Life’s tough isn’t it? When your team’s only winning by 4 goals instead of 12?
As the final quarter of last weekend’s hard-fought match against a resurgent Carlton wound down, the more entitled West Coast fans were quick as ever to fire up on social media:
“Another missed opportunity, should have won by 10 goals!”
“Prime opportunity for some much-needed percentage, lift your game boys!”
Of course those were just a couple of highlighted comments, and down the line you were (hopefully) likely to find more reasonable views. People comfortable in the knowledge the Eagles had banked another four points against a young and incredibly talented Blues outfit playing with plenty of belief under caretaker coach, David Teague (seriously, you’re mad if you’re not putting that playing list in top eight contention next year).
Indeed one of the most common complaints leveled at the reigning premiers in 2019 has been their inability to fully bury their opponents, as though cruising to victory by a few goals most weekends isn’t a problem any AFL club would love to have.
However, I’ll put it to you that a) the final ladder positions are going to be decided by the amounts of wins and losses the top teams have achieved, not percentage, and b) this is exactly what coach Adam Simpson wants.
Alright I know you probably just scoffed so loudly at point a) you’re neighbour had to ask you to turn it down, but when we get so obsessed with the minutia of the AFL these days, sometimes you just gotta take the path most obvious…
“Hey boys, if we win these next four games, we end up top two and get a home final first up,” is a wonderfully straight forward and simplistic message to be putting to your players, especially in a game that’s becoming increasingly stats-focused and complicated.
And since the one-two punch of Port Adelaide and Geelong striking some heavy blows back in Rounds Five and Six, it’s a mantra the West Coast Eagles have stuck to better than just about any other team, with little fanfare, as per usual.
As someone who consumes to a lot of sports radio/panel shows, I feel like I have a pretty good gauge on the “premiership conversation” as it were, and much like last year, the Eagles don’t really seem to be registering.
Heck a couple of weeks ago, listening to numerous respected commentators, it felt like the Western Bulldogs had a better chance of repeating their historic 2016 victory than West Coast going back-to-back. All the talk was about their brand of football and how team would not want to run into them in September. The problem being that the Dogs were games out of the eight with a tough run home.
But everyone loves a Cinderella story, right? Much like Melbourne in 2018 until the West Coast Eagles closed the book on what turned out to be a very unhappy ending.
And now, as the old bodies of Geelong begin to feel the pinch of a long season and Collingwood succumb to a horrendous injury list, the experts almost give you the feeling that it’s Richmond or Brisbane’s premiership to lose.
Don’t get me wrong, Brisbane’s rapid rise up the ladder in 2019 has been spectacular (that Round One demolition of the Eagles proving so telling as to how they’d fare this year), but it’s also been on the back of a handy draw. And this, combined with a free flowing game style that’s careening straight towards a tough, dogged finals football-style shirtfront come September, is definitely something to consider.
Much like West Coast’s tough finals lessons in 2015, the Lions will be much better for the run, and will be a massive threat in 2020.
Richmond, having been written off early in 2019 thanks to a horror run of injuries, now find themselves the second most likely team to make the GF this year after the Eagles (who woulda thunk the bookies are the only ones who know what’s up?).
But commentary surrounding the team and the “will he or won’t he” drama of Alex Rance’s potential return has many pegging a 2017 repeat down at Tigerland.
And look, it’s hard to argue with their recent run of form, aided strongly by a host of returning key players and if we’re being honest, a few lesser opponents. Their handy run of home games to finish the season (and potentially straight through to the GF), also make a good case as to why the Tigers are such serious contenders.
All of this is occurring while Adam Simpson’s men quietly go about their business of notching wins both home and away, not buying into percentage talk and once again sitting second on the ladder as September lurks just around the corner.
I’m not suggesting the West Coast Eagles are actively trying to cruise home in games (it’s far too dumb and dangerous a practice for someone as smart as Simpson), but there’s a terrifying extra gear consistently bubbling just below the surface at West Coast. We saw glimpses of it against the Blues, and the Eagles put their foot down and things clicked, aiding them in establishing what would turn out to be a match-winning lead.
And I get the feeling it’s a gear the Eagles will only use as finals approaches, with an on-paper team that already stands a Gaff and Sheppard above last year’s.
Then you add the rest of the pieces of the puzzle, like:
– Tom Hickey’s maturation over the second half of the year in Nic Nat’s absence,
– 2018 first year players like Ryan and Rioli growing in stature each and every game,
– Jack Darling becoming arguably the comp’s premier centre half forward,
– Barrass, McGovern, Hurn and Sheppard (!) down back…
I really don’t see how you can make a case for anyone besides the Eagles as rampaging favourites to go back-to-back premiers in 2019.
But hey, no one else really seems to thinks so.
You get the feeling Adam Simpson wouldn’t have it any other way.