks like that have long been a criticism of his game. He gave whatever detractors he has some more ammunition today, and it cost his team. Cost his team very dearly.
Leapin’ Liam pulls out
Yeah not a lot was made of this, and his positives far outweighed his negatives, but it takes a lot of guts to run with the flight of the ball and take a mark. You put your body on the line and you commit to the contest… only Liam Ryan kind of didn’t late in the third quarter.
He did the hard stuff – he made the contest and got both hands to the ball, but it was as though he tried to avoid any impending body contact at the same time, and you just can’t do that. By not body-lining the ball, he dropped the mark, and it was only due to the follow up by teammates that the ball was cleared.
When you are happy to dish it out, you can’t shirk it when your turn comes. He got Maynard down the middle early in the game, and perhaps he feared some form of retribution at that stage of the game, but the fact remains he didn’t commit as completely as he should have. In a game packed with great Ryan moments, this one wasn’t so great.
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What a game by Will Schofield. When I saw that he was going to go one-on-one with Jordan de Goey, I legitimately thought he was in awful trouble, but aside from flashes of brilliance, de Goey could not wield the same influence he had against the Tiger defenders last week. Schofield’s timely spoils, and body strength to match de Goey were pivotal.
Travis Varcoe kicking the first goal… great story. Love that he had his sister’s name on the taping on his arm, but it always makes me feel horrible that here was a guy playing for the memory of his sister, and he lost…
Josh Kennedy started really poorly. His miss, and then failure to call Venables back into the mark in the first quarter meant that he played a direct hand in squandering both their early forward thrusts. He got better, obviously, but it was a very shaky start.
Speaking of shaky starts, it looked for the first 20 minutes as though Richmond had pulled on West Coast jumpers and were replicating the Preliminary Final. As the scoreboard read 30-2, it was almost the same scenario Richmond found themselves in against the Pies last week. Credit to the Eagles- they fought back from the place Richmond could not.
I was really surprised to see no one crash into the back of Jeremy McGovern as he backed into the path of the Collingwood forwards to take his first intercept mark in the first quarter. When a bloke come in injured, and opens himself up like that, you hit him! Mason Cox was best positioned to ram a knee right into his back and see just how sore he was. Instead, Gov marked unopposed and the Eagles cleared. Opportunity missed, and given the role he played late, you reckon the Pies may want that opportunity over again?
Kennedy’s unpaid mark on the wing in the first quarter was ridiculous. Even Goldsack stopped, conceding the mark. Looked like a clear mark to me.
What a start to the Rising Star Jaidyn Stephenson, but how quickly did he drop out of the game? He had a huge first quarter, with two goals and didn’t add to it after the break. As a matter of fact, he hardly touched it after quarter time.
Just want to highlight how good Shannon Hurn was in preventing the speedy Stephenson from getting past him and running in to kick another goal in the first quarter. Hurn’s use of the body, and ability to stall everything until the cavalry arrived was excellent. The ball came out to Josh Thomas, but a great McGovern tackle took him down to claim a holding the ball free kick.
I absolutely loved de Goey’s first goal. Breaking tackles, running around on the angle… this is what makes him a superstar in the making.
Collingwood were extremely patient and determined not to bomb the ball long to where McGovern waited to intercept. Their patience paid off in the first when their chip-around game saw Will Hoskin-Elliott mark and goal.
Not sure I’ve ever seem Elliot Yeo as frustrated as I saw him in the first half today. He did not like the attention he was receiving from Levi Greenwood, but it also struck me that other Magpies were relishing the chance to rough Yeo up when the opportunity arose.
Sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good. That’d have to be the case in regards to Willie Rioli’s first goal for the Eagles. It looked as though it inadvertently hit both boots as it rolled towards goal.
I though Kennedy was pretty lucky to be awarded his mark inside 50 late in the first quarter. It looked to me like Goldsack got a clean fist to it before JK brought it to ground. Of course, this may have been a square-up for the mark he was robbed of on the wing earlier.
The second quarter was a complete stalemate for a good 15 minutes. Good, hard footy, but no team able to snatch the ascendancy.
Really loved Shuey’s determination to extract the ball with what looked to be half the Collingwood team hanging off him early in the second. So many players would’ve settled for the stoppage, but Shuey did what he had no right to do and just powered out of what looked to be a certain dead-ball stoppage, and released to a teammate.
Spinning out of trouble really didn’t work for anyone today. Both Rioli and Darling were caught holding the ball trying some kind of spin moves in the second quarter. That sort of stuff does not fly in Grand Finals.
On Schofield again – his hip and shoulder, and desperation to force the ball through for a behind in the second quarter was excellent. He was trailing Brodie Mihocek back to the goal square but drew even, bumped him over and knocked the ball through – Grand Final footy, right there.
Line-ball decision with Howe looking like he half dragged the ball in at the top of the goal square, with Cripps straddling him like in this movie I once accidentally watched on my phone… a few times.
Was it just me, or did Brodie Grundy give Jack Redden the old Collingwood kiss (head-butt) after tackling him in the second quarter?
Best on ground in the first half? Tom Langdon. His intercept marking and desperation in the Collingwood defence was far and away the best I’ve seen him play all year. He’s out of contract, too everyone.
You could really notice the momentum shift in the second quarter. I’m just speculating here, but was it the Liam Ryan bump on Maynard that started the ball rolling the Eagles’ way?
Never thought I’d say this, but Mason Cox looked like the guy who might get the Pies over the line in the second half. I used to hear basketball coaches say “little guys get tired, but big guys don’t get any shorter”, and that was apparent this afternoon.
Rioli’s smother with his back whilst running out of the protected zone – sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good.
The goal-for-goal nature of the third quarter made for some excellent viewing. Both teams were just slugging it out here. Cox, Cripps, Adams and Darling trading goals had me glued to my seat.
Lycett’s miss in the third could’ve been costly. After a Darling mark at 55, his pass to Lycett 30 out was perfect, and really exposed Grundy sagging off to help out in the square. It was really intelligent ball-use by Darling, who knew Grundy would want to get back to help out deep, and if he’s gonna do that, why not make use of his man? Pity Lycett couldn’t convert.
Josh Thomas had three behinds in the third quarter… ouch. Official score says two, but one was punched through and was obviously counted as rushed. Had a chance to make an impact – didn’t.
Don’t really know how the umps missed Cox tackling Shuey around the throat… one of the more obvious free kicks of the day.
Two goals in 45 seconds of game time looked like the Pies might run away with the game early in the last. Grundy’s tap work to get the ball moving the Pies’ way was excellent on both occasions. Vardy’s immediate answering goal was so important.
Buckley moving Jordan de Goey into the middle looked like a little bit of a strange one at that stage of the game. I guess with Sidebottom going forward after being comprehensively beaten, the Pies couldn’t have both him and de Goey down there. In one-on-one contests for the game, I’m not sure either of them had a win against Schofield.
West Coast should really opt for one of their tall guys on the mark when Cox kicks for goal. Sometimes it looks as though his kicks don’t travel much above head height, but they seem to work for him.
In an indication that pressure can get to anyone, Scott Pendlebury’s kick out of defence that went out on the full was so… Un-Pendelbury-like.
The Pies looked a little cooked in the last. Some of their defensive 50 exits were just hit-and-hope kind of disposals. Vardy and Yeo just ate a few of them up and spat them right back inside 50. 63-48 inside 50 count for the game in favour of the Eagles, but I reckon the last quarter count would be hugely in their favour.
Only one 50 metre penalty for the game, and it was an obvious one against Mihocek. I’m in two minds as to whether it was at all wise to try to hold things up and allow the defence to set up, or whether it was a boneheaded move to drag Cole down. I’m leaning towards the latter, but am happy to be corrected.
The amount of misses the Eagles had in what was a one-kick game at that point… they kind of wasted their inside 50 dominance in the Last. Two misses to Ryan, Cole and Hutchings not even scoring, Masten missing and Kennedy’s shot from 50 punched through – any one of them give the Eagles the lead.
McGovern’s spoil on de Goey late in the game was a contest killer. He didn’t just punch the ball – he took the body of de Goey and made sure that contest was dead the moment he impacted it.
We spoke of the Eagles misses, but how about the Pies. Consecutive misses to Cox (no score) and Adams (out on the full) could’ve iced the game. I thought Adams’ snap in particular was a genuine chance.
Goldsack was largely led a dance by Kennedy, and therefore didn’t seem to do much, but his spoil on Ryan at half forward was wonderful.
2015 flashback award goes to Jack Darling for his fumbling, bumbling effort with a minute to go in the game. If he marks that, he kills 30 seconds to take his shot and the eagles extend that lead right out. Instead, it took Luke Shuey to mark a poor kick in to settle things down.
When you look at it, the Eagles had five more scoring shots and won by five points – can’t argue with that. Despite giving up a 29 point lead early, they battled back and the better team won.
If I’m looking at the five best players for the game…
Mark Hutchings – Did the biggest job in the biggest game of the year
Luke Shuey – Complete midfielder’s game
Jeremy McGovern – Amazing defender. A brick shed with legs and good timing
Taylor Adams – Tried his guts out in the midfield, carrying a team let down by seasoned campaigners
Will Schofield – If he was beaten one-on-one, I’d like it pointed out. I can’t remember it.
And if forced to name the worst five…
Josh Thomas – Blew chances when the game was there to win
Steele Sidebottom – Mr Septem… nah
Scott Pendlebury – Needed to lead. Didn’t.
Mark LeCras – Went missing for way too long at times
Brodie Grundy – I’m a fan, but I expected so much more from him today.
So, where to now?
The Pies will lick their wounds and be hungrier due to this failure. The game was theirs for the taking, but the inability of their leaders to influence the game will be a sore point for their supporters. I was thinking that it may be time for Pendlebury to step down as Captain and allow some new blood to lead the team, but after today, and particularly after Steele Sidebottom’s disappearing act, maybe I was wrong. Could it be time for a Taylor Adams to put his hand up? Treloar? Grundy? Sidebottom had a great finals overall, but you want your leaders standing up in the big games… they don’t get much bigger than this.
And the Eagles – my hope is that the back-to-back talk doesn’t become stupidly rampant like it did with Richmond this season. They are a fantastic team that overcame the sort of adversity that would see other teams fall back to the pack. Nic Nat and Gaff being out, Sheppard getting hurt at the second to last hurdle… they had mountains of their own to climb this season, and climb them they did.
West Coast now sit atop the AFL. Their fourth premiership might just be their most unlikely, but certainly no less satisfying than any of the previous three. What a privilege it has been to cover them this season, and I look forward to doing it again next season.
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