Alternate Worlds – West Coast vs Adelaide from two completely different views
For a game between two also-rans in the twilight of the 2022 season there were numerous compelling storylines, chief amongst them were the recurring nightmare of the 2018 “Crows Camp”, and also a last hurrah for one of the real good guys of the AFL, Josh J. Kennedy.
Not to be outdone, the Crows’ two-time AA Rory Laird also turned out for game number 200 in an outstanding career to date, his form having the AA selectors on notice to re-order a 3rd blazer for him in a few weeks. As is always the case at this time of year, players on both sides are performing for their careers and would leave nothing out on the field in a desperate attempt to prove their credentials for another shot in 2023.
Trent Adam Shields takes a look at this one with an Adelaide focus, whilst Tim Hunt views the game from the West Coast perspective
WHO WAS THE MATCH WINNER?
TRENT – While our milestone man, Rory Laird was the Crows star all day, 2022 has seen a very welcome return of the big forward, and the maturing Darcy Fogarty was the matchwinner for Adelaide today. While Adelaide got away to a flyer and raced to a quarter-time lead, both Walker and Fogarty after very good seasons were exceptionally quiet, that is likely a result of only eight inside 50s for the term, however. The second stanza didn’t allow too much more opportunity with only another ten I50s, but Fogarty was working hard and rewarded his team with a strong mark and goal, after delivering a perfectly weighted pass to Walker for a shot that was touched on the line.
There has never been a question of talent in relation to Fog, but work ethic may have been muttered once or two thousand times by commentators and fans alike. After only two goals in his first five appearances this season, even his most ardent supporters might have been running out of patience, but as often is the case once a player crosses that 50-game milestone sometimes everything clicks. 24 goals in the ensuing ten games, alongside commensurate increases in goal assists, marks, disposals and tackles prove that very theory correct on this occasion.
With the Crows holding a 17-point advantage as the final quarter commenced, but then conceding a pair of goals within two minutes the baying crowd and fairytale Kennedy story loomed large. Fogarty was called to action in the fifth minute after a bruising shirtfront from Brodie Smith halted the Eagles’ forward momentum, but he fluffed his lines as the hero on this occasion. That wasn’t the case on his next three attempts however as he put the game away for good with some precision kicking and towering contested marking, finishing with four goals and the adoration of the coaching panel.
TIM – This is a tough one, as I was really hoping that it would be the number 17 in blue and gold. Unfortunately, this was not the case, and instead the match-winner was the best player on the ground – Rory Laird. Celebrating his 200th game in style, Laird dominated from the first bounce to the last, collecting 36 disposals to go with 10 clearances – including six centre clearances – seven score involvements, six intercept possessions and almost 500m gained.
Laird was a constant thorn in the side of the West Coast midfield, forcing them often into trying to defend their centre bounce clearances, making them accountable to an opposition player rather than running forward and trying to get onto the end of a Nic Naitanui hit-out.
WHERE DID WE WIN/LOSE THE GAME?
TRENT – In a game where two of the form tall forwards of the comp, Walker and Darling were well held, two more star-midfielders, Keays and Kelly not at all influential and the ruck battle outcome, despite an important role by Reilly O’Brien inconclusive it was probably the Crows’ superior forward line efficiency in the first half and greater desperation around the contest that won the game.
From a losing I50 count in the first of 18-31, Adelaide scored goals at the outrageous rate of 39% of entries, while the Eagles lagged behind at the respectable 23% of entries resultant in a major. Once the Crows evened up the attacking zone count there were enough opportunities for Fogarty and Himmelberg to hit the scoreboard and take the game away from the Eagles.
While the tackle count certainly won’t support the synopsis of Adelaide’s greater desire (ultimately losing 65-88), they did end up well ahead on the one-percenters tally board 54-37, and also clearances 43-41 despite a massive discrepancy in overall disposals (288 vs 342).
While numbers tell part of the story, some other tangible examples included the heroic efforts of Will Hamill to stand his ground in front of a marauding freight train otherwise known as Jack Darling, Chase Jones backing into the path of Josh Kennedy to mark with the flight, and Jake Soligo whose influence grew as the match wore on, taking fierce hits late and setting up attacks with clever skills including a deft pass to Fogarty for a long goal.
TIM – As has been the case all season long, West Coast lost the game with a 20-minute patch of bad effort. At half-time, the Eagles lead the Crows by a couple of points and given that they had allowed the first three goals of the game in the opening five minutes today, they had momentum and the crowd on their side.
Watching the start of the third term, then, was extremely disappointing as the Eagles gave up the first four goals and turned a two-point lead into a 23-point deficit. Laird, Dawson and Hinge controlled the middle of the field, combining for 26 disposals, eight clearances, four centre clearances – all courtesy of Laird – and three intercept possessions.
In particular, it was the Crows’ medium and small forwards that seemed to cause West Coast defenders the most headaches, with Shane McAdam kicking three and Lachie Murphy contributing a goal – while Darcy Fogarty’s four and Elliott Himmelberg’s two were more a result of happenstance than actual domination.
WHAT WOULD YOU HAVE DONE DIFFERENTLY?
TRENT – There probably isn’t too much coach Matthew Nicks would change in hindsight, Ben Keays was well held and might have provided more drive if given a break out of the centre, Kennedy was destined to take anyone and everyone to the cleaners in his final outing, and Himmelberg could’ve put the result well beyond doubt if he’d clunked some marks we got his paws to during the day.
While the Crows have performed quite well at times throughout the year, the selection has been curious, with valuable pieces including Schoenberg, Himmelberg, Fogarty, O’Brien amongst others spending considerable time in the SANFL. It remains to be seen if this tough love will ultimately develop these players and others to reach their potential, but as an outsider, it feels like it’s disrupted their continuity and the team’s ability to grow together.
TIM – I’d have probably passed the ball to Josh Kennedy a little more.
In all seriousness, West Coast lost the game in the third quarter, and though they were able to make it back within a goal in the last term, the fact that they couldn’t cross that threshold shows that they were just one or two kicks further back than they would have liked.
As a result, maybe at half-time, I would have lit into the players… you know what, I was going to go on a whole thing about the Adelaide camps and what happened, and try and make a few jokes about it, but I figure the players affected and heck, even the Crows supporters, need a week or two off from those jokes right now.
As a result, I’m going to stick with my original thought – West Coast should have tried even harder to get the ball to Kennedy.
MOST UNDERRATED PERFORMANCE
TRENT – Mature age recruit Mitch Hinge with another chance at AFL level has produced by far his best output this season, adding 15 games to his previous four across three years, and today delivered a career-high in disposals (21) as he delivered a four-quarter performance that provided drive from defence, made up for the quieter output from Keays and also drifted forward for a first-term goal.
Star recruit Jordan Dawson was unusually fumbly in the first half before finishing strongly in the second, but Hinge, who plays in a similar manner, was able to make up for the shortfall and provide the impetus for the Crows’ outstanding early efficiency. Five intercepts, five I50s, four tackles, four R50s and two clearances saw him as a threat all over the field.
TIM – I said this when I covered West Coast against Richmond a few weeks ago and I’ll say it again now, the most underrated Eagles player is Tom Barrass. As the season has come along, he seems to have grown into the role of the number one defender, and today was a vintage performance. He just about pantsed Taylor Walker, holding the Crows full-forward to just five disposals and one goal, while himself gathering 14 disposals to go with 10 marks – five contested – to go with two tackles and nine intercept possessions.
Barrass looks to have grown into his body now, and trusts both his leap and judgement against all opponents. As a West Coast supporter, watching Barrass jump and attack the ball gives a sense of security not normally reserved for fans of teams down the bottom of the ladder. His fists are, if not made of fury, at least strong enough to spoil just about anything in their general vicinity.
If he can’t spoil it, he’ll try and mark it, jumping above all others with two outstretched (and seemingly perfectly straight) hands, somehow bringing down a contested mark against many “stronger” opponents.
THE MOMENT THAT MATTERED MOST?
TRENT – There were a series of heavy clashes that defined the Crows today, from a first-quarter collision between Himmelberg and Ned McHenry that left them both dazed, Chayce Jones’ gutsy mark, and another from Lachie Murphy under strong duress, then Wil Hamill’s sacrificial act and finally Darcy Fogarty’s screamer late to seal the win.
The make up of the Crows team is an oddity with so many smaller statured players, then some giants, but very few of the modern prototype 6’4 mids and runners. However, their absolute commitment to the contest today from the first bounce to the final siren was their competitive advantage that secured the four points.
TIM – Well, in a game that was decided by almost three goals, there was of course one moment in the last five minutes that decided the game.
With West Coast trailing by just five points, and with just over four and a half minutes left on the clock, there was a boundary throw-in between true centre wing and the Crows’ half-forward flank. From the boundary throw-in, a potential high-tackle was missed on Jamaine Jones, and the Crows intercepted West Coast, with Lachie Murphy screwing an ‘outside of the boot’ pass back to Elliot Himmelberg about 35m out from goal.
Himmelberg kicked truly, and though West Coast got the resulting centre-clearance, the ball would bounce through for a point, and the Crows would never truly be challenged again.
WHICH PLAYERS LET US DOWN THE MOST?
TRENT – While the experienced Walker only collected five touches as he was soundly beaten by the form defender of the competition, Tom Barrass, and Brodie Smith’s only notable moment was mowing down Jermaine Jones to force a spillage and a late Crow attacking thrust, in this game Wayne Milera was a disappointment.
With only a paltry four disposals to three-quarter time, Milera was staring down the barrel of a mulligan, which is not uncommon in 2022 when he is likely to record his lowest possession average since his debut in 2016. For a player so skilful, who moves so well, and is able to spot up ex with a lovely little touch kick under the fierce pressure of the last quarter his teammates and coaches have to demand much, much more.
Elliott Himmelberg is a pet project of mine, partly because he resembles Paul Bettany’s albino monk from The Da Vinci Code, but also because of his physical attributes that should translate to a dominant AFL player. Nominally selected as a forward/ruck to provide support for O’Brien, he was found wanting in the ruck contests and recorded only one hit out, while also dropping marks in scoring position hand over fist, or stump over stump as it appeared. Something shifted with him though late in the third as he dropped yet another regulation mark, but followed up and gained possession turning inside and delivering capably to McAdam for his third. Then in the last he made a real impact, turning around his deer in the headlights earlier form that saw him caught in possession twice to run-down Jack Redden, and then scoring two important goals from marks inside forward fifty.
TIM – Looking at the team sheet beforehand, I thought it would be someone like Zac Langdon or Xavier O’Neill, mostly because they’re the type of players to have a small impact in a game like today. But, in actual fact, they were both quite good – Langdon, potentially playing for a contract, had eight touches and five tackles, providing a level of defensive ferocity that West Coast has missed all year. Similarly, O’Neill battled hard, running with Laird and finishing with 16 disposals, eight tackles and six inside-50s.
As a result, I would have to say that the players that let West Coast down the most were probably Luke Shuey and Andrew Gaff. If asked honestly, and if both players didn’t have contracts, I reckon the Eagles might have waved them goodbye this year. Shuey can still be dominant through the middle of the ground, and at his best in one of the game’s premier centre clearance players, but he’s now more than 30 years old, has struggled at times this season, and displays an increasingly glaring inability to defend. Gaff, similarly, has for about a decade been the best outside midfielder/runner of his generation – some might have been better for a year or so, but none have been more consistent. I wonder if this consistency is getting to him now. He’s averaging less disposals per game than in the COVID-affected year of 2020, and looks heavy on his feet. There’s no doubting that both of these players can get back to something like their best, but whether their best is what the Eagles need right now might be the most pertinent question.
PLAYER FROM THE OPPOSITION I ADMIRED MOST IN THIS GAME?
TRENT – It couldn’t be anyone other than the retiring West Coast champion, beloved by all (except perhaps by Carlton fans), the 723-goal kicker, Josh J. Kennedy; a name so magical in Australian sporting terms that it needed three exceptional talents across the same era to live up to its promise.
Kennedy’s eight-goal haul was the equal second best of all time by players in the last game of VFL/AFL football, behind the incomparable Fred Fanning with 18, but alongside Albert Prior (for Hawthorn against Sth Melbourne in 1950) and David Cloke (for Richmond vs Carlton in 1991 – he also polled three Brownlow votes which surely Josh will replicate).
Many will ask why he is retiring in such great form, as he has been for much of the season, which will likely result in a ninth club goal-kicking title, but you could see in every attack of the ball he was playing with the freedom of a man knowing this was his last time playing the game he loved. Credit to the Adelaide Crows for the respectful send-off post-game, and also to Fox Footy who typically cross to the Bounce straight away after the siren, but stuck with the coverage for the interviews and guard of honour off the ground.
TIM – Far and away, the player I admired most was Rory Laird. He runs all day, takes as much punishment as any opposition can deliver, and then asks for more. He celebrated his 200th game today – a pretty terrible time to do so, but you can’t choose your opponent – and was head and shoulders the most consistently dominant player on the ground.
As I mentioned above, he had 36 disposals, 20 contested possessions and five tackles, and really if he wore a blue and gold jersey, the Eagles would have won by at least six goals.
TRENT – With that meritorious result the Crows have now equalled their 2021 victory tally with seven, but with two very winnable games to finish the year can dream of creeping out of the bottom four for the first time since 2019. They would be realistically eyeing off a 12th place finish, although that may be a double-edged sword with the resultant diminished draft capital hindering their chances of prising Rankine out of the Gold Coast.
The Eagles gave it everything for their revered teammate and would be odds on to suffer a big letdown in the last two rounds with nothing left to play for. 2022 was a season that will not be fondly remembered on the West Coast and with eight players older than 30 in today’s side, and several other best 22 in their older age bracket the pain may not cease immediately.
TIM – I’m sorry to do this, but I’ve held my tongue for long enough. I’m an Eagles supporter, and you’ve just gotta let me cook.
Josh Kennedy kicked eight goals in his last ever game of footy. Admittedly, at least three of these were the result of teammates trying to pass the ball to him, but if you need a reminder of how good a goal kicker he is – just re-watch the first quarter of today’s game. As the match wore on, the hope for a final game 10-goal haul grew stronger and stronger, and really if he’d kicked straight, he would have got there. But his career is more important, and far more impactful than just one game.
I’ll take you back to 2008 – West Coast were having one of their worst seasons on record (one that would see them miss finals for the first time in seven seasons), and I was having a talk to a friend about the plight of the Eagles, and whether the club might ever play finals again – every football fan must admit, things always look darkest before the dawn. Regardless of West Coast’s brilliance through 2005-07, I thought they were always missing something. A tall player in the forward half who could help to dominate the game like the best players of the early aughts could – players like Jonathon Brown, Nick Riewoldt, even Matthew Pavlich or Barry Hall. Having watched a few games that season, I argued that West Coast finally had one – Josh Kennedy. My friend was unconvinced.
Fair enough, too – Kennedy’s first 45 games in blue and gold saw him register just 78 goals. And even worse, his last ten games had seen him kick just seven majors – a tally small enough to render doubt into the heart of even the most devout believer.
In the absence of a longer piece, that I assure is coming, Kennedy managed to notch up 712 goals for West Coast in just 271 games, meaning that casting aside these 45 games (and 78 goals) he kicked 634 goals from 226 games across 2011-2022 – a truly phenomenal record.
As I mentioned above, dear reader, I will be writing a longer piece about Kennedy, but alas my time is running out today.