If the rest of the competition were watching the West Coast Eagles run roughshod over Collingwood, some worried glances would’ve been exchanged.
Just a month ago, the 2018 premiers looked like they were on the mat. Sitting in the Queensland hub, West Coast looked like a team that had forgotten who they were. They played listlessly, allowing teams of lesser talent to simply outwork them.
However, back at home after knocking over Sydney and Adelaide, the Eagles handles the Dockers before facing what loomed as a massive test – Collingwood.
Let’s face it; in beating Adelaide, Sydney and Freo, the Eagles got back on track, but the opposition was somewhat lacking. This week they faced a team with premiership aspirations of their own.
And they turned it on to remind people just how good this team is.
Names like Kennedy up forward, Naitanui, Yeo and Gaff running riot in the middle, and a high-profile recruit turned in his most impressive performance yet.
It was a massacre.
After going down by 20 points early, West Coast powered back into the game and smashed the Magpies both in the clearances and around the ground in one of the best team performances of the season.
Concerned glances… nervous shifting in their chairs… the other teams eyeing off a run into this season’s AFL finals were forced to sit up and take notice today. Hub life is a thing of the past. This is the West Coast Eagles we expected this season.
Here’s The Mongrel’s good, bad and ugly.
THE OLD BLOKE WITH THE BEARD
So, was there a bit of a groundswell about Josh Kennedy being dropped a few weeks ago?
Playing in slippery conditions, the man now sitting second in the Coleman Medal race wasn’t quite looking like the imposing figure we’ve become accustomed to seeing over the last decade. He was looking slow, out of sorts and like a man clearly missing home.
He was forming a pairing with Jack Darling that looked like one of the most highly-rated and lowly-performing power forward duos in recent memory.
However, over the past three weeks, Kennedy has worked his way into form, and this afternoon he exploded to bag seven goals straight in a masterful display of forward craft.
He took contested marks, led brilliantly and kicked like a man that could not miss.
Those who wrote the Eagles and Kennedy off would be a little quieter this evening. Hell, he was even able to elbow people in the mouth and get a free kick for the guy grabbing at him as he hit the deck! Things clicked for JJK today, and with the Eagles finding their groove, we would most probably have a new favourite to take out the Coleman Medal this season.
THE NEW BLOKE WITH THE TATTS
Tim Kelly has been building toward this kind of game, and in a contest that saw plenty of pressure applied by both teams in the first half, his ability to take the ball cleanly both in the contest and on the outside was absolutely elite.
But as good as those aspects of his game were, the one that stood out most was his excellent delivery.
Kelly was looked at by many as the icing on a cake that was already pretty bloody tasty. His years at Geelong were incredible, and having him come home to play in blue and gold was supposed to set the West Coast midfield alight.
But things have a habit of scuttling plans, don’t they? What’s the old saying – man makes plans, and God laughs? It hasn’t been a glorious return. Not yet. But it’s starting to look a lot better.
Kelly was handy against Fremantle last week, notching 18 touches, but that performance paled in comparison to the carnage he caused in this one. From his 30 touches, he hit the target 27 times. He had three direct goal assists amongst his ten score involvements and six clearances indicated that his connection with Nic Naitanui is right about where it should be at the moment.
Working against a high-quality midfield, albeit one missing its own Rolls Royce, Kelly was a maestro with the ball in hand, bringing his teammates into the game with a clinical precision and rewarding those who have stuck fat with the team by providing a scintillating display of footballing class.
Tim Kelly gave a glimpse into what is possible this week. With him playing the inside/outside role, the Eagles looked brilliant, and as we turn for the second half of this weird season, we may just be ready to see the former Cat make his presence felt in West Australia.
THE BIG GUY WITH THE DREADS
I’ll put this out there so that people don’t think this is just a West Coast arse-kissing exercise. I thought the actual matchup between Nic Naitanui and Brodie Grundy was relatively even in terms of what they were producing in the first half.
Whilst Nic Nat was able to sneak forward and kick a goal in the first quarter, that was probably the big difference between them.
But the second half saw the kind of brilliance in the ruck from Naitanui that makes him so revered by the Eagles faithful. Whenever the big man found himself matched up on anyone other than Grundy, you could see him licking his lips – it was time to feast.
His delivery to Shuey, Yeo and Tim Kelly made for a 32-24 clearance advantage, but what was just as impressive as his classy ruck taps was his ability to stifle the normally-prolific Grundy at ground level.
Naitanui is never going to rack up 20+ touches per game, but you know who can? Grundy can.
But he didn’t in this one, with Naitanui ensuring that the Pies’ big man was occupied once the ball hit the deck.
Naitanui once again spent 46 minutes of a possible 109 minutes of game time on the bench, which, if anything, adds to how comprehensively great his game was while he was out there. I cannot believe I just wrote that.
He had just eight touches, had zero marks and only two clearances for the game, but if you’re a football watcher and do not have Naitanui in your votes, I have no idea which game you were watching. He was exceptionally good.
THE BEST THIRD FORWARD IN THE GAME
So, name me the best third forwards in the game.
Jeremy Finlayson at GWS is capable of some big games.
Collingwood have Jaidyn Stephenson.
Really, if you run down the list of forwards for each team, when you get to the Eagles you’ll see a name crop up that might make you pause. And if you don’t pause on the name of Oscar Allen and ponder whether this bloke is the best third-man in the game, there must be something wrong with you.
Look at how many times the pair of Josh Kennedy and Jack Darling have the ball directed to them. What’s left for a third tall with those two dominating the attention of the mids?
Oscar Allen has been able to find plenty of the footy, and plenty of goals in a forward structure that really should not be that rewarding to a third tall. He is now averaging a goal and a half per game after another game of multiple goals – his third louting of the year with 2+ goals.
Playing relieving ruckman, he was able to hold his own and even win a couple of contests against Brodie Grundy and Darcy Cameron – he is simply not overawed by anything.
His individual effort to goal in the third quarter was a great lesson to all young players – you play until the whistle blows or the ball is out of bounds. That Liam Ryan snap looked to be all but through for a behind. The Collingwood defenders in the vicinity probably thought a minor score was about to be registered, as well.
Not Oscar Allen, however.
It was him chasing the ball back hard, it was him recovering first, and it was him collecting the footy and running into the unguarded goal simply because Oscar Allen does not give up on a play because winning it seems unlikely. He attacks the footy regardless.
If this were the Star Wars universe, Oscar Allen would be the young Han Solo today. He wasn’t interested in the odds – he was going to go hard at it regardless. And that’s why people like Han Solo, right?
Running down the West Coast list today, you would be hard-pressed finding anyone that wasn’t either a) a kid with six games under their belt, or b) a solid contributor.
When a team gels and starts firing on all cylinders, it can be almost impossible to stop, and with West Coast getting contributions from players right across the park, it’s hard to fault any of them.
By the standards of some, Jake Waterman may have had a quiet day, but throw in two goals and all of a sudden, his contribution is important.
Jarrod Cameron was a little quiet, right? But what about his attack on the footy and his antagonistic little actions to keep his opponents on their toes.
Jack Darling… yes, yes, we’ll get to THAT mark, but he took two big contested grabs and showed enough to convince me to keep the faith.
The Eagles had winners all over the park. Blokes like Jamie Cripps were quiet in patches but delivered when their time came.
We witnessed a team working at their optimum this afternoon… and it was beautiful.
POUND FOR POUND…
We were missing one player this afternoon that may be the only really competition to Liam Ryan as the best acrobatic mark in the game. Okay, okay… I have Jeremy Howe as better due to the body of work, but I am not sure I have seen a more natural overhead mark for his size than Liam Ryan.
Introducing his knee to the neck and head of Callum Brown, Ryan pulled in a big hanger on the half back flank to the delight of the half-capacity crowd. I spent a bit of time watching him approaching parking contests in this game – he is so fluent, so relaxed and almost caresses the footy into his hands.
Howe may be the master of the overhead mark right now in the AFL, but at 23 years old, we have many years left to watch Liam Ryan take his place.
And for the record, I got a bit of a lump in the throat watching him kick that goal and point to the sky. I am sure I am not the only one.
TOO OFTEN TO BE WRITTEN OFF
Oh Darling… please believe me… I’ll never do you no harm…
I’m sure others will correct me if I am mistaken, but I count three pretty high profile dropped uncontested marks in the last five years from Jack Darling. The 2015 GF (too soon?), the 2018 rand Final, and today. All uncontested – all lace out deliveries and for whatever reason, Jack has spilt the mark.
Whilst this mistake today was by no means as costly as the 2015 one, or nowhere near as costly as the 2018 version could have been, this is happening a little too often to ignore now. I don’t know if he is taking his eyes off the footy before it gets there, or whether he has flashbacks to the first time it happened or what, but the fact remains that jack Darling by himself is no guarantee to take an uncontested mark.
I suppose if you put it down to something that happens every two or so years, you can smile and consider it a bit of bad luck.
But you’d also be hopeful that the bad luck has been used up for this season, right?
LIKE A CAR ON THE HIGHWAY WITH NO DRIVER
When the Collingwood captain was pulled from the game due to quad tightness (despite Brian Taylor repeatedly telling everyone is was a hamstring despite hearing the boundary rider say it was a quad), the Collingwood midfield looked like a drunk driver was at the wheel.
After a great first 15 minutes, the Collingwood midfield machine started swerving all over the road, seemingly in need of someone to take the wheel at times, make good decisions and get them back on track.
Scott Pendlebury plays that role for the Pies and has for many years and despite having highly-rated players like Adam Treloar and Taylor Adams in there, what they were missing was the touch of class that their captain provides.
Actually, stating that Pendlebury has only a touch of class is like stating that Jeffrey Epstein was only murdered a little bit.
Pendlebury is the hand that rocks the Collingwood cradle, and they were exposed without him at stoppage after stoppage. There were way too many lousy handballs and kicks in hope from players like Treloar, Jamie Elliott and Rupert Wills in this one. Directionless handballs that sold their teammates into trouble or kicked to either a contest or their opponents.
They’d be hoping that Pendlebury isn’t sore before next week’s game. And Sidebottom back should help with some poise as well.
You could see the lights go out in the minds of the Collingwood players when the goal review confirmed the thoughts of the goal umpire that Brody Mihocek’s snap on goal had been touched.
Mihocek worked hard to win a disputed ball, threw it on his boot and the ball sailed through for a goal.
But hang on… the goal umpire, thirty metres away, claimed it was touched. Not the field umpire, who was a lot closer – the goal umpire.
They went to the review and then we heard the voice of the nameless one state the ball “clearly” bent back the finger of the West Coast defender.
Now, I say this knowing that the score review people obviously have access to better angles and quality than we do at home, but if you could CLEARLY see a touch on that footy with the shitty footage they supply us, I would seriously love to talk to your optometrist and get him to give me the once over.
The Eagles were running away at that stage and the Pies were in desperate need of a goal. Mihocek thought he’d provided them one. It wasn’t to be.
And pardon my ignorance, but when did goal umpires make calls on touched balls (ahem…) that are thirty metres away?
Anyway, if there are better angles and they show a clear touch, SHOW US TOO!
…LIKE HE’D BEEN SHOT
An open hand from Don Sheed to the chest/gut of Taylor Adams and the Collingwood star went down like… you know the rest.
I’m not sure whether Dom Sheed does martial arts of some sort, has some sort of super power, or just got Adams in the sweet spot, but seeing Adams go down like that, and a free kick awarded as a result… I did not like it.
WHO WAS THE BIGGER OUT – GOV OR PENDLES?
On paper, you look at the impact McGovern could have on a game and you might be tempted to say it was him.
However, based on actual 2020 performances, the loss of Pendlebury was huge. At his best, Gov is a beast of a man and has proven to be impassable at times in his career. Not this season, however. This year would be the first time in five seasons he won’t be making the All-Australian team, whereas Pendlebury has been one of the most consistent midfielders of the season.
Pendlebury being out hurt the Pies way more than McGovern being out hurt the Eagles.
WHAT WAS WITH THAT IMMACULATE KICKING AT GOAL?
That was absolutely phenomenal. Three kicks from the pocket. Three drop punts. Three perfect shots at goal resulting in majors to Jamie Cripps, Josh Kennedy and Jake Waterman.
Seriously, the way I’m going, I could have ten shots from 30 out on that angle and kick one. These blokes were slotting them like these kicks provided no obstacle at all.
After seeing what Dom Sheed did to sink the Pies in 2018, do you think they may have had a little bit of fun slotting goals from similar angles today? It looked like fun, and damn it looked good.
IS ELLIOT YEO ON THE ANGRY PILLS AGAIN?
I sure as hell hope so. I love watching him play with a bit of mongrel about him.
When the Eagles were down on their QLD stay, one of the few things you could guarantee was that you were going to get a great contest from Elliot Yeo.
On a few occasions he may have been a little too overzealous in applying pressure and it cost his team, but he had the balance right this afternoon. He may have only registered three tackles for the game, but his bustling presence around stoppages and contested ball was very noticeable.
And I reckon it was catching, as well.
WHAT IS THE CEILING FOR ISAAC QUAYNOR?
There’s a lot to like about the young fella at the moment, isn’t there? He has this explosive first step that makes him a very difficult man to pin down when you’re trying to tackle him. One step in either direction and he’s gone – if you choose the wrong way he is off to the races and you’re standing there wondering what the hell happened.
Watching from afar, he is now starting to look very comfortable holding onto the footy to pick the best option rather than throwing it on his boot or passing the responsibility onto someone else. In his second season, he looks like he could become one of the more potent half backs in the game over the next couple of seasons.
WHY DOES CALLUM BROWN FEEL THE NEED TO TRY TO BREAK TACKLES ALL THE TIME?
I reckon I’m not the only one asking this.
Sometimes it is okay to release the ball to someone before being spun 360 degrees, Cal. When you do your loop, they’re still there – only now they have opponents closing in on them. I just wrote about Quaynor making good decisions with the footy; I reckon Brown needs to develop that part of his game as well.
IS ANDREW GAFF THE BEST WINGMAN IN THE GAME?
If not the best, then he’s right up there.
What you get from Gaff is consistency. Assuming he doesn’t get bogged down by a persistent tagger, you know you’re going to see Gaff run all day to pick up his 25+ touches and provide options.
Last week in our wingman rankings, Gaff surged back to the top of the table, and I don’t think this week’s efforts will do him any harm. Others may be flashier, but in terms of hard, consistent work at both ends of the park, Gaff is the standard by which others are judged.
ARE THESE TWO TEAMS FLAG CHANCES?
Oh, hell yeah.
The next four weeks should see the Eagles well and truly cement themselves as a contender. Let’s face it – they already are. The Pies might have had a couple of hiccups (thanks Bruce), and losing talent like Howe and de Goey for extended periods are the kinds of losses that would rock any club, but their best is still right up there.
The funny thing is, I don’t think we’ll see both of these clubs in the Grand Final. One, I think we will. And I reckon they’ll play the Tigers. I predicted a West Coast v Richmond Grand Final at the start of the season. It’s starting to look a little more likely.
Bring it on
A few people have bandied the name of Taylor Adams around as the possible next captain of Collingwood. It’s hard to see them choosing someone else, to be honest.
A relentless worker, Adams was one of the very few clear winners in the midfield this afternoon.
Jackson Nelson is starting to come on as a defender. I know a few Eagles fan are not huge on Nelson, but his hardness and ability to win the footy were very valuable in this one, A little more thought in where he’s kicking wouldn’t go astray, though.
Play of the day? Luke Shuey’s smother, gather and lace out delivery to Allen was sublime. Shuey played a cameo today, but that moment stole the show.
And that’ll about do from me. After starting the season poorly, the Eagles have bounced back strongly to win four on the trot and now sit well and truly in the eight.
The Pies have almost swapped form-lines. After a fast start, they have lost three of their past five.
Next week, the Eagles have a mouth-watering clash against the Cats on Saturday night, whilst the Pies have a bit of a danger game against Freo. Say what you want about this season, but the twists and turns have been wonderful, and I cannot wait to see what’s next.
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