A new season brings with it a whole bunch of expectations for fans, most of which start with ‘if’.
If we can avoid injuries, we might have a chance.
If we get off to a good start, we might go deep into September.
If our young guys take a big step forward, we could do something special.
If is a very dangerous word. It’s full of optimism and hope and expectation. Everything is possible and nothing is off the table. As much as we, as fans, try and temper our sense of hope before a season starts, I guarantee you that even the most pessimistic of us spend more than a second dreaming of a premiership. Admit it – you’ve been stuck in a boring meeting at 3pm on a Thursday afternoon while Darren from Accounts prattles on about how this numbers from this quarter compare to the numbers from last quarter, and you’ve allowed your mind to drift for a moment or two as you dream of your team holding the cup aloft on the last Saturday in September. At the start of every season, we all have hope.
Look, I’m as realistic as the next one-eyed fan, and I’m well aware that West Coast were horrible last year. In fact, they were worse than horrible. At times, watching them was like watching bad community theatre – you’re aware of the play being performed (you may have even seen it done professionally a few times) but there’s something unnervingly depressing about this portrayal.
That’s what last season was – unnervingly depressing. At its worst, a year like last year can seep into the foundations of a club, infecting it from the inside out. It can lead to season after season of poor performances and missed opportunities until losing goes from being a possibility to a natural by-product of entering the playing arena. Think Melbourne from 2007-2016, or Carlton since the AFL outlawed brown paper bags filled with cash. The promising careers of many talented youngsters are wasted under the weight of diminishing returns, creating a cycle that can only be thwarted by complete cultural change.
And let’s get this straight; West Coast’s 2022 campaign wasn’t just a shitty year. It was like someone had taken four- or five-years’ worth of shittiness and jammed it into one year to create a sort of mega-shitty year. Like some demented version of Power Rangers, but instead of the Power Rangers combining to overcome the forces of evil (damn Rita Repulsa) it was a football season that left even the most ardent supporters balled up in the foetal position. A season that should have been the final chance for an ageing list to have a shot at finals was instead all over before it began. Injuries, Covid, more injuries and some truly dreadful ‘intent’ meant the year went from bad to worse to worst to the seventh circle of hell. One of my favourite players ever retired, my new favourite Eagle didn’t even get to lace his boots up, and worst of all there were barely any kids playing that you could try and pin some sort of positive hopes on.
The only miniscule sliver of a silver lining to the veritable collection of storm clouds that was 2022 was that it couldn’t get any worse (right?). The Eagles finally had access to early draft picks and would be able to build something new the same way they did more than a decade ago. And if we’re focusing on silver linings, this group of senior players seem have a bit more left in the tank than the group between 2008-2010. And we do have some promising young players to start the rebuild. I mean, it’s possible that if everything goes right, we could challenge the top-eight (there I go being optimistic again). And if you make the eight, who knows what’s possible (ok, I’ll admit I’m getting a bit carried away). I mean, if Collingwood can go from 17th to the final four, why can’t we? (we’re through the looking glass, here, people). A new season is a blank canvas upon which all of us, as fans, can paint our most hopefully beautiful portrait.
And then, as it so often does, reality set in as the all too familiar ‘injury news’ started filtering through. Nic Naitanui hurt his achilles and was ruled out of the pre-season games, and later round one (and probably more). There were nervous moments for Luke Shuey and Jack Darling, Jack Williams ruptured his spleen, Josh Rotham broke his arm in the last pre-season hit out, and all of this was before the final shoe dropped – Elliot Yeo was ruled out for round one with a calf injury. Finally, by Thursday night, there was the cherry on top; youngster Jai Culley was a confirmed out with a calf complaint.
The concerns around the injuries were somewhat stymied with the naming of the team. Four club debutants were named, with three playing their first game – Campbell Chesser, Rueben Ginbey and Noah Long. If, like me, you’re always looking for omens then this was a great one – the last time West Coast named three players for their AFL debut was Round 1, 2018 – a pretty special year for West Coast fans. Obviously the 2018 Eagles had a few other things going for them (not unimportantly, everyone was five years younger) but for a second, we could dream. Maybe a premiership for 2023 was a stretch, but we were coming up against a team – North Melbourne – who were the only side in the competition with a worse 2022 record. They were also missing some crucial players and had had an off-season that was never far from the front pages.
At his press conference before the game, West Coast coach Adam Simpson summed up what most fans were thinking. “It’s the dawn of a new era really with these kids coming in and all (three) of them teenagers. Looking forward to see what they’ve got. Not putting too many expectations on them but they deserve to play as well. They’ve had really good looks pre-season and can’t wait to see them play.”
Despite my best intentions, I still find myself saying that word – if. That’s what new seasons do. They give you a renewed sense of hope, optimism that something great might be on the horizon not too far away. That those new players your team drafted might turn out to be next-gen versions of Ablett, Goodes and Judd and that those players you feared might be over the hill have one last great year left in them. That maybe, maybe they can get on a run and ride that wave of momentum through to an unlikely September berth. I mean, Collingwood did it last year, right? Why not us this year?
Final Result – North Melbourne 12.15.87 beat West Coast 12.10.82
Fuck! Oh well, it’s a marathon and not a sprint, right?
This is the first in a series from Tim, chronicling West Coast’s, and his own journey through the 2023 season. If you enjoy his work, please consider buying him a coffee at the link below.