Not since Leo Barry floated across the front of the pack to snuff out West Coast’s 2005 premiership dream has there been a defensive play so worthy of celebration as the one we saw in the 2017 Elimination Final.
The footage of Barry one-grabbing a pack mark in the dying stages of the Grand Final has become part of every September highlight package. It sits alongside Heath Shaw’s smother of Nick Riewoldt that set the tone for the Magpies crushing defeat of St Kilda in the 2010 Grand Final replay, and Fraser Brown’s last minute tackle on Dean Wallis as the Bombers upset Carlton in the 1999 Preliminary final.
With Eric Mackenzie today announcing his retirement, there’s another moment that should be remembered.
Allow me to paint the picture.
With less than a minute remaining, and scores locked together in the 2017 Elimination Final, Port’s Darcy Byrne-Jones went for broke. His penetrating kick from sixty metres out slipped through the outstretched hands of Eric Mackenzie, and rolled towards the goal face. MacKenzie kept his feet and tracked the ball back towards the line, with Charlie Dixon bearing down on him fast.
Any score would win the game for the Power.
With Dixon hot on his heels, Mackenzie seemingly had nowhere to go. It looked inevitable that the ball would be rushed through.
Mackenzie gathered the ball and, under extreme pressure from Dixon, slammed into the behind post, somehow managing to avoid spilling the ball over the line into the scoring area. Instead he dragged the ball towards him whilst on the turf, touching it to the behind post that had just halted his momentum so suddenly. A boundary throw in resulted and the game went into overtime. It was a courageous act under any circumstance, but with the West Coast Eagles’ season on the line, it was so much more; a moment that should be etched into the club’s folklore.
Following the game, news outlets and online reports would immediately focus on the goal from Luke Shuey in the resulting overtime period, and the contentious free kick that afforded him the opportunity at glory. Whilst Shuey demonstrated nerves of steel to kick the goal and propel his team into the following week’s semi-final against Greater Western Sydney, it was the desperate act by Mackenzie that should be equally celebrated. Without him there was no overtime. Without him there was no high tackle and subsequent shot at goal to secure the win. Without him, West Coast’s season would’ve been over then and there.
Mackenzie’s stats in that game were serviceable, but far from spectacular. Whilst Jeremy McGovern seemed to grab everything that came his way en route to clunking 15 marks, Mackenzie accumulated 15 touches and 8 marks; a decent day out for a defender who is not permitted to zone off, and he was up on his season average. It was his intensity when it mattered most, however, that makes those stats somewhat redundant.
Mackenzie is now 30 years old. His footballing life has seen him play 146 games. At the time I wondered if he’d possibly make the 200-club. It turns out he couldn’t even get to 150.
The West Coast Eagles are a proud club. They have a history of success and moments that are etched into the annals of football history. Peter Matera’s breathtaking runs down the wing in the 1992 Grand Final as he took home the Norm Smith Medal and the Eagles collected their first ever flag. There was Glen Jakovich and his epic duels against the great Wayne Carey – and the jury STILL remains out as to who ultimately won that battle. There’s the monumental 2006 comeback against Geelong where they trailed by 54 points 18 minutes into the third quarter, and Scotty Cummings kicking 14 goals against the Crows. There’s premierships, nail-biters and Brownlows, but there isn’t many singular moments that have meant as much as when Eric MacKenzie put his body on the line and saved their 2017 campaign.
The Eagles fell over against the Giants the following week, and the heroics of Mackenzie, Shuey, Drew Petrie and the like faded somewhat into memory, but I am sure there will be more than a few supporters, players and officials that look back at 2017 and have a few fond memories.
They’ll remember the free kick and goal to Luke Shuey – after all, it was unforgettable. They’ll remember the Eagles running over the stunned Power to upset them at home and end their season.
And they’ll remember the less spectacular moment Eric Mackenzie took one for the team, and kept their September dreams alive with one of the most selfless acts you’ve ever seen.
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