West Coast Reality Check - End of the "Fairy Tale"

I got up this morning, dragged myself out of bed and headed into a job I really no longer want to be doing. It was an ordinary Tuesday morning, inasmuch as one of the guys in the office brought the newspaper in and added it to the pile that now sits near the photocopier, mostly unread except for the sports pages. He’s one of the very few under 40 who still buys the newspaper, and more than that, one of the remaining few who often allows it to inform his opinion on football.

Other than that, he’s a pretty nice guy.

When the newspapers are left around, and I find a little time in between playing on my phone and responding to stupid emails, I may consider picking it up and thumbing through the sports section.

I often immediately regret it. Today was one of those days.

I saw stories about Richmond. I saw stories about Collingwood, and their impending date with destiny. There were the articles highlighting the “fairy tale” journey of the Melbourne Demons as they make their way into a preliminary final for the first time in 18 years, and a full page on Jake Melksham, with Mark Robinson butchering the English language and every writing convention I can remember learning about in his first three paragraphs. Of course, Melksham deserved the praise heaped upon him – he’d just kicked two goals, had 11 touches and zero tackles against the Hawks. Roll out of the red carpet for a performance befitting football royalty, right there…

From Saturday to Tuesday, the newspapers were a celebration of all things footba…. hang on a second. Not ALL THINGS football – not by a long stretch. It was a celebration of all things Victorian-football. Whilst I am sure the same rings true in other states and their local teams, I don’t get to see all that. I get the Herald-Sun and occasionally The Age left on my desk, and inevitably, it is the same. Richmond, Collingwood, Melbourne… one story after another.

But there is a team from the west that is being largely ignored in the east, much to their detriment.

As the crowds gather to pack the MCG on Friday night, ready to watch two powerful Victorian teams butt heads, and the journalists attempt to once again dictate the way the footy public thinks with their stories of the Richmond pressure, the Collingwood discipline or the Melbourne “fairy tales”, the West Coast Eagles are flying under the radar.

Still flying high, but somehow missed by those with the powerful pens of praise. See that Robbo – alliteration. They finished second on the ladder, and yet, in the Victorian coverage, are almost an afterthought.

West Coast fans have been accused of having a bit of a persecution complex when it comes to the coverage they receive, not only in the Victorian media, but from the AFL itself. I’ve dismissed this in the past, but watching the media whip themselves into a veritable frenzy over the exploits of the Demons, Magpies and Tigers, I’m being swayed to thinking their claims may have more than just a little legitimacy.

Those in the media must have short memories. They’re busying themselves with talk about the Demons’ rousing win over the Eagles in Round 22. Yes, Melbourne got a win on the road, and yes, it was against the Eagles, but in their narrow reminiscing, have they even begun to scratch the surface in terms of circumstances surrounding that win?

I think not.

I know not.

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West Coast went into the game without Josh Kennedy, and lost Jack Darling in the first few minutes after a tackle sent him crashing head first into the (reportedly hard) Optus Stadium turf. Without their two best forwards, and as such, their main avenues to goal, the Eagles found it hard to dismiss the Dees, despite getting three goals from Willie Rioli.

The Melbourne media have also conveniently forgot the pounding the Eagles gave the premiership favourites in Round 9, where Darling and Kennedy monstered the much vaunted Tiger defence en route to a crushing 47 point win.

And their amnesia has extended to omit another huge win - a 35 point win over Collingwood in Round 17 on the MCG, that proved that the Grand Final venue held no fears for them, even against a worthy foe such as the Magpies. Oh, they also beat them again just a few weeks ago, in the Qualifying final, but let’s not concern ourselves with trivialities like that – let’s concentrate on Melbourne finally getting a win over a top eight team and bring that up as the story that will drive this next contest.

There is no doubt that the Dees were good that day. They were challenged late, and they were up to the test. It was a momentous win for their team, hitting the road and knocking over a top two team, but with the Eagles missing their top two stars, it took a little gloss of the sheen.

This time, it’s a different ball game. The Eagles are 11-0 when both Josh Kennedy and Jack Darling line up in the side this season. Here’s a bit of bad news for Melbourne… they’re both playing this week.

The combination of Darling and Kennedy are formidable indeed. Darling started the season like a rocket before an ankle injury grounded him in Round 11. Since his Round 17 comeback, he hasn’t quite been the same, but is still averaging two goals per game..

Kennedy has started to work his way back into the team and back into form. Against the Magpies, the Melbourne media was at it again, as the returning Tyson Goldsack seemed to have Kennedy’s number for the first three quarters. Kennedy may have been his own worst enemy at times in this game. He’d get both hands to the ball in marking contests, yet fail to bring the ball to ground. Every time he did it, it made Goldsack seem all the more effective…

… and didn’t the media eat that up?

Yet when the game was in the balance, it was Kennedy stepping to the fore. His two late goals gave him 2.4 for the day, and helped push the Eagles over the line. Would Goldsack have received the plaudits had Kennedy kicked 5.1?

Those in blue and gold have experienced campaigners on every line, be they the two stars I mentioned above combining with the wily Mark LeCras in the forward line, the resurgent Luke Shuey and Jack Redden-led midfield, or the solid, reliable backline featuring Jeremy McGovern and Shannon Hurn. More than that, they have what has become known as X-factors in their team. Rioli, Liam Ryan and Jamie Cripps provide the kind of spark that can tear a game apart in a quarter.

As much as the Victorian media will have you believe that the Eagles are a distant fourth in the race for the flag, the reality is different.

Very different.

Against the others in the top four, only Richmond boasts a record as good as West Coast. They both sit at 3-1, with Richmond’s only loss in this grouping coming at the hands of the Eagles, in emphatic fashion.

West Coast welcome Melbourne to Optus Stadium on Saturday afternoon. With the sun apparently set to beat down, and temperatures hitting around the 25 degree mark, the contest will be hot, in ferocity and temperature alike. The fairy tale Demons will walk out onto the ground with the hopes of their supporters, and the Melbourne media pinned on them. They make for good copy, and a run into the Grand Final will no doubt stir up many stories about the days of premierships long past.

But there is a problem with fairy tales.

They’re just made up stories. In the real world, the villains often win. Cast in the role of bad guys this weekend, at least on this side of the country, the West Coast Eagles are in a position to book a place in the Grand Final; and end this fairy tale in tragedy.

This weekend, the fairy tale endings are more likely to resemble the Brothers Grimm than they are Disney.

Sorry Demon supporters. It was fun while it lasted.

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