2010 for the West Coast Eagles

Season highlights

Beating Essendon.  Twice.

Actually, starting a review of West Coast’s 2010 season with highlights feels bit like putting air in the tyre after a car wreck – technically it’s possible, but you know it doesn’t make any sense.  There were some isolated moments to savour, but the fact that they became season highlights shows just how dismal the year turned out.

The successive wins over Hawthorn and Melbourne in Rounds 7 and 8 were ultimately the high point, though Hawthorn had won only once to that point and Melbourne just three times.  At 3-5 and having won at the MCG, it felt like there was an outside chance of redeeming the season.  However, the second win over Essendon in Round 16 was the only other success for the year.

The individual highlight was clearly Mark LeCras’ 12 goals in that Round 16 game, a remarkable performance by any standards, particularly in the middle of 13 losses.  I also saw Nic Natanui rip the Bombers to pieces in Round 4 in 10 minutes of the most inspiring footy I have seen since Chris Judd in his prime.

After that, only being beaten by 44 points by the Cats in Round 22 and managing to stop Fremantle scoring a goal for nearly 4 minutes in the Round 18 Derby are almost worthy of mention.

Season lowlight

The 2010 AFL season.

It’s hard to be much more specific.  At the start of the year I thought, as did many other people, that the Eagles were a contender for being finals cannon fodder (ie: scraping into the bottom half of the top 8 and then being belted by one of the good teams).  Their draw for the first two months wasn’t terrible and, coming off a strong finish to 2009, being 5-3 and in a solid position with some confidence looked a realistic chance.

Instead, being 1-5 after six games put a kybosh on all that, and even the wins over Hawthorn and Melbourne were really only band-aids as it turned out.  A few competitive-ish losses lead into beltings by Richmond, the Bulldogs and Collingwood; and form, confidence and credibility were gone, never to reappear.

If there was a low point to the year, that 10-goal drubbing by Richmond in Round 12 would be hard to beat.  It was only a few weeks earlier that Richmond were being touted as the worst side of all time and it was being seriously questioned if they would win a game all year.  That sort of context makes a bad result all the more demoralising, and the Eagles never looked like recovering.

The improvers

Not many players took their chances in 2010.  It was a year where consistent competence would have drawn attention, but even by that fairly low standard it was hard to find much to talk about.

Nic Natanui showed that he has the potential to be a player who transcends club loyalties like an Ablett or a Judd.  When he gets going he dominates play as if he’s in a parallel universe with slightly different rules.  He couldn’t keep it going all year, but you get the impression that how high West Coast’s next peak is will be largely determined how good he turns out to be.

LeCras kicked 63 goals, and if Worsfold can resist the temptation to turn him into a mid-fielder, he doesn’t need to do too much more to be right at the top of the tree as a small forward.  Matt Priddis and Adam Selwood really held it together this year – without them it might have been really ugly.  Beau Watters’ come back year was solid, but his was a small finger in a large dyke for a lot of the year.

Scott Selwood showed signs of being at least as good as some of his brothers, but next year will be his big test.  Several of the new players showed glimpses of making it – Brad Sheppard, Andrew Strijk, Ashton Hams and Callum Wilson all gave some cause for optimism.  Overall though, it was a year of getting games under belts.  It is a young and inexperienced list with plenty of highly rated recruits – but none of them really launched themselves in 2010.

The sliders

A pretty large proportion of the list would look at 2010 and put it down as a lost year in terms of runs on the board.  Some will lose their career as a result.  Many players struggled to be fit for extended periods, and then often played in ineffective structures – so only the coaches will really know how to rate their seasons.

Injuries interfered with a lot of players (including:  Sam Butler, Bradd Dalziell, Darren Glass, Ashley Hansen, Tim Houlihan, Shannon Hurn, Brett Jones, Daniel Kerr, Chris Masten,  Mark Nicoski and Luke Shuey); and most of the youngsters can probably consider it the sort of year that happens sometimes, and they’ll sink or swim in 2011-12.

The problem seemed to be those 3+ year players who are at the point in their careers where they need to be making their long term intentions clear.  Not many had the sort of year that sews up a long term spot on the list.

In a side which struggles to score, capable forwards should be a valuable commodity.  The fact that none of Mitch Brown, Ben McKinley and Quinten Lynch could hold their spots suggests that their year was below average.  Though Brown showed more potential in the backline, it is hard to see Lynch at the club next year (which is a shame).

Matt Spangher also couldn’t get into the team, and you’d have to imagine he finished the year lower on the list than he started.  Given he’s asked to be traded, it seems like everyone recognises that.

It’s unfair to put Dean Cox in this category, but injury, age and the emergence of some pretty darn good ruckmen around the competition have turned him back into a mere mortal.

Giggle moment

Having supported a club which has made it to a preliminary final every 3-4 years since the early 90’s, a year like 2010 was a bit of a shock to the system.  Once I got over my frustration though, it was impossible not to find some sort of sick humour in it all.

I guess humour is in the eye of the beholder, and I suspect that no two Eagles fans would find the same thing funny this year.  I was at Subiaco for the Round 4 win over Essendon and at one stage the game got so lamentable that the crowd was actually laughing rather than barracking.  It was like being at a moderately funny movie, where the audience never quite dissolves, but is right on the edge for ages, just waiting for the killer joke to light it up.  It didn’t come, but I have never heard a footy crowd make that noise before, and frankly I hope I never do again.

My personal (hysterical) giggle came in the Round 18 drubbing by Freo.  I had the AFL website up (against stern advice from my good wife) at the start of the game.  I was checking it every few minutes, and was happily reporting that it was the Eagles best game for a while because it was still 0-0 after about 12 minutes.  Then I noticed that it wasn’t refreshing properly. When I manually refreshed it was actually 3.2 to 0.0, and it just got worse from there.  It was either laugh or smash the keyboard through the monitor, which is not approved.

Lament

Everything, but most specifically how bad the basic skills are.  There are things that you just expect AFL footy players to be able to do – and amongst those I tend to think of as a pre-requisite are kicking, catching and that sort of thing.  I can accept poor decision making for a while, hopefully that is something that will improve with experience and confidence; but I expect the players to look a class above the blokes having a kick in the park – and to be brutally honest, the Eagles didn’t always achieve that this year.

I know the pressure is different, and I’m glad they can actually get their hands on the thing – but the execution looked distinctly amateurish way too often.  I remember back in ‘05 and ‘06 (which wasn’t THAT long ago) and watching the Eagles take the ball end to end by hitting half a dozen teammates on the chest a half-step in front of an opponent.  This year you were lucky to see three consecutive possessions other than chips around the backline, and even then it was heart in the mouth stuff.

What next?

Next year is critical for West Coast.  After such a sharp decline as the last three seasons have seen, culminating (I hope!) in the debacle of 2010, there is the need for a credible year in 2011.  If they can make some progress they can turn 2010 into a largely-meaningless aberration.  If not, then it might be a much longer path back up than most supporters want to see.

I think they need to make some very carefully considered selections in the off-season, in two key areas: B+ players; and inspirational coaches.  Given how important I think next year is to the next five years, a fairly short term focus might be worthwhile.  Some immediate solidity is what I would be looking for.

Despite a lot of talk, I don’t think that Worsfold is in any serious danger of being shown the door before the end of 2011 (and I’m happy for the club not to get a reputation for terminating coaches) – but I reckon he is a very long way from being there in 2012.  The 2010 skill level, to me at least, is a major black mark on his tenure.  He has also appeared over many years to be a very one dimensional coach, and while that was fine when he had the best team going round, more creativity is needed on game days if nothing else.  There seems to be no spark, and while I don’t know them personally and I may be missing the mark here, the combination of Worsfold, Sumich, Daniher and Burns seems more workmanlike than inspirational.  There are two coaching positions to be filled, and I’m kind of wanting to see a bit of flair and style added.

From a playing perspective, there is a lot of youth, but no-one that seems to be holding them together.  The senior guys – Cox, Glass, Kerr, Embley – are too few and struggling themselves.  I love seeing those B+ players providing a consistent structure for the A and emerging players to work around – the Tyson Stenglein type who just oozed capability and would just occasionally win a game himself.  It could be time to find some ready-made B+ players in this year’s trade period – but with Gold Coast chasing exactly the same thing, it might not be the easiest year to get some.

The Eagles have to really focus on hitting the start of next year cherry ripe.  If they can put some good performances and wins together in the first six weeks, they should be able to control their own destiny a bit more.  If they lose momentum early, it could easily turn out the same again.  I think the best we can hope for is to find some early form and confidence, avoid key injuries, and with luck it could be a season of mind-numbing mid-table mediocrity.  With more luck, that will turn out to be a necessary step on a trajectory back to the top four in 3-5 years.

Comments

  1. Westcoastdave, nice honest review. 2011; A lot will depend on the sort of draw you get first up I reckon. Cop some beltings and the confidence of a young group can be severely affected.

    Callum Wilson looks like an option in the forwards though. I understand his form at Souths wasn’t too shabby either. Why do you think it took so long to get a game?

    I think that some at West Coast, based on their history, have been lulled into a sense that the rise up the ladder was a fait accompli and that the trajectory of 2001-2006 was bound to repeated. They saw 2009 after 2008 as a natural progression without actually looking at what some of the wins at the fag end of 2009 actually were; pretty meaningless victories over pretty poor opponents (Essendon, North and Richmond at home) plus a good win over a inaccurate Bullies team at Etihad. Hence the ludicrous assertions that WC would be challenging for a flag in 2-3 years.

    WC (like Essendon) have to realise that they are soon to be just one of 18 sides desparately battling it out for the flag and the path to premierships is not necessarily free of pitfalls and obstacles. They might not win one for quite a while.

  2. John Butler says:

    Dave, I thought Josh Kennedy did pretty well this year considering the midfield delivery.

    When you played the Blues at Etihad at the start of June, the Eagles’ first quarter was amongst the most insipid I’d ever seen. I wasn’t surprised they struggled after that.

    Woosha has much to prove next season.

  3. westcoastdave says:

    John, I didn’t quite know what to say about Josh Kennedy. I didn’t see every game this year, not even close to it. I get the impression that he had some good periods, but few complete games – but they weren’t they ones I saw. When I was watching, he was mostly invisible. I’d be happy to hear that he has more potential than what I have personally observed, but he wasn’t one of the people I noticed for good or bad reasons at the season level.

    As for Callum Wilson taking a while to get a game – I don’t know. I think he started a long way down the pecking order, and even in a disastrous year it took a while for his turn to come around.

  4. Dave, well summarised. A woeful year, so woeful that I can’t quite get myself up to be excited about the fatc we beat Essendon twice (something that would ordinarily have me cartwheeling for half the summer…).

    The big disappointment for me was how insipid we were in several games (away games against Coll, Rich, Carl, Freo, and the second half of most home games), and the loss of our competitiveness and any semblance of a winning culture. Losing can become a habit, and a hard habit to break – and I fear the club may take a fair bit of lasting damage from the turn that it allowed 2010 to take. Along the way, John “it’s not about winning” Worsfold hasn’t always looked and sounded like someone who recodnises that his profession is that of competitive sport.

    I was impressed with Shepherd & Hams, and also with the late-season games from Koby Stevens – but (putting them up against the likes of Masten & Ebert) I also have to wonder at why our best young midfielders seem to be the ones that have been in the club’s system for the least period of time.

    I agree that Woosha is safe for 2011, and he probably has enough credits accrued to warrant that. But I’ve got to question the next tier in the coaching staff – and there are plenty of (unsubstantiated) stories of Woosha having forced out those who questioned him and instead surrounded himself with “yes-men”. I don’t know if that’s true, and I really hope it isn’t – I would certainly LIKE to be able to belive in Woosha and all that he builds up around him. But I also notice that ex-WCE assistant Tony Micale has again worked miracles with East Perth this year, and I can’t help but wonder…

  5. westcoastdave says:

    I know what you mean Brad. I have a bit of the same feel for the club at the moment as I did for the Libs at the last election – I can’t quite bring myself to take it all at face value. Even in 2005-06 I had a feeling that we and Sydney were benefiting from the absence of any real standout team in the competition, and consistently being pretty good beat most teams most weeks until a top 2 spot gave us great finals runs. But that doesn’t account for the drop off since then. Even allowing for the departure of some pretty decent players, the skills shouldn’t be at the level they seem to be now. Clearly the club culture has taken a hit. We don’t get to see what it looks like inside – but from afar it has a tendency to look pretty insipid at times, as you say.

    I’m an optimist though, and I fully expect they will get some momentum up again; the alternative doesn’t bear thinking about.

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