I normally sit down to write my match reports as soon as I get home from the game. Before the meedja has infected rational thought, and I become another slave to fashion.
It was bloody hot at Subiaco on Sunday afternoon. The Perth temperature maxed out at 34 degrees at 4pm, just as we arrived at Subiaco for the 4.40 bounce down. Puno Ruc’e (bloody hot according to the Croatian Avenging Eagle).
Why are we playing in the late afternoon in early autumn in Perth? Surely they should all be night games in perpetually parched Perth until May. The humidity is up and this is weather for frying footballers, and blinding fans like us who get to blink into the setting western sun for half a game.
What’s that you say? Footy is a made for TV game these days to ensure Emperor Nero gets his $2million bonus for the rights to telecast the empire in flames. Red Hot.
Anyway the heat is my excuse for adjourning to the Eagle brother-in-law’s back deck for a few post-game ales that greatly diminished my appetite for the keyboard when I got home.
So rather than give a blow-by-blow of a game that was more a procession than a contest, here are my take-home messages from Sunday.
The Eagles had a full list save for my patron Saint Beau of the holy Waters. New coach Simpson pretty much selected the tallest lineup he could find. The Eagles have 4 ruckmen in Naitanui, Cox, Sinclair and Lycett that would pretty much walk into half the AFL sides. And Lycett is languishing in the WAFL. They are all pretty mobile so one always played forward; one was often being rotated through the bench; and Naitanui frequently ruck-roved to the others tapwork.
The best combination is still to be decided. We got more of the clearances when Naitanui rucked and then helped bullock it out with handball. My guess is that this will prove Option 1. Cox is much lighter and fitter than last year, but he relies on bodywork and smarts these days more than the athleticism of yesteryear.
Cox or Sinclair will play forward a lot, with Kennedy roaming around the 50 metre zone more as a contesting CHF. Darling clunked a couple of strong marks that he was dropping last year, and he kicked 4 thanks to a deadly boot. He is more of an Aaron Hamill 3rd big man than the Wayne Carey re-run he aspires to be, and Simpson is rotating him through the midfield to use his strength and teach him how find the ball on the ground and in a contest.
On a day where nearly all the Eagles contributed – the only 2 shockers were from our most consistent players of 2013 – Josh Kennedy and Chris Masten. Kennedy had a day to forget. He had one touch to nearly half time, when Wellingham hit him lace out on the lead 25 metres out directly in front. It was one of those classic “if it was a watermelon he’d have drowned” moments. But he won’t have many more games like that.
The Eagles had 60 inside 50’s for the game, to the Bulldogs 37. So despite our big men struggling up forward it was just a matter of when and how. LeCras had his best game for a couple of years with 5 goals, mostly roving spillages from marking contests. There is still an opening for another small forward as Jamie Cripps is limited. Opportunity beckons for Josh Hill if he could ever get the smarts and consistency to match his sporadic talents.
With no injuries our midfield now has the depth to make up for its average talent levels. Priddis and Scott Selwood are still workhorses inside, with poor disposal skills. Wellingham and Gaff got better as the game went, and both looked to have improved their kicking skills on last year. Rosa and Shuey are back from injury plagued 2013 seasons, and Rosa was BOG with 34 touches. Both are penetrating kicks and we got running goals from the midfield for the first time since the Judd/Cousins heyday. Shuey is my man to watch for 2014. Since unjustly missing out to “Don King” Dustin Heppell for the Rising Star a few years back, Shuey has been a serial ‘gunnabee’. He looks stronger and (hopefully smarter) this year, and has all the attributes to be an A Grade midfielder if he gets it all together. Nowhere near as prolific as Rosa in gaining possessions on Sunday, but there were some scything kicks and running goals from those he did gather. A volleyed goal from a marking spillage 15 metres out in the third quarter was better than any Wayne Rooney effort on the weekend. Ange Postecoglou should have him earmarked for Rio. One to watch.
The defence was rarely challenged, but looks our strong suit alongside the rucks. Glass and Mackenzie are as good a key defenders as are going around in the AFL. EMac as my nephews call him played his 100th game on Saturday, and the only good thing to come out of 2013 was his dropping of a dour defensive method because we had nothing more to lose. His running off and offensive rebound creates the occasional turnover, but we are now less predictable in defence. Glass is Glass. Unbeatable one on one.
Oppositions sat on Shannon Hurn last year because he was our only rebounding option. He was good on Saturday because he now has 3 accomplices who are similarly capable. I have dubbed Xavier Ellis “Luke Hodge Lite” (henceforth LHL) for his left foot drives, and the way he pokes out his elbows and his bum when he runs. We are happy to have a defender with 80% of the Great Man’s skill and presence. Brisbane must have been having a Dodgey Brothers “everything must go” sale with all the talent that has walked off their lot in the off season. Local boy returned, Elliott Yeo, looks a solid player with a good hoof.
The surprise packet was Demons discard Jamie Bennell who looked to play like a spendthrift millionaire when he was over East. Pre-game my thoughts were that Simpson had picked him for his pace to run with Dahlhaus. But his fierce tackling and attack on the ball made me think that Coach Simpson has been feeding him the same raw meat that Ross Lyon used to transform Clancee Pearce and Michael Walters. Bennell’s performance on Saturday secured his spot in the lineup for at least the next month.
A lot of last season’s poor performance by the Eagles was conveniently blamed on injuries, but I wrote from Round 2 that they had lost the plot long before they lost the players. Woosha seemed stuck in a 1990’s timewarp, and the players quickly got sick of following Lord Raglan when he ordered them to charge the guns on horseback.
There were obvious signs of Hawthorn in the way Simpson is trying to get us to play. Last year we over-committed to the contest and then had no-one outside when the ball was loose. On Sunday we only had one or two at the contest and still beat the Bullies 160/125 at their strong suit of contested possessions. When we gained possession there was much more of a purposeful chain of handballs to men outside who had time and space to kick purposefully. There was much less of the first possession ‘hoof it forward to the big blokes’ of last year under Woosha.
The game was vaguely enjoyable because of the Eagles dominance after the shambles of 2013. But it was not really compelling due to the heat, and because the Bulldogs never really had any periods when they threatened to make it a contest. They held us for the first 20 minutes of the game, before we got late goals to kick 2 clear. The second and third quarters were one-sided. By the last quarter all the players from both sides were exhausted, and it was an 8 goals (Eagles) to 6 goals (Bulldogs) exhibition game with none of the contested footy of the first 3 quarters.
Eagles 21.8 (134) – Christians 11.3 (69). The punters would have wanted their money back at the Colloseum. The Christians lacked teeth, height and strength.
Dale Morris was brilliant in containing Kennedy. The rest were triers and plodders. How come other clubs can buy Trent West, Hamish Macintosh, David Hale, Ben Mcevoy etc etc – but Minson still runs around like Goliath in the Valley of the Midgets. Crameri is a third string tall, not a marking player to build an attack around.
The coach is good. The players are willing. The recruiting and drafting are diabolical. Add 2 good talls and the Bullies would be around the 8-10 zone. Without them its 12-15 yet again, and the sad thing is that it’s not for want of trying in the box and on the park. The Bulldogs oven isn’t hot enough to get the bread to rise –making flatbreads when they need hi-tops.
The Avenging Eagle and I picked our way carefully down Roberts Road opposite the stadium on our way from the game. The road is normally strewn with self-inflicted damage and debris from government limousines on a Sunday evening. But it seems like our former Treasurer, Troy the Boy, had a quiet night in this Sunday. He looks like a Dockers man to me. Too Hot to Handle.
Malarkey Votes: Matt Rosa (WCE) 3; Mark LeCras (WCE) 2; Dale Morris (WB) 1