WEST COAST EAGLES V COLLINGWOOD
SUBIACO OVAL – 5.40pm WST – Saturday 25 August 2012
This is the third week of the very preliminary finals. In an even season it is all about getting your best players fit and in form, while obtaining the best possible grid position for the start of the September Grand Prix.
My Eagles bottomed out in August, but now Embley is back and Josh Kennedy plays his first game for four months tonight. Save for the ‘gone’ LeCras and Nicoski, this is our best available lineup for September. The win over the Cats was promising (though the Hawkins injury leaves a question mark over the form), and we were tradesman-like against the incompetent Power on their dung heap.
But tonight we are punching above our weight. Collingwood are the blond with big boobs that you took to the high school dance. We groped them in last year’s qualifying final and again mid-season, but both times we ended with a warm feeling in the trouser leg but no reward. Tonight they are ripe for the plucking (to use an Arthur Daleyism).
No Jolly and no Maxwell so they are light on for height and smarts. I run the game over in my mind a hundred times. Our strengths are their weaknesses. And vice versa. Cox, Naitanui and a solid (sometimes brilliant) defence are our aces. Our forward line does enough but is scattergun more than laser in structure and execution. JK will straighten us up, but is he ready?
The midfield is our Achilles heel, and I chew the fingernails over what Pendlebury, Swan, Thomas, Beams and Sidebottom might do. I have seen too many games where a plodding midfield has squandered the manna that Cox and NicNait have rained on them.
It has been spring for nearly a month in Perth, but this is no time to think of the implications for summer sprinkler bans. Subi’s swathe gleams under a setting sun after a 24° day. This is an early WFA contest that tells us who has the heart and legs for the big dances later on, but I have told Jaimee and Tom I am taking none of their skinny odds and false promises.
Is it only me, but doesn’t Tom look like a London spiv in the skinny tie and shiny suit? “Come on guvnor I’ve got the Crown Jewels for you right here for only a tenner. Fell off the back of a truck at the Tower only this morning.” And Jaimee is the Impossible Princess with the come hither eyes and the rabbit trap legs. (This match report is brought to you by Dontbeamug publications and sponsored by Sirensong Crash Repairs.)
My brother-in-law has the fearful look of the permanently disappointed. Collingwood by 5 points he glooms. I am having none of it tonight. “Eagles by 5 goals,” I assert. “If we can’t towel them here with our best side available, then we are no chance in September. I reckon the assassin eyed pharmacist has given them a Bart Cummings prep and this is Turnbull Stakes Day. Big track and a firm surface. We’re monties.”
The Avenging Eagle eyes me nervously. She likes the sentiments, but not the metaphors.
There is a surprise change when the teams run out. Where is the Missing Lynch? Late injury or team balance now that Kennedy is back? The assassin isn’t saying.
The first fifteen minutes realise all my worst fears. The game is predictably frantic, but we are fumbling while the Collingwood runners have cleaner hands. Fortunately they have dirty feet and there are 4 easy misses before Fasolo kicks a long set shot. Then they settle and there is a burst of goals to Goldsack, Fasolo again and the classy Pendlebury. We are hanging in there but only just, and the Pies take a 12 point lead in to the first break. Should have been more, so I am relieved but anxious.
At quarter time Cloke speaks to his Dad and they both take off their shoes and sox to work out they have done enough to justify their current miserly rate of remuneration. Swanny reckons he’s done 3 beers worth of running, and Bucks won’t let him have another six pack until October. Harry O lapses into a Buddhist chant. Daisy, Beamsy and Sidesy start thinking about the babe they’ll take to the Brownlow and how they’ll look in the celebrity pages.
Basically the Pies go on strike.
Kerr, Priddis, Scott Selwood and a rampant Shuey take everything away from the clearances. Glass and MacKenzie are making Cloke and Dawes (those funny blokes from the 7.30 Report) look predictably farcical. The smiling assassin has pulled the reverse Hurn-lich Manoeuvre by playing McGinnity as a tagging forward to stop Heath Shaw’s run. Shaw shows all the temperament of a 5 year old on red cordial and starts to give away silly free kicks and argue with umpires.
Naitanui is extraordinary. He has the best leap of any footballer I have ever seen. Period. Seriously. GAblett Snr was freakish, but he needed at least a 2 step run up to launch. Naitanui is like a Saturn rocket departing Cape Canaveral. He just launches.
His tap work was brilliant. Shuey and Kerr got some armchair rides. And his marking was his best yet. A one hander on the goal line trapped the ball like LeBron James. He predictably missed the set shot from the angle. I doubt he will win goal of the year. But he has at least a dozen contenders for the golden point of any decade.
The joy of watching Naitanui is his instinctive flair, his relentless enthusiasm and his astonishing athleticism. He still struggles when it is a learned skill like goal and field kicking. But he is 22 and in his 4th season. He is the fastest learner I have ever seen for a big man, so his future is enthralling.
We kicked 4.4 for the quarter to 5 points to lead by 11 points at the half. And it should have been more given the midfield dominance we had won. I felt optimistic, but I told the Avenging Eagle that Buckley will be giving them the mother of all half time bakes for their insipid quarter. “The first 10 minutes will tell us everything. We need to hold them. They will come out spitting fire.”
I didn’t have to wait that long. The Pies came out spitting chips. Two minutes in, Naitanui and Harry O’Brien raced for the ball one out on the far wing. O’Brien got their first to take possession and tried to charge clear. Naitanui stripped the ball and O’Brien tried to corral him over the boundary line.
It was like watching John Steffenson trying to intimidate Usain Bolt. Naitanui waved him aside and charged off, bouncing and then launching to the top of the square. Collingwood spoiled and rebounded, but the game was over. Put down the glasses, its times and margins gentlemen.
Collingwood conceded, and the first 25 minutes of the quarter was Eagles dominance that you just never see against a fair dinkum opponent. The Eagles kicked 5.4 for the quarter, with Collingwood not even troubling the scorer until 2 time-on goals to offer a glimmer.
The Eagles forward entries were agricultural as usual with an inclination to bomb long, rather than lowering the eyes for a target at the 40. No matter tonight when we have such midfield dominance, but we cannot be so wasteful against the Hawks next week.
Fasolo kicked his third against the run of play to narrow the margin to 4 goals, 5 minutes into the last quarter. But even my pessimistic self knew we were only arguing margins and not result. Then the midfield kicked in again for party time to register a spendthrift 4.5 to 2.1 for the quarter, and record a 49 point margin.
On balance of play it could have been nearly double, but the Eagles rely on broadsword more than rapier. 47 more hitouts; 24 more clearances (against the ‘best’ midfield going around?); 33 more contested possessions; 20 more inside 50’s; and 8 more marks inside 50 (the Pies didn’t take one in the 2nd quarter – you know who you are).
Scott Pendlebury was the only shining light for the Pies. He was always attacking, dangerous and skilful with his disposal. He got 129 quality DTP’s (whatever they are). Beams and Swan got similar DTP ‘junk’ numbers – which means they wandered around the defensive 50 chipping the ball sideways to their partners in crime like Thomas and Sidebottom. Ben Johnson worked hard but his disposal let him down. Fasolo was dangerous and is a beautiful kick.
I put a series of ticks, crosses and okays next to the name of each player at the end of each quarter. Tarrant, Goldsack, O’Brien, Blair, Wellingham and Toovey are all experienced players who got nothing but crosses. Dawes and Wood got “not in this company, better off back in the bush.” Cloke got “??? Change of owner and trainer rumoured. Caveat Emptor.”
For the Eagles, only Schofield (a rare poor first half) and Josh Hill (flashes of brilliance in the second half but really needs to impose himself more to keep Hams or Brad Dick out of the side) got more crosses than ticks. Embley and Josh Kennedy started to show a little form in the second half after struggling early. Priddis and Scott Selwood both played their best games for the last 6 weeks. Kerr was typically tough and relentless in gathering possessions, and then wasting them with poor disposal. Glass and MacKenzie were dominant in the key defensive slots (if only Eric could kick!). Hurn, Butler, Waters, Cox and Masten all had solid games. McGinnity and Adam Selwood both did their usual tagging roles. The unfortunate Matt Rosa resumed from injury with a solid game, but sadly looks like he will miss finals again with a broken collarbone after a typically brave charge back into an oncoming pack in the last quarter.
Luke Shuey played his best game for the season to get 3 votes. His speed and footskills make him a standout in a solid midfield when he is on song. Andrew Gaff got 2 votes for his running and the attacks he sets up with neat disposal. Nic Naitanui’s ruckwork and marking deserved 3 votes, but his poor disposal reduced his effectiveness to intimidating more than dominant.
The only downer for the night was the Blues typically lamentable showing on the Gold Coast when it counted for finals action. We need to beat Hawthorn on Friday night to finish Top 4. If we can finish Top 4 we will make a Grand Final. If not we are likely to meet the Dockers in a defensive lockdown over 15 rounds in an Elimination Final. That makes it hard to get past Week 2.
A ‘home’ final against the Dockers is like arguing with your ex. Even when you win you lose. She knows where the bodies are buried, and you come away bloodied even in victory.
This will be a finals series with no gimmee’s, which makes the barrier draw more critical than ever. Hawthorn, Geelong, the Eagles and Kangaroos all go in with a rising formline. Every team has strengths and vulnerabilities. Even the spluttering Magpies and Crows are dangerous when their midfield fires, and Ross Lyon could close down an all-night rage party.
What gives with Collingwood? Forty years of footy watching tells me you do not lose ability overnight. But you can lose desire. “There’s something rotten in the State of Denmark.”
As always the Bard knows the score:
“The fish is rotting from the head down—all is not well at the top of the political hierarchy. There have been some hair-raising goings-on outside the castle at Elsinore. As the terrified Horatio and Marcellus look on, the ghost of the recently deceased king appears to Prince Hamlet. The spirit beckons Hamlet offstage, and the frenzied prince follows after, ordering the witnesses to stay put. They quickly decide to tag along anyway—it’s not “fit” to obey someone who is in such a desperate state. In this confused exchange, Marcellus’s famous non sequitur sustains the foreboding mood of the disjointed and mysterious action.” (The abridged Shakespeare)
My boys have a tough road ahead, but we are fit and in form, with our destiny in our own hands. Who could ask for more?
Leaving Subiaco Oval after the final home game in Round 22 is a strange sensation. The home season’s over but the real season is just beginning. We know we’ll be back again in a semi or at least elimination final. But they will be in different seats in a different part of the ground with different companions around us. By next season the lady in the row behind will be a mother; and the Italian grandma that accompanies her to most games will be a great grandma.
And the Eagles will have another flag? Ah, sweet mysteries of life.
WEST COAST 2.4 6.8 11.12 15.17 (107)
COLLINGWOOD 4.4 4.9 6.9 8.10 (58)
GOALS – West Coast: Shuey 2, Embley, Gaff, A Selwood, Masten, Cox, Kerr, Darling, Hill, Kennedy, Naitanui, Butler, Hurn, Schofield.
Collingwood: Fasolo 3, Beams, Blair, Pendlebury, Sidebottom, Goldsack.
BEST – West Coast: Shuey, Gaff, Naitanui, Kerr, Priddis, Glass, Hurn.
Collingwood: Pendlebury, Johnson, Fasolo, Beams.
UMPIRES - Meredith, Rosebury, Bannister. Good job. Consistent and best umpiring for weeks.
CROWD – 40,527
MY VOTES – Luke Shuey (WCE) 3; Andrew Gaff (WCE) 2; Nic Naitanui (WCE) 1.