Had this scheduled fixture occurred in the mid-2000’s, eyes would be glued to the screen. One of the all-time rivalries, with two Grand Final bangers comes full circle as we find both sides struggling in 2023. The Swans sit in 15th and host the identity-less West Coast. Coach Adam Simpson said pre-game that he wants his side to find their identity and brand in this back half of the season, while the Swans will be hoping to find some form and perhaps sneak into finals again this year. Could the Swans get the job done at home, or were the Eagles able to shock everyone to secure their second win for the year? Here’s what happened.
Well … That Happened
After games like this, it’s hard to know where to start. For all intents and purposes, this was a training drill for the Swans. They had the game on their terms, did what they wanted, and blew the Eagles off the park. They were ruthless all day – sometimes, in matches like this, teams can put the cue in the rack. Not the Swans. They ensured that they filled their boots, scoring their biggest-ever win, while consigning the Eagles to their heaviest-ever defeat.
Watching a game like this is a challenge. It’s easy to get bored, and so it requires things to do to get through it. Today, that was whiskey and preparing a roast pork and all the trimmings. Something that requires diligence, and a set strategy to get the best crackle … you don’t want a disappointing, chewy crackle … you want it to literally crack. The end result – success! Arguably an even bigger success than Isaac Heeney on return.
It’s days like these (well, really, matches like this one) that open the discussion for the mercy rule. What did it achieve for West Coast fans and their players? For the Swans, they are played back into form (naturally in time to play my Cats next week) and receive a significant percentage boost, leaving them, somehow, within a sniff of a finals appearance.
Tom Hickey had an incredible start to the game. If you missed the start, you’d have tuned in to see the Swans already two goals up, and it all started with Hickey in the centre circle. He gave his midfielders first use, and helped to generate the opening two centre clearances, inside 50s, and the first two goals – all within the opening two minutes of the contest.
This was a consistent trend throughout the game. While Bailey Williams had two more hit outs than Hickey, it was the Swans ruckman’s ability to use his body and strength to control more contests, gain more clearances, and to even get involved in sending the ball inside 50 on five occasions.
Over the years there have been many strategies and gameplans to bring success. In today’s game with starting positions, getting first use at stoppages is an incredible asset and significantly improves a team’s chances of setting up and controlling field position, and the game as a whole.
The signs were ominous early, and things only got worse for the Eagles. It was two goals to one in the opening minutes, but from there, to coin a Rex Hunt phrase, this was a systematic destroyation. The opening term saw the scoreboard Swans 9.4.58 to WCE 1.0.6 – and then them dominating in key statistical areas: 20 to 6 inside 50’s; 14 to 8 clearances; 9 to 0 marks inside 50. From this point, everything was on the Swans’ term – bar the opening 7-10 mins of the third quarter, where the Eagles kicked three consecutive goals, only to concede the following 18 goals in succession across the remainder of the second, third, and part of the final quarters.
Where to From Here?
Everyone will have an opinion on what may be going wrong at the Eagles and how things can be fixed. This is a proud club – and a successful one. The fall from grace has been stark, and this result, while the worst of the lot, wasn’t unforeseen. In recent seasons, the Eagles have struggled.
Sure, we can discuss injury lists, but it’s deeper than that. This is the first Eagles game I’ve reviewed, and watched most of at length, this year. And it was hard to watch. I see a group of individuals running around with no real semblance of unity, teamwork, and commitment to the jumper (with few exceptions).
Adam Simpson said pre-game we could expect to see an identity of sorts for the Eagles today, and in the back half of the season. Well, if this is the identity … I’m not sure where the Eagles go from here. Their seasoned vets – namely Andrew Gaff, and to a lesser extent Dom Sheed – look a shell of their former selves, and are simply getting games based on their name. Surely there’d be more effort from young blokes? I don’t like taking potshots, especially to someone like Sheed whose clutch moment burying Collingwood in a Grand Final lives on in folklore for most footy fans! However, what does it say to the young blokes and in terms of club culture if players are being picked but not in form and not contributing?
There are cracks everywhere, and it’s going to take a considerable amount of time to right this course for the Eagles.
To find some positives, albeit very few … Tim Kelly may as well be awarded the Best & Fairest now. He has been very good and has been a beacon for the Eagles in a difficult year. As has Oscar Allen. With limited opportunities playing as a key forward, the Eagle finds himself with a share of fifth on the Coleman Medal. Elijah Hewett showed excellent ball control, clean hands, and a thirst for the contest today, as did Rueben Ginbey – something he has done all season. These are some of the players playing with emotion for their club, and pride in representing a great club in the national competition. Hopefully, there can be more of this from the current players, showing some heart for their embattled coach, and their fans, and restoring some pride in being a West Coast player.
The percntage boost
This was the game Sydney needed to thrust themselves back into the finals mix. Not only did they secure four points, but their percentage took a sizeable leap and ended up on 113.3
That may not sound like a heap, particularly when some of the top teams are in the 120s, but in a season where the race for the seventh and eighth spots will be very tight, Sydney now have a better percentage than St Kilda, Essendon, and the Dogs, all of whom sit two games ahead of them. Another couple of wins and he Swans, unlikely as it may seem, could mak a bit of noise as we enter the run home.
From the Viewing Gallery
Congratulations to Oscar Allen on kicking his 100th career goal. He did so early in the first term, and added goal 101 later in the game.
Hayden McLean had a moment to forget in the final term. With the Swans needing a goal to launch their score beyond 200, McLean received the ball in the goal square and sprayed it wide. Thankfully for him, he got another opportunity moments later, and slotted that, bringing up the first double century at the SCG since Marnus Labuschagne in 2020.
Elliot Yeo was a man possessed, finishing with a team-high ten tackles tackles (to go with his nineteen disposals). While it wasn’t a prolific day, he was fierce at the contest and tried to do his part to disrupt the Swans midfield.
One of the unheralded midfielders for the Swans is James Rowbottom. His 13 tackles and 27 disposals had him in the top few players on the ground. All teams need the hard-nosed midfielder, who does the tough defensive work to allow those who dominate offensively to do their job.
Luke Parker has usually been that combative midfielder for the Swans, but now has the luxury to rest forward more, through the development of players such as Rowbottom. He finished with 28 disposals and two goals.
Luke Shuey spent some time off half-back, finishing with 28 disposals and eight tackles. He battled hard all day for his side.
The forward duo of Joel Amartey and Logan McDonald look set to serve the Swans for a decade to come and may leave some people saying “Buddy who?” Between them, they finished with 8.0, showing there are good signs for the future.
Well, there’s not much you can really say about a game like this. The positives for the Eagles are scarce, and for the Swans, well, they were ruthless, efficient, and utterly dominant. They reminded the footy world what they can do when they have the game on their terms, and the scoring power they possess. The question now is – does this win play them into form and they can build their season, or is it a mere illusion coming up against an embattled side? We’ll find out next Friday night as the Swans host the Cats in Grand Final rematch 2. Meanwhile, the Eagles get a chance to go home, compose themselves, and see if they can respond in the Sunday Twilight spot against the Saints.
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If I were to hand out votes for this one, it’s be in this order.
5 – Errol Gulden 4 – Isaac Heeney 3 – James Rowbottom 2 – Luke Parker 1 – Chad Warner
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