After a tight first half, the West Coast Eagles dropped the hammer on a Fremantle team that seemed to lose its way.

The further the game went on, the more Freo started to look out of their depth. They went fast when they should have gone slow. They rushed when putting the brakes on was required. Really… they were like the early stages of my love life, and depending on who you talk to, like the middle and current stages as well.

But seriously, West Coast blew the Dockers off the park in the second half, registering nine goals to just two from a fatigued Fremantle side. They did it with their midfield returning to form on the back of Tim Kelly’s career-high 42 touches and solid support from Dom Sheed, Andrew Gaff and Jack Redden.

The Dockers looked the goods in the first half, but the switch of Oscar Allen to Matt Taberner was so effective in stifling the Dockers’ big man that it completely changed the fortunes of the teams.

There is plenty to get through in this one. Let’s jump into The Mongrel’s good, bad and ugly.

 

 

THE GOOD

 

BOUNCING BACK?

A question was asked during the call as to whether this was a good time to get the West Coast Eagles, or a bad one?

I thought it was a good question.

Coming off an absolute belting in which stars failed to fire and others were exposed, West Coast had a bit of soul searching to do over the last week. Did they wish to be defined by that loss? Was it going to be the thing that started the downward spiral of this group? Could they play the injury card and get a pass on their atrocious efforts in Geelong?

Or would they rally and show the Dockers a clean pair of heels?

It takes character to bounce back from adversity. Rocky Balboa, that great philosopher, used to say that it ain’t about how many times you get knocked down, but how many times you get back up, and keep moving forward.

After a week where they were rightfully smashed in the AFL Media, the Eagles got up, and they kept moving forward. They took on a Dockers team desperate to break a ten-game losing streak. They took their best punches in the first half and retaliated with a withering second half barrage that left their opponents down for the count.

That, my friends, is how you answer when people question your heart. That is how you answer when your reputation is sullied by a poor performance. That is how you show people that the team that went down by 97 points just a week earlier is not who you truly are.

This West Coast team showed up for this game. They did it without screaming fans and without the undeniably electric atmosphere of Optus Stadium, but they played like a finals team again.

And they needed to.

They’ll need to do it again next week, when they hit the road and head to MCG and face the Hawks. If ever a team was going to lay out the welcome mat and invite them to pick up a big win on the road, it’s Hawthorn. The Eagles need to roll them in a big way.

 

CAREER NUMBERS

A week after turning in a pedestrian game against his former team, Tim Kelly was stung into action.

He was the best player on the park by such a large margin that Ross Glendinning should have wandered out halfway through the last quarter and put the medal around his neck to wear for the rest of the game. I reckon Rosco would have done just that had he been permitted.

Kelly posted career-high numbers in disposals, with 42, contested possessions (22), and clearances (13) as he put the foot down early and refused to slow down for the entire duration of the game.

There have been moments in his West Coast tenure where I am sure even the most ardent Eagles supporters have taken a second or two to ponder whether he was worth it. He’s had a couple of dirty days where he has been unable to shake a tag, or has just not found the footy with the same frequency he did when he played for Geelong, but days like this… well, if they start to occur a little more often, any nagging doubts anyone possesses will be dispelled.

Kelly was a ball magnet in this one, with almost a 50/50 mix of contested and uncontested possessions. The only thing he failed to do was hit the scoreboard, but with 13 score involvements, including two goal assists, I doubt anyone will be holding that against him.

The Eagles’ midfield has been weakened by injury. Yeo is still to play a game in 2021. Their captain made it back only to ping a hamstring again. The engine room was sputtering, but the form of Tim Kelly is the tune up they needed. His combination with Dom Sheed through the first three quarters was brilliant. Sheed’s foot came off the accelerator in the last quarter, but Kelly was full speed ahead.

It was a career-game for TK, ad Eagles fans would be hoping it is not the last time I’m writing those words.

 

THE RUNNING MAN… WITH PURPOSE

There have been points this season where Andrew Gaff has got plenty of the footy, but failed to use it well.

You can tell when Gaff is on-song, as his disposals start to hurt the opposition. And that’s what occurred in this one. Gaff hit targets, provided run and carry and was great at jumping in and providing these sneaky little intercepts to break up the Freo flow.

With 21 possessions in the first half, Gaff was at his best when the game was at its hottest, which makes me rate his game more. His nine score involvements indicate that he was not just getting the footy, but making things happen when the Eagles played through him – it was a welcome sight.

With 28 uncontested touches, Gaff was used to perfection by West Coast in this one. Others may argue he has had better outings this season, but this is the version of Andrew Gaff that makes the most sense to me. The perfect link man making the connections between the defenders and his fellow mids. That’s the role that Gaff thrives in, and that’s the role that carved up the Dockers in this one.

 

MR FIX IT

I’m going to give you the quick version of the West Coast planning meeting at some point today.

Concerned Assistant – “Shit, we don’t have McGovern or Barrass in the team. What are we going to do?”

Adam Simpson – “Hmmm, throw Oscar Allen into defence.”

Concerned Assistant – “Oh no… Hurn is not going to play, either!”

Adam Simpson – “It’s okay… Oscar will be down there.”

Now we jump to half time of this game.

Concerned assistant – “Jesus, Taberner is killing us!”

Adam Simpson – “Don’t call me Jesus… and switch Oscar Allen onto him. That’ll fix it.

It’s a luxury to have such a versatile young man on the books. In the event of an emergency, you simply break the Oscar Allen glass and out he comes to save the day. He has been so good as a forward this season, but when the Eagles needed him to fill a hole in the backline, he simply tripped on down there and put the clamps on the best forward in the game (to that point).

Nobody is going to rave about Oscar Allen’s stats in this one. Nobody is going to throw his name out there as one of the best on ground. Case in point – the AFL website lists eight Eagles as the best for their team. Allen’s name does not sit amongst them because it is not what they look for.

He was aided in his cause by the distinct lack of any meaningful forays forward from the Dockers, but whenever the ball came inside 50, Allen was right there, all over Taberner, preventing him from impacting the game further. In addition, a couple of his spoils travelled 15-20 metres from the contest. He wasn’t content bringing the ball to ground – he wanted to kill contests.

And so, it leaves this West Coast team with options they weren’t sure they had prior to the game.

Can they find someone to cover for the loss of either Tom Barrass or Jeremy McGovern?

Well, yes… but you don’t want that to be a regular occurrence. Allen will do fine as a pinch-hitter in defence, but you don’t want to lose what he can provide up forward.

 

 

THE BEST AND WORST OF JACK DARLING

Jack Darling never ceases to amaze me. He makes the difficult look easy and the easy look like he is trying to solve the Rubik’s Cube with one hand tied behind his back.

I know it can be done, but it’s much easier with two hands.

Darling finished with 3.2, had a goal assist and ten score involvements as his huge frame crashed into packs and bullied the Freo players out of position. Hell, at one point, he even looked as though he took a mark at half-forward he was not at all expecting. He’s like that, isn’t he?

But he is also the bloke that makes you wonder what the hell he is thinking at times. He reminds me of someone who makes the perfect pizza and then throws pineapple on it. At one point he marked 15 metres out and, for some reason, decided to feign a handball and then play on. His resulting shot at goal hit the post, robbing him of a four-goal haul (almost as much as Zac Langdon robbed him of a fourth with an idiotic decision to play on when Darling was awarded a free-kick 25 metres out).

I’m not sure there is a player that makes West Coast fans cheer louder, or bury their heads in their hands as much as Darling. The good far outweighs the bad – by about 15-1, I’d say, but you remember those bad ones. They tend to stick out.

 

A SIGN OF THINGS TO COME

Many will point to the fact that young Harry Edwards was outclassed by Matt Taberner in the first half – those many will be absolutely correct.

It was a baptism of fire for the 20-year-old, to come in for just his second game and be forced to man-up on a monster the likes of Taberner. I mean… what did Adam Simpson expect? He may have hoped for a miracle, and a hell of a lot of support for the young man, but in any one-on-one contest, he was always going to be manhandled by Tabs.

However, it was Edwards’ efforts in the second half that impressed me. Far from crawling back into his shell, once unshackled from the Taberner match-up, Edwards was able to get a free run at the contests and made his presence felt.

He finished the game with five intercepts and eight one-percenters in the type of game that would make Adam Simpson smile. He went in, took the heat, found out a bit about where he was at as a player in the league, and then had the cavalry come to rescue him.

All in all, it was a successful debut with a few very nervous moments in the first half.

 

RUTHLESS!

One moment summed up the intent of the Eagles in the second half, and it happened in the opening minute.

Young Docker, Heath Chapman was carrying a sore shoulder all through the first half after landing awkwardly. He looked to be in a bit of pain at points as he battled on, but you could tell he was struggling.

So, as the second half opened, and Chapman was called on to track a ball back toward his defensive 50, you would not have blamed him for slowing up to protect himself – the fact he was still out there already answered questions about his courage.

Chapman did not pull back, and Josh Kennedy made him pay. He cannoned into the exposed body of Chapman as he reached for the footy – all completely legal, but brutal at the same time. It was the action of a man that knew he had wounded prey before him. Rather than give the prey an out, Kennedy lowered the boom and sent Chapman to the deck again.

T the kid’s credit, he got back up and continued the fight, but it was a telling blow from the Eagles’ spearhead, and one that demonstrated that the time for games was over – the Eagles were about to take this game from the Dockers, whether they were courageous about it or not.

The ball spilt to Jamie Cripps, who slotted a goal as Chapman tried to get back to his feet, and it got the ball rolling in a direction that would dictate the flow of the second half. The Eagles were the predators. The Dockers, the prey.

 

THE BAD

 

AN OPPORTUNITY LOST

There is a reason that Matt Taberner does not get the attention of other key forwards.

He’s just as potent. He is as strong as an ox, and at least as smart as one, as well. He has a beautiful pair of hands that clunk mark after mark, and yet he flies under the radar.

If you want a bloke that can go out there, take a couple of contested grabs per game and kick a couple of goals, Matt Taberner is highly capable of doing that every week, but he had a chance in this one to really step sieze back the momentum from the Eagles and keep his team in the game.

The moment came for Taberner with about 23 minutes gone in the second quarter. Three straight goals to the Eagles had seen the Dockers’ lead whittled away, but with a mark 30 metres out on a 45 degree angle, Tabs had the chance to arrest the slide and give his team a boost.

After nailing his previous three shots at goal, Tabs gave this one no chance and West Coast would kick two of the next three to lead by a couple of goals at half time. It would have been Taberner’s fourth goal of the game and could have set him up for a huge second half. It would have meant the Dockers walked into the sheds at half time around level with their tormentors, but instead, they had one foot in a hole… and they were sinking quickly.4

There are moments in close games that see players either step up, or step down. Whilst it may be harsh to give Tabs a whack on this one, these are the types of kicks at goal he just has to nail. They’re the ones his team needs from him – the steadiers that allow them to regroup and continue to attack. When you miss them, you see heads drop, and you feel the momentum shift away.

Last season, I campaigned long and hard for Tabs to be considered for our Rolling All-Australian Team all through the second half of the year. His numbers were just as good as those of Charlie Dixon, and he was doing it in a team that was struggling, but whilst Tabs was consistent, Dixon took over games.

Tabs needs to do that as well. Going missing for a whole half (two disposals) is not what gets you a seat at the table in that discussion.

 

 

THE UGLY

 

THE EMPTINESS

I try to avoid news about Covid now. I’ve just had enough of the whole thing (as I suspect those who have had it feel, as well).

So, I bury myself in our footy site and report on games, give comment on issues and generally go about my life as though Covid didn’t exist.

So, I switched over the channel from the Carlton v Essendon game and my heart sank a little. An empty stadium with 46 gladiators ready to do battle. It actually made me sad, and I struggled to concentrate on the game in the first quarter.

However, the standard of the game, itself, soon erased the morose feelings I had for West Australians, who were forced to stay away. The Eagles and Dockers put on a blistering first half of football, with end to end action and some genuine highlights. The kicking was superb, the run and carry electrifying, the physical clashes brutal (Hughes initiated the contact against Sheppard and learnt quickly that you don’t bump brick walls), and the scoring was free.

And then we’d switch to the bench, where subs were wearing masks, and to the coaches boxes, where Justin Longmuir was wearing his mask properly, and Adam Simpson looked for any reason he could possibly find to pull his off and wear it under his chin. I can’t say I blame him.

Then, we jump to the end of the game, and the Eagles, who had just been sweating, spitting, tackling and fall all over each other sing the song in face masks… far out…

So yes, I know this could come across as being petty, and I know there are peoples’ health at risk and so on, but seeing an empty stadium brought back feelings of 2020, where footy was still with us, but it just didn’t feel right then, and it just doesn’t feel right now.

 

STOPPING TO A WALK

Fremantle have shown they’re a better team than this in 2021. They have fought out games, come from behind (bum chika wow wow) and aside from the Carlton game, have looked like a team to respect.

So, what was with the disastrous second half?

They refused to make the risky kick, preferring instead to handball to a contest instead of kicking to one. They looked as though they were playing wet weather football at times, and whilst you could credit that to the pressure of the Eagles, again, Freo are better than that and needed to step up and prove it.

11-0 is the recent record in Derbies. This is not a rivalry at the moment – this is an ongoing arse-kicking, and there needs to be more than three or four blokes out there that give a shit about it.

Nat Fyfe did not stop trying. He looked like a frustrated man, and for good reason! He was the one left trying to rip the ball away from the opposition whilst his teammates stood around waiting for the whistle. I get that they may have been tired – that happens when you run around playing footy for a couple of hours. Do you think the West Coast Eagles weren’t tired? You don’t have a damn trademark on fatigue, boys!

There are too many Dockers who simply do not work hard enough and like to put games in the ‘too-hard’ basket when the going gets tough.

Nathan Wilson is a repeat offender.

Mitch Crowden failed to do what he is in the side to do.

Michael Frederick is all sizzle and little steak at the moment.

Losing by ten goals after being up by a couple of goals halfway through the second quarter is unacceptable. Don’t blame injuries. Don’t blame umpires. Freo need to have a walk through a hall of mirrors to have a good, long, hard look at themselves. They were challenged, and they caved.

And it has happened way too often against this team.

 

SOME QUESTIONS

 

WHY ARE ANDREW BRAYSHAW’S 32 TOUCHES GOOD, BUT TOM MITCHELL’S 38 TOUCHES AREN’T?

This is an interesting one. The knock on Mitchell is that he doesn’t hurt teams, but did Brayshaw hurt the Eagles in any way in this game? Sure, 32 touches look great, but with just four clearances and three score involvements, how many of his disposals made you sit up and think ‘wow… this kid is killing it’?

Brayshaw will be fine – just accumulating those kinds of numbers are impressive for where he’s at, but if you’re gonna sing his praises in this game, think again. 21 of those 32 touches were handballs, and he gained just 254 metres for his team. That’s under eight metres per touch.

I suppose the argumentative fan could make the same argument against Gaff, right? At 11.17 metres per possession, he wasn’t exactly racking up the metres, either. However, with Gaff, he had triple the score involvements… that separated them.

 

HOW LONG CAN DAVID MUNDY KEEP GOING?

I hope it’s a while, yet.

His kicking is one of the highlights of Freo’s game, and whilst 79$ efficiency is nothing to write home about, the fact he had three direct goal assists demonstrates that he just knows how to kick to his forwards.

Give him another season, get him to mentor Adam Cerra (he’s going to re-sign, right? Right!?!?) and then put him on as a kicking coach. He will have a great coaching career as an assistant.

 

WAS THAT THE BEST GAME OF JAMAINE JONES’ CAREER?

It sure looked that way to me, and it was built on hard work.

With 21 touches, two goals and a direct goal assist, JJ looked quite at home patrolling half forward and working all the way up to half back. With Liam Ryan out, the Eagles were crying out for a touch of class and a little bit of mongrel inside 50 and Jones certainly brought that to the table in this one.

 

 

OTHER BITS

 

Prior to this game, the Eagles were 19-3 since 2018 when Jamie Cripps kicks multiple goals. Add another one to the list, as Cripps slotted two and the record got better again.

Really solid game by Brad Sheppard as the experienced head in defence. He continues to provide the Eagles with high-quality games as he nears his 30th birthday (which makes me feel old). His stats do not reflect this, but the number of times he forced Freo players to change the trajectory of their preferred kick by being in the right place inside defensive 50 was fantastic, and the type of positioning that only comes from years of doing the right thing, week-in and week-out.

I’m not sure that I liked Blake Acres’ game much. He seems to be one of those blokes who is just not desperate at the footy. Yeah, 24 touches is nice, but ten came in the last quarter when the game was dead.

Bit of a better outing for Michael Walters, who played exclusively as a small forward in this one. 21 touches is a good return for someone in his role, but I never got the feeling he was dangerous in this game, with most of his involvements coming well outside the 50 metres arc.

And Nat Fyfe… love him or hate him, you cannot question his endeavour. Some of his contested disposals were absolutely nuts. He got them away almost on willpower alone. I’m still not sure he is a great leader in the way a Trent Cotchin or Joel Selwood is, but if we’re talking about effort, you simply cannot fault him.

 

And that’ll do me – as I said above, the Eagles’ trip to the MCG should result in a win… SHOULD result in a win. Enough poor travelling for these blokes, now. The MCG holds no fears for them – time to really make a statement.

As for the Dockers, they welcome a Lions team that has found their groove. This will be a tough one, and we’ll learn quite a bit about Freo next week. If their midfield does not put the Lions to the sword, something’s up.

 

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