Eagles v Fremantle – The Footy King’s Speak

Eagles V Fremantle – The Footy Kings Speak

“Selwood.  Selwood.”

I understand that the editorial policy of the Almanac (revised as of Friday evening) – now requires all articles to commence in this manner.  Apparently it is commonly heard among alliterative Geelong stammerers.  Had George VI lived this long, he could frequently have been heard whispering this mantra on his visits to his grandson’s alma mater at Geelong Grammar.

Fortunately, West Coast fans do not require a speech impediment to be making this statement.  We already have two of them.

Now I will concede that the Geelong model is undoubtedly the superior performer.  In many respects the Selwoods all play a similar style of game.  They are dogged, relentless and low to the ground in every contest.  Joel just does it with greater speed, creativity and inventiveness.  Adam and Scott (the West Coast versions) may only perform at 80% of the level of Joel, but it doesn’t matter.

Because we have two of them, and when I went to school (0.8+0.8=1.6), so the Eagles clearly have a 60% higher Selwood quota than the Cats.  And that just about sums up the Eagles of 2011 – we overwhelm teams with effort, pressure and weight of numbers – not brilliance.

This season is an unusual surprise for West Coast supporters.  In 2005/6/7 we expected to win each week, and were rarely disappointed.  In 2008/9/10 we set our expectation low, and generally failed to achieve them.  Why should this year prove any different?

But the lame have walked (Cox, Nicoski and Kerr have overcome long term injury).  The blind have seen (Quinten Lynch has found confidence to match his physique).  The deaf have heard (Ebert, Rosa and Butler are finding targets more than opponents).  The newborn have spoken (Natanui and Darling are budding stars).  These are not yet the cast of “The Greatest Story Ever Told”, but they no longer the “Amityville Horrors”.

And so to the game.  As most had expected, the Dockers’ ‘serial pest’ forward, Hayden Ballantyne, was a late withdrawal with a hamstring injury from the Richmond game.  Totally unexpected was the Eagles’ loss of both Embley and Kerr in the pre-match warm-up.

All week I had confidently predicted at least a 4 goal win for the Eagles.  Now I shifted uncomfortably in my seat.  Bad omens.  They were both strong midfielders to lose, with the physical capacity to test the Dockers’ guns in Pavlich and Mundy.  Who did we have to counter them?  Who ya’ gunna’ call?

Selwood and Selwood of course.  Brothers in Arms.  Outlaw taggers.  Not so much hired assassins, as nagging ‘mother in laws’ for rent.  “No Matthew, you can’t go out to play today.  You need to catch up on your chores.”  “Put that ball down David, you know it doesn’t belong to you.”

The Eagles bookended the first quarter with successive goals, and had the majority of possession.  For 10 minutes in the middle of the quarter the Dockers found space and their running game to kick a couple, so at quarter time the Eagles led by 12 points.  Promising – though not yet conclusive.

The second quarter was the Eagles best of the season.  It was played almost exclusively in the Eagles attacking half – with 15 inside 50’s for the Coasters to only 3 for the Dockers.  The strength and size of the Eagles forward line has been much commented on – Kennedy, Lynch, Darling, LeCras and Nicoski (now reborn as a swarming presence in attack).  There is no particular brilliance or cohesion to their play.  Just a bloody-minded refusal to let the ball go beyond the centre until the Eagles have scored.

The Big Q’s confident marking and telling disposal was a revelation.  Lynch was like Justin Koschitzke with a brain (JTH – if there are points for similes – then what about tautologies?)

At half time the Eagles led by 37 points.  A voice in my head said “game, set and match” as the players left the field for the long break.  The Dockers 3 goals had come from sporadic individual acts of brilliance.  The Eagles 9 were from a relentless tide of pressure.  This was about character and belief, not skill and performance.  Things that could not be quickly changed in a half of football.

And so it proved.  The third quarter meandered – with the Eagles dominating possession, but wasteful with the ball inside their forward 50.  The Dockers kicked 3 for the quarter – the best being young Nat Fyfe’s astonishing, wrong-footed checkside on the run from the left forward pocket.  This even drew applause from the Avenging Eagle (high praise indeed – she usually only applauds opponents when they kick out on the full).  The best thing about it was that you could see that he meant to do it.  Exceptional skill – not a random alignment of the planets from a hasty snap.

On a dismal day for Dockers supporters, he was a lonely ray of hope throughout  Today was the first time I had seen him in the flesh, and I generally expect to be disappointed by the hype surrounding emerging talent.  Fyfe has a languid grace to the way he moves.  “Floats” was the single word descriptor I noted in my Record as he loped along the Railway flank in the second quarter.  To my eye he has an uncanny resemblance to the skinny young James Hird.  He moves with a balletic grace.  And like the best chess player, he seems to see what is unfolding around him long before ordinary mortals can.

Leading by 28 points at the final break, the Eagles looked home when LeCras slotted the first of the last term.  The Dockers responded with 2 quick goals and for a fleeting moment there was a ‘surely not’, then normal service was restored.

The Dockers kick beautiful goals – but rarely.  The Eagles kick ugly ones – but with routine consistency.  A last quarter goal typified this.  At the 13 minute mark the Dockers had a clump of defenders attempting to run the ball out of defence 20 metres out from goal.  Several times they handballed to a teammate seemingly in the open, only to have him dragged down or the ball intercepted by the outnumbered Eagles attackers.  In the end, spirited contest triumphed over numbers and Natanui forced a turnover to run in a simple goal for the Eagles.

It was a typical battering ram effort from Natanui.  Remember when you played footy by yourself in the park as a kid?  Tossing the ball in the air at my personal centre bounce, I would announce to bewildered birds “and Peter wins the tap; and knocks it out to Peter; who scoops it off the ground and dodges past 2 defenders; kicks to Peter on the lead; who marks and screws around; flat out on the run from 30 metres out on an acute angle; Peter goals and the crowd cheers.”  In my case the acknowledgement was only from the pink and grey galahs in the cheap boughs.

You get the idea.  Substitute Natanui for Peter – in a game with real opponents – and you know how he plays.  Roves his own taps; handballs to himself; and runs on to his own kicks – never elegant – but an irresistible force of nature on a football field.  Natanui is beyond simile, precisely because he is so unique.  Fyfe can be ‘Hird-like’ because we have seen that type before – special though that may be.  Natanui will only ever be ‘Natanui-like’.  Astonishing athlete – absolutely.  Astonishing footballer – no idea – but every week there is another glimpse of what might be.  Fingers crossed.

In the end the Eagles won by 33 points – a margin that flattered the Dockers.  The Eagles had 21 more entries to their Forward 50 (51 to 30), and I suspect that 70% of the game was played inside the Eagles attacking half.  Such was their intent on locking the ball inside their attacking zone.

The most concise summary I could find was in the best players.  For the Eagles their best would be like that staple of the junior leagues – “all played well”.  I could only think of a couple who struggled, and it would be churlish to name them.  For the Dockers it was a matter of “round up the usual suspects” – Sandilands did a mountain of work and his marking and handball are outstanding for such a huge man.  Fyfe ran his heart out, and some of his execution was breathtaking.  Mundy and Pavlich gained possessions, but rarely telling ones.  McPharlin battled against the tide in defence.  After that, very little.  Our worst 6 were adequate.  Their worst 12 were deplorable.

A final individual mention to Matt Priddis, the clear best on ground, and consequently the Ross Glendenning Medal winner.  He is a hard player to describe without damning with faint praise.  Not great at anything, except the ability to will himself to the next contest and then win it.  Like the famous Avis Rent a Car slogan – ‘because we’re number 2, we try harder’.

Visualising him as a footballer, I came up with ‘Robert Harvey carrying a house brick in a backpack’.  The same willpower; evasive skills; tacking strength and modest kick – but the metre or two slower in pace that is the difference between a Brownlow Medalist and a Club Best and Fairest.  The other tireless achiever that he reminds me of is Adrian Fletcher, the journeyman midfielder for first Geelong, then St Kilda, Brisbane and Fremantle from the late 80’s to the early 00’s.

Priddis is the epitome of the modern footballing ‘solid citizen’ – work rate; work rate – run, chase, tackle.  Traits he has inspired in his team-mates this season.

I wonder if Adam, Scott, Joel and Troy have a sister?  I think Matt’s already married.  Pity that.

He’s probably one of the few blokes they’d let into the Selwoods.

Peter Baulderstone

15 May 2011

Comments

  1. John Butler says

    Tremendous Peter

    It’s a frustration for those lacking Foxtel that much is happening in the West this season sight unseen.

    This paints a great picture.

    Cheers

  2. johnharms says

    Brownlow votes for this piece, PB. You forced more than a chuckle out of me with your opening Selwood riff. And then kept it up! This article is 1.6 times better than mine (at least).

    Great win for the Eagles. Beautifully reported. (Simile count high, tautology count low). Your observations of players are insightful and interesting.

    I agree entirely re Fyfe. I had one eye on the Fox coverage and he left Pav for dead in the leadership stakes, yesterday. Half a dozen times he took telling marks, a couple of them which required Stoneham-like marking skill (simile OK by your standards PB?). Stoneham took contested marks with an efficiency which showed how skilful he really was (injury nailed him). Then Fyfe would bob up in the goal square trying to scramble one through. Then he’d snap one through from the pocket.

    Perhaps Nathan Fyfe’s maternal grandmother is a Selwood?

    Thanks for your terrific words PB.

  3. Peter Flynn says

    Really enjoyed reading this piece.

    Clearly best on ground doesn’t necessarily translate to R Glendenning Medal.

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