It’s hard to believe that a trip to Adelaide to take on the Crows would serve as a danger game to the West Coast Eagles at the start of the year.

But here we are. I’m sure the Eagles supporters are sick to death about hearing how bad they’re traveling, but with now a large queue of teams firming for the remaining two spots of the eight as we head towards the end of the home and away season, the Eagles can’t afford to drop many more games, especially ones like last Monday night against North Melbourne.

The Essendon win against North earlier in the day meant that the Eagles dropped out of the eight in the prelude to this game, and heaped just a little more extra pressure on West Coast to get back to the winners’ list.

They needed to. Even bypassing the North game, they were destroyed by Sydney and the Bulldogs over the past month and over that period, people have begun to quick scribble the Eagles out of premiership contention.

As for the Crows, after a promising start to the year, it’s all seemed to spiral downhill and last week’s loss to Essendon was a big example of that. They were just completely outworked and outgunned. Adelaide supporters should be thankful that it wasn’t a margin much greater.

After a tight and, at times, very ugly opening half where both sides struggled to really gain ascendency, it was West Coast’s older heads that began to find some form again, and run away with a seven-goal win.

Although it remains to be seen what sort of damage has been done to Luke Shuey’s calf, fingers crossed for the West Coast faithful that it’s not serious. The captain just can’t catch a break hey?

But in the meantime, let’s dissect another game.

 

Covering The Loss Of Josh Kennedy

Listening on to ABC Radio as the blokes on commentary were discussing the late omission of Josh Kennedy, the question was raised: Does it make you more nervous?

To my surprise, the expert commentators were in agreement that it was going to be a non-factor. I say a surprise because Kennedy’s form this year has been tremendous for someone supposedly on the tail-end of his career, kicking 32.16 in his 14 games this year.

West Coast have a number of avenue of goals: Jack Darling has kicked 30 goals, Oscar Allen 26 and the smaller brigade of Jamie Cripps, Jack Petruccelle and Liam Ryan kicked a combined 42 goals. So yeah, sure it can be covered, but you felt that someone needed to have a big one in the lead-up to the game.

And a couple of them did stand up. Both Allen and Darling were well handled by a tandem of Jordon Butts, Nick Murray before he was subbed out with a concussion, with Jake Kelly who I spotted matched up on Darling at numerous points of the game. Murray, in particular,  did a very good job on keeping Allen goalless until he was taken out of the game.

Jamie Cripps played one of his best games of the year. Actually, one of the best games in quite a while. He sort of perplexes me with games like these, where he finds himself in a lot of good positions and has a game where he breaks out with a bag of five and then goes back to having a game where he pops up with a goal and that’s it – maybe I suppose a victim of circumstance given the forward talent.

The other was Liam Ryan. It was interesting to see Chayce Jones match-up on him and for the first half, you’d have to give the points to Jones, as Ryan was unable to play to his strengths and when that happens, he often tends to be more of a liability than an asset. However, Ryan undoubtedly stood up in the second half as his second and third leads were just too much and he got onto the end of some precision passing from further afield – he kicked the 3.4 but could’ve just as easily had five or six as he missed some relatively simple shots.

All in all, the pair of Cripps and Ryan combined for 24 score involvements and eight goals, which is a great return.

 

The Ruck Rematch

Ahh, remember that whole Reilly O’Brien fiasco with his phone last year and basically revealed Nic Naitanui’s weaknesses? Great times, that.

It’s been a discussion throughout the season; how fit is Nic Nat? Can he run out a full game? Looking at the stat sheet, he only spent 68 per cent of time on the ground. In comparison to O’Brien, who spent 91 per cent of game time on the ground.

We can talk about how much more unstoppable Naitanui could be if he was fitter, but I’d rather talk about how bloody good he was in the time he was on the ground. Because – and it was particularly noticeable from quarter time onwards – Nic Nat’s deft touches in the ruck contest were so invaluable to the team in this one.

An important statistic to point out is the centre clearances and the Eagles were well on top at half time and by full time the difference was +6 in favour of the winners. I think I counted as well at least three times that Naitanui found an Eagles player inside attacking 50 from a ball up and it resulted in a goal – this is how deadly he is folks and I can’t stress that enough – it’s a big reason why he was All Australian last year.

I will say that O’Brien, himself, had a solid game and did well in terms of working hard on the spread and being the kick behind the ball, but when it came down to it all, Naitanui’s ruck craft was the difference.

Naitanui had 31 hitouts, 11 of those going to advantage, whilst O’Brien had 28 and five and attended 16 more ruck contests than Naitanui. Also, it’s important to point out, whilst O’Brien was working hard around the ground, Naitanui’s second and third efforts around the stoppages were first-rate, also picking up seven clearances for the match.

I’d say the decision is an emphatic Naitanui victory in his 200th game.

 

Lynch The Linkman

It sort of feels like Tom Lynch is at a bit of a crossroads with his career. Back when the Crows were really good, his role as the guy across the half forward line to set up his teammates and get everyone involved was well documented and since the fall, he’s been a bit all over the place.

The last we saw of Lynch was that debacle against Hawthorn in Tasmania. You know, that one where he was hurt, but somehow named the medi-sub when he really shouldn’t have and then he had to come into the game when one of his teammates was injured and then it took them an eternity to actually get him out on the park, only for him to do stuff-all? Yeah, that one.

Well now it’s been a long time between drinks since that incident, but looking at Lynch’s first game back, he looked as though he was never gone. The movement was fluent, he had no troubles finding the footy and honouring leads – the kicking? Yeah, it was actually alright, he was going at 80 per cent kicking efficiency. He seems to buy time on the back of one-steps and then finds the composure and consistency to hit targets.

The one play that stands out was the play on the wing in the second term, he picked the ball up off the bounce, turned and then, off a step, found Ben Keays about 20 metres further afield and he went on to kick the goal.

Lynch is very good like that. He led all players on the ground with three-goal assists for the match from 25 disposals, a goal six marks and six score involvements (that’s weird, thought he should’ve had more). But it was a nice return and a real positive for an Adelaide forward line that struggled for most of the match – only he and Darcy Fogarty were the only forwards that looked threatening for large parts of the game.

 

Keays To The Midfield Engine?

This will be Ben Keays’ midfield in a few years – mark it down.

There’s somewhat of a transitional phase going on at Adelaide. Rory Sloane is and has been a tremendous servant to the Adelaide Football Club, and led all comers with clearances in this one, but the impact he has had on games lately isn’t as big as what guys such as Keays and Rory Laird bring into the middle.

When Keays came to the Crows as a rookie selection at the end of 2019, there was a lot of narrative from outsiders about how he was there to make up the numbers. The footy fanatics will know just how badly he was banging down the door at Brisbane and somehow never got a look in, or if he did get a look in, then Chris Fagan played him in a completely irrelevant position.

Since his debut, Keays has gone from strength to strength as a pure midfielder. Last year felt like he was more of a guy there to plug holes around the ground, but this year he has the tools to be a midfield star. He is averaging career-highs in disposals, tackles, clearances, inside 50s and contested possessions.

This week was more of a free-wheeling game for Keays, with only seven of his 30 disposals being contested, but he was able to be quite damaging with his disposals, kicking two goals and five score involvements. However, kicking efficiency can be life and death for midfielders and Keays only went under 53 per cent in this one. However, there’s no denying the repeat effort and intensity that he brings to this Adelaide midfield.

 

Go West

Connor West was taken back in the Mid-Season Draft and I remember saying on the A3 Footy Podcast that this was a good investment and was going to get games early, and it’s easy to see why – seeing some of his games at West Perth, the young fella loves to really crack in.

In his debut game, a number of times that myself – and the commentators on ABC Radio too – mentioned that he didn’t look out of place in the topflight. What made me think this? Well, just the way he attacks the footy, attacks contest. Some players have that mentality that every game is their last and will play crazy until the final siren and I see a lot of that in West.

Also complete sidenote here, those long brown locks are going to be cult-hero status soon I think, I know I love them.

What he does as an inside mid is that he allows the players like Tim Kelly, Luke Shuey and even to a lesser extent Yeo and Dom Sheed to be unleashed more. You know with Kelly and Shuey especially they’ve got good shoes and will more often than not find targets.

On debut, West had 19 disposals, 13 of them contested – which was the best of any Eagle out on the ground – as well as three clearances, four marks, four tackles and had 25 pressure acts which were equal-second most of any player on the ground.

I like this guy a lot, please keep him in the side next week Adam Simpson.

 

Other Observations

Mentioned Nic Nat’s 200th game above, but Brodie Smith also had his 200th game in this one and it was a cracking game from him here. Clean and sharp from the half back and the wing – 21 kicks at 90 per cent efficiency, as well as eight rebound 50s, eight marks, 825 metres gained, seven intercepts and six inside 50s.

Some of Andrew Gaff’s best work on the outside in this one – had the 34 disposals, eight marks and seven score involvements and was able to link up so many counter-attacks off the half back line – he’s very good at that.

Harry Schoenberg is going to be a very good footy player in time. If Keays is going to be the ideal balanced midfielder, Schoenberg is going to be the pure guts of the operation – 10 contested possessions, six tackles, six clearances and seven score involvements. Best game I’ve seen from him this year.

Elliot Yeo on 77 per cent game time recorded 22 disposals, eight clearances, kicked one goal, had seven score involvements and six inside 50s. He’s gathering quite a bit of traction and momentum now – one of West Coast’s best in this one.

What was Andrew McPherson thinking with that kick-in in the last quarter? The one that cost Adelaide a goal at a time where they were still an outside chance. Despite that, I thought he toiled on quite well in this one.

I’m a big Josh Rotham fan, but in a handful of one-on-ones against Darcy Fogarty just got overpowered too easily. Not sure if he was the direct match-up, but somehow found himself against him once too often for my liking.

Shannon Hurn was one of the best Eagles on the ground in this one. McGovern will get some fair plaudits for his intercepting, but Hurn was brilliant from start to finish – led all players on the ground for intercept marks with five for the game, but also had five rebound 50s and 23 kicks at 91 per cent efficiency, nine marks and 561 metres gained.

Paul Seedsman on the wing was very good for large parts, but sometimes just seems to bite off more than he can chew. Kicked at 56 percent efficiency but also had seven marks and 590 metres gained so as a winger, he got his touches, but his use of the ball could be better.

And well that’ll do me for this one.

There’s going to be a lot of uncertainty for the week ahead. Adelaide were supposed to be playing the Western Bulldogs in Ballarat and West Coast were scheduled to play St Kilda at Optus Stadium. It seems most likely that the latter of the two will go ahead, but there are a few murmurings that there’ll be some changes to the schedule, which will involve both the Crows and the Bulldogs.

But for the Eagles, they’ve got the win that they have been desperately needing and if they do get the Saints at home next week, it strikes a great opportunity for the Eagles to get back-to-back wins and try to distance themselves from the logjam for the final two spots of the top eight.

If the Crows get the Bulldogs, there were encouraging signs with the way they’ve been moving the ball in this one, but there are still a very error-riddled side that are still rebuilding and finding their way through their younger kids. Against a side like the Bulldogs, it may get a bit ugly for them.

 

 

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