Western Derby 49: The Reunion.

The last time these teams met in a Derby, the football world gasped a collective sigh of disbelief as vision of Andrew Gaff striking Andrew Brayshaw flush in the mouth was aired across the country. The Gaff incident generated furious debate on many issues in our great game – red cards, hefty suspensions and even jail time were thrown around as potential remedies to stamp out any future incidents which could draw comparison to the Eagles wingman’s strike.

Fast-forward seven months and a hell of a lot of things have happened

Gaff paid his dues by copping and accepting an eight game suspension

The West Coast Eagles won the Premiership with Andrew Gaff a mere spectator

Andrew Brayshaw required and received extensive dental surgery to repair the injuries inflicted by Gaff’s punch

Andrew Gaff re-signed with the Eagles, putting to bed huge speculation that he was heading back to his home state of Victoria

And… just four weeks ago, Andrew Gaff and Andrew Brayshaw met in a JLT match, stared each other in the eye, shook hands and seemingly ended the build-up of any bad blood between the pair.

In his return game against the Pies, Gaff showed he hadn’t lost any of his skill with a masterful performance, racking up 35 possessions and dominating the Collingwood midfield.

Brayshaw and the Dockers haven’t been too shabby either, with the men in purple posting two victories in the first three rounds.

It’s fair to say that this Saturday night’s clash, between two clubs bound by a common hate toward the other, is set to be a mouthwatering affair.

The Eagles looked like they were back to their best against the Pies, the Dockers scraped over the line against the Saints. With both sides entering round four with two wins and a loss on the board, there is everything to play for.

The Mongrel looks at the crucial match-ups, coaching tactics and other stuff that will decide the first Western Derby for 2019.


Crucial match-ups

Jeremy McGovern v Luke Ryan

The football fraternity is well aware of the damaging impact the Eagles Jeremy McGovern can have on a contest, but the emergence of Docker Luke Ryan as a defensive beast has been rapid and somewhat surprising.

The aerial abilities of both men have been on show in the first three rounds of the season. McGovern has continued to play his trademark intercept marking role, and has been mostly camped off his team’s backline, whereas Ryan has added a more penetrative element to his role. Derby’s traditionally either yield scrappy affairs or free-flowing contests, both of which require strong defensive output to generate scoring opportunities. Luke Ryan will be hoping Alex Pierce, Nathan Wilson and Joel Hamling take care of the Eagles three key scoring threats in Josh Kennedy, Jack Darling and Liam Ryan. For the Dockers to be a chance, their defensive lynchpin will need to use his booming kick and run and carry ability to drive them forward at a pace to put their opponents under the pump.

All the Eagles will be requiring from McGovern is another consistent performance, where the big man peels off on his opponents and chops off the footy before it can reach dangerous scoring areas. Either way, it will be intriguing to see how each team counters the imminent threats Ryan and McGovern pose.

Will the Eagles apply a hard forward tag to Ryan as a means of limiting his dash and dare? Will the Dockers assign a small forward to McGovern to pressure the Eagle in order to limit his influence? I guess we’ll have to wait and see.


Andrew Gaff v Brad Hill

Two running machines that are bound to lap up the 6-6-6 zones mandated at the start of this season. Hill has started his 2019 campaign well, getting a heap of the footy in the first three rounds. However, the ex-Hawk will need to be at his effective best for the Dockers midfield to thrive. It’s all well and good accumulating plenty of possessions, but it is another thing to use them with efficiency and purpose. I’d like to see Hill continue to drive the ball long and play with flare – this is the type of footy which can expose an Eagles defensive unit that loves slow entries inside 50.

For Andrew Gaff, his comeback game against the Pies last Saturday night was simply sublime. 35 touches and effective disposals at that. When Gaff delivers, the Eagles generally win. In fact, the Eagles midfield looks so much cleaner with the wingman in their side. The Dockers need to quell his outside run and clearance work to stand a chance in the midfield battle. Meanwhile, Gaff will be bargaining on a free reign to allow him to win the ball at will and use it with damaging effect.

Is Gaff the man the Dockers target in terms of a specific tag? He wouldn’t be a bad choice, but they’ll also have to be weary of Dom Sheed’s growing influence, with the premiership hero taking his game to the next level in recent matches.

Expect a great dual between Bradley Hill and Andrew Gaff, expect both to rack up possessions aplenty, too.


Jack Darling v Jesse Hogan

Key forwards for either team, I feel as if both Jack Darling and Jesse Hogan haven’t yet reached their full footballing potential. Hogan, more so, for a variety of reasons, but Darling can still elevate his game. Can one these players have a stand out game in a big match? Can Darling kick a bag of goals and clinch a dozen marks? Can Hogan prove his doubters wrong and come good when the Dockers need him most?

Darling will certainly benefit from the recent return of Josh Kennedy. It means the Dockers backline will be susceptible while applying pressure on the former Coleman Medalist, potentially leaving Darling with open space to work with.

Meanwhile, Hogan has underperformed in his first two matches with his new side and the Eagles may have a tendency to let the power forward fly under their radar. If the Dockers win this game, expect to see Jesse Hogan’s name under the best players list. Similarly, if the Eagles prevail, Jack Darling’s name will likely come up in the mix of strong performers.

Adam Simpson v Ross Lyon

I would have given this dual the title of “master v apprentice,” but that would be unjust after Adam Simpson led his charges to Premiership success last season. It seems as if Ross the Boss has had his colours lowered in the coaching ranks after a long period of meager results with his Fremantle side. It’s a far cry from the early stages of his coaching career which included him guiding the Saints to consecutive Grand Final appearances as well as the Dockers to their first GF match in 2013.

While Simpson has bragging rights in terms of actually coaching a team to the ultimate glo
ry, Ross Lyon’s expertise as a senior coach can’t be ignored. Lyon has a way of making his players respond with gusto in the face of attrition.

The Dockers surged to a Grand Final berth in 2013 on the back of Lyon’s craftiness in his coaching. Can Lyon produce the goods against a hungry West Coast side, or has his defensive style become too outdated? Is Adam Simpson the superior footballing manager?


How can the coaches guide their respective teams to Derby success?


Ross Lyon needs to:

Promote an aggressive brand of football: the Dockers have a huge pool of young talent who bring fresh legs and their coach needs to let them run free. The conservative mantra of the Ross Lyon coaching methodology doesn’t suit the modern game, nor will it be of benefit if Freo want to stand a chance against the reigning premier. Lyon needs to stack his midfield with hard runners and isolate either Jesse Hogan or Cameron McCarthy in the full-forward position, a clear way to break the game open and put the Eagles defensive lines on edge.

Apply a hard tag on one of the Eagles gun midfielders: from Luke Shuey to Andrew Gaff and Dom Sheed, West Coast has an on-ball unit that oozes class. In a big game Derby, clearances and inside ball domination will be key. Ross Lyon has, at times, tended to avoid opting for one of his players to fill the role of clamping down on an opposition star, particularly since Ryan Crowley waved goodbye. He’ll need to change his ways in this match for Freo to potentially give the blue and gold the old heave ho.

Go with two ruckmen: the Eagles have started their year with Nathan Vardy and Tom Hickey gracing the park together, and the pair have been incredibly influential in the balancing the hit-outs stocks along with forward pressure. Rory Lobb needs to be able to spend good periods of the contest forward of centre. His contested marking ability is terrific and could be a crucial asset against an Eagles team who have brilliant marking talent in their own right. If Sean Darcy is fit, it is vital that Ross has no hesitation in bringing the big man straight back in to the team.


Adam Simpson needs to:

Balance his forward-line: While Josh Kennedy’s return to the side was timely and indeed helpful in the Eagles win over the Pies, it also shed light on the importance of not going too tall in attack. Kennedy, Darling and Allen may look good on paper, but the triple threat of key forwards could spell trouble for the Eagles if ball transition is hampered by the Dockers in the midfield trenches. Jamie Cripps booted four goals last week, edging forward to poach snags at will as the tall forwards forced the ball to ground in marking contests. Again, Simpson will need to ensure he has the armory of smaller forwards weaving in and out of attack to help hit the scoreboard if the likes of Darling and Kennedy are being tightly checked or simply aren’t firing. Liam Ryan… your time is now.

Put a clamp on Michael Walters: the Dockers small forward has gone from strength to strength in recent years, and proved the difference in his teams triumph over the Saints last week, collecting 27 touches and 2 goals. Adam Simpson may be tempted to give Mark Hutchings the job of nullifying his influence. Walters game is similar to that of Steele Sidebottom – he gets plenty of the ball, uses it cleanly and also boots goals from tight angles for fun. Eagles fans (and Pies fans…) know all too well what Hutchings has done to Sidebottom in recent times. If he can do the same to Walters, Freo will find it hard to generate enough scoring opportunities to be competitive.

Get the ball moving… quickly: the Eagles are lethal and can cut opposition teams open when they play the quick transition game. We saw glimpses of the approach last week, Lewis Jetta and Shannon Hurn sending the ball with great penetration from the backline to create quick transition passages of play. With the 6-6-6 zone in full effect, the Eagles can capitalise on playing a free flowing brand of football, and such a style can help them put the game to bed by half time. Simpson will be bargaining on his backs to pump the ball long from full back and in quick time after a behind as well.


Other stuff


No Nat Fyfe

Nobody ever likes to see injuries in sport, and Nat Fyfe’s horrible head knock against the Saints was hard to stomach. At the end of the day, the medical staff at Dockers HQ, and Fyfe himself, had the final call on whether their captain would lace up and play this Saturday, and they opted for him to miss.

It was a wise move. As tempting as it must have been for them to try everything, and for Fyfe to take every minute he could to get himself right, the former Brownlow winner’s health and wellbeing are of the utmost importance. Next week’s game will be worth four points as well – this one just feels like it’s worth more.


Home-ground advantage

West Coast will play hosts against the Dockers, and the home-ground advantage of a Western Derby is certainly beneficial. It’s more advantageous when you consider the atmosphere and form the Eagles have forged at Optus Stadium. For the Dockers to win, they’ll need to silence the crowd early by kicking a couple of goals to get the contest running.

This will also mitigate the expected boos Andrew Gaff would receive if this was a Fremantle home fixture. Expect Gaff to be roundly cheered every time he touches the ball in front of his adoring home crowd. It’ll be a vastly different story the next time they meet.


Eddie everywhere

Eddie McGuire is heading west as part of the TV commentary team. Wait, what, Eddie McGuire is leaving Melbourne?? Yes, it’s true, and many people aren’t too happy about it. I’m not a huge Eddie McGuire fan myself, but his comments regarding WA football trumping the newly opened Optus Stadium to eastern states fans rang true. If the Western Australian Football Commission, along with the Eagles and Dockers bound together to encourage travelling teams fans to attend games at Optus Stadium, then they could seriously make some good dollars to invest into the game. Perth is a lovely city, the Stadium is a masterpiece itself. Why wouldn’t fans want to head west for a game of AFL?


Final thoughts: who wins?

On paper the Eagles should win comfortably, but the Western Derby always throws up surprises of all sorts. I’m expecting a tight first half, with contested ball at the forefront. The third quarter should see West Coast seize control and run over the top of a Dockers team who simply lack the experience and depth of their opponents. And Fyfe out hurts.

Prediction: Eagles by 37 points.


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