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West Coast Eagles: 2018 Premiers

West Coast 11.13.79 d Collingwood 11.8.74
Yes!  The Eagles are bringing the cup back to Perth with the club's fourth premiership won in a stirring Grand Final, with the Eagles snatching victory in the last two minutes to win a thriller.  Luke Shuey took out the Norm Smith Medal for his best on ground performance.

The Eagles took an early battering as Collingwood kicked the opening five goals of the match, but steadied with two goals before quarter time.  From there West Coast steadily worked back into the match to level the scores at three quarter time.  Two quick Collingwood goals after the break put the Pies in the box seat, but the Eagles dominated the term, with multiple chances until Dom Sheed coolly slotted every kid's dream - a goal to put your team in front in an AFL Grand Final which ends up the winning kick.

Adam Simpson declared post-match that the Eagles weren't the fairytale this year, but the reality is that a team that was widely unrated at the start of the season are the ones taking home the silverware this year.  In a season where there were few standout teams, the Eagles somehow flew under the radar all year, only really coming to the attention of the wider footballing public when a Grand Final apperance was locked in, and even then being somewhat ignored east of Eucla.

The Game

First Quarter
It's hard to imagine now, but the first quarter started out brightly with a free kick to Luke Shuey and a quick kick to Josh Kennedy who had a shot on goal.  But it missed, and the Pies then slammed on five unanswered goals.  The first was a fairytale goal to the grieving Travis Varcoe, then two in a row to Rising Star Jaidyn Stephenson who outpointed equally inexperienced defender Tom Cole.  Danger Pie Jordan De Goey, who had well beaten the Eagles defence in the mid-year match at the MCG chimed in for the fourth, and when Will Hoskin-Elliott kicked his side's fifth to blow the lead out to 29 points, I defy any Eagles supporter not to have had nightmares of a 2015 repeat.

The Eagles finally got a major on the board with the most unlikely of goals, with the ball landing on Willie Rioli's shin in the goalsquare, but it was a chink of light, and when Josh Kennedy followed up with another, the Eagles had managed to escape the quarter with only a 17 point deficit.

Second Quarter
After a relative glut of goals in the first term, the second term started as a stalemate, with the Eagles locking down the game in an attempt to bring the match back online.  It took until the 20 minute mark of the term for a major score to be registered, with De Goey kicking his second, and the Pies getting back out to a 23 point lead.

The Eagles struck back though, with Mark Hutchings - having an outstanding day keeping Brownlow runner up Steele Sidebottom completely blanketed - adding insult to injury by getting away to kick a fairly quick reply.  Another, to dominant midfielder Luke Shuey finally brought the margin back to just two goals, and it looked like the Eagles were well back in the game.

Certainly the Eagles had the better of the quarter, with the backline back on track after a poor start, the midfield winning the contests, and the Collingwood pressure starting to be turned around a little.

Third Quarter
The third quarter started the same as the opening quarter, with a quick kick out of the centre to Kennedy - but this time the multiple Coleman Medallist didn't miss, reducing the margin to a goal.  However Collingwood's Mason Cox - hitherto unseen under a massive blanket by Tom Barrass - finally got off the chain to get that one back.

A bit of Rioli magic in the pack at the top of the square allowed Jamie Cripps to register an easy goal to again reduce the margin to six points, but again the Pies got that one back with a goal to Taylor Adams, clearly the best Pie on the ground.

The Eagles however had the better of the game, best exemplified by Jack Darling, who'd been unsighted in the first half, turning in a monster performance in this term.  His goal once again brought the margin back to a single goal, and this time the Pies failed to answer - a couple of behinds before a front half howler by Adams let Elliot Yeo (another who'd had a poor day up to now) cut off a clearing kick and put the Eagles in front by two with the resulting goal.  

A flurry of behinds - well three to Collingwood and one to the Eagles left the game absolutely evenly poised at the final change, with scores level.

Last Quarter
In games like this, the importance of the opening goal of the last quarter is often stressed, and this time Collingwood got twoin the opening two minutes, one to Brodie Mihocek, and a third for De Goey.  Certainly that put the Eagles backs to the wall, and the Pies in a very strong position.

This Eagles team however is one that finds a way.  Backup ruckman Nathan Vardy reduced the margin back to a goal with a strong forward mark and kick three minutes in, but once again Collingwood's Cox (having a much better second half) got away to give the Pies a two goal lead once again.

Josh Kennedy kicked his third for the game to again reduce the margin to a goal, but then West Coast forgot how to kick goals, with a multitude of misses, kicks falling short and just generally not quite getting it right.  Not the time for this to happen, but the margin had been reduced to two, while Hoskin-Elliot missed a chance to probably ice the game for the Pies.

Coming into the final couple of minutes, a magnificent passage of play down the southern wing (more below) resulted in a mark deep - very deep - in the pocket by Dom Sheed.  Sheed went back and kicked a very challenging goal to put the Eagles in front again for only the first time in the quarter, with only two minutes to run in the game.

The Eagles could have put it beyond doubt when Darling inexplicably dropped a mark in the goalsquare, but had the presence on the ground to hold the ball up for the remaining time to run out victors by four points.

Moments that counted

A bump for the ages

The bump is a somewhat dying species in AFL football in the modern era - and given the risks of injury, perhaps it needs to be.

However the 2018 Grand Final had one memorable instance of the great bump, when Liam Ryan cleanly and fairly took on Collingwood's Brayden Maynard, knocking the ball loose, and leaving the Pie a little stunned.

The Eagles had somewhat struggled in the match to that time, but that had to brighten the spirits of Ryan's teammates and dull those of Collingwood.

Back in it

Collingwood led the game from their opening goal until twenty minutes into the third quarter, when Elliot Yeo goaled to put the Eagles in front.

It was however a testament to the pressure of the Eagles after the early blitzkreig had been weathered - the previously unflappable Taylor Adams making a complete hash of a kick out of defence, and Yeo took an easy mark 50m out from goal, and slotted the resulting kick.

Much is made of the mistake by the Pies runner who accidentally blocked the nearest Collingwood player, but given the kick, it's unlikely that he would have got there in time anyway,

The goal

Well, there's that goal.

The one where Dom Sheed kicks the goal that every kid dreams of when they first play the game - the difficult goal that puts your team in front in the dying stages of an AFL Grand Final in front of 100,000 people.

It was the end of a magnificent passage of play though - given the criticality of it, the most important passage of play you could imagine.

It starts with a great mark to Jeremy McGovern, where many would have chosen to spoil.  His kick finds Nathan Vardy, who kicks it on to a magnificent mark by Liam Ryan at half forward.  His kick finds Sheed deep in the pocket, and, well the rest is history.  Sheed kicks a most challenging goal, the Eagles hit the front, and the Premiership Cup is heading west.

Again, there's a minor controversy, with many Pies fans saying a free kick for a block should have been paid against the Eagles at the Sheed mark - to them I ask where they were when Ash Sampi was held in that contest in 2005....



That's the question we asked the other day.  The answer then was of course - if you're in it, you can win it.

Now we know the real answer.  Yes, but it was a magnificent Grand Final - one that will be remembered for years (other than for some Pies fans who likely have blotted it out already).

Simpson might have said the Eagles weren't the fairytale, and a team that's made four finals series in a row usually isn't, but this was a team that was told, repeatedly and consistently that they couldn't.  And always found a way to make that "could".

In the euphoria after the game, it's easy to make bold statements, but it doesn't seem unfair to label this win as at least equal in merit to the Eagles best flag - the groundbreaking 1992 team.  That's to take nothing away from the '94 and '06 teams, but both were hot favourites, had everything go pretty much right, and prevailed (if in quite different results).  

This team gritted it out with key players missing at the pointy end of the season, with the talk before the finals all being about which Melbourne team would take out the flag (with the occasional serve of GWS), and a level of underrating even in its own supporters.

In 2018, the Eagles were a team that always found a way.  And on this day, it did.

© Copyright 2018 Matt Quinn - All Rights Reserved.
Pictures sourced from the Internet.