The post-season of 2018 was a joyous time for West Coast supporters. A premiership – one many thought was unlikely – was won in the most thrilling of circumstances, with Dom Sheed sinking the Magpies and securing the flag for the Eagles with one of the most clutch kicks in the history of the game.
Earlier that year, veteran AFL analyst, and angry old codger, Robert Walls predicted the Eagles would finish dead last. I’m not sure someone has been THAT incorrect about footy since. The Eagles came together and rattled off a brilliant September, and they did it without three of their stars.
Brad Sheppard tore a hamstring in the Qualifying Final, ending his season. Of all the players who missed the glory of a premiership, the unassuming, eternally underrated Sheppard is the one I felt most for. He would have laid down in front of a train for the club, and he missed one of the greatest moments in Eagles’ history.
Nic Naitanui bowed out of the season in Round 17, a second ACL rupture placing him on the shelf, and with the benefit of hindsight, setting in motion a course of events that would see reduced minutes and a resultant reduced impact for the remainder of his career.
And in Round 20, a single moment of madness from Andrew Gaff cost him his chance at playing in a flag. 80 metres off the ball, Andrew Brayshaw continued to block the path of Gaff, preventing the West Coast running machine from making his way down the ground. It is a standard tactic against elite runners – you take away their running lane by “putting the bumpers up”, although it is not normally employed so far from the action.
Gaff just seemed to have enough. He may have been aiming for Brayshaw’s shoulder or chest, as his defence argued, but the impact of his closed fist shattered the jaw of the young Docker, and the ensuing eight-game suspension ruled Gaff out of the biggest game of his life.
That one moment changed so much. His present, his future, and his life.
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