Losing isn’t everything for flag-hungry Eagles

As the 2016 AFL season begins in earnest, one statistic looms large.

West Coast have won two of their three premierships (1992, 2006) after losing the Grand Final the year befosre. The Grand Final not part of this trend, 1994, had a lot to do with them bouncing back from a similar disappointment of bowing out in a semi final.

Consequently, many punters cite redemption as their rationale for tipping the Eagles to win the flag this year.

But of course, there’s more to the Eagles premiership prospects than just the law of averages. And if the Grand Finals West Coast has lost have lessons for predicting their future success, then so do the ones they’ve won. Here are some pearls of wisdom to be found in the Eagles previous premierships in the context of their 2016 season.

1992

In 1991, The Eagles seemed to forget they were supposed to be nervous in their first Grand Final, slamming on the first four goals in quick succession. But from there, the Hawks controlled the play, cruising home with an 8 goal to 1 final quarter.

’92 saw the opposite occur: The Cats flew out of the blocks with a 5 goal first term before crucial, superb goals to eventual Norm Smith Medallist Peter Matera helped the Eagles wrest back momentum. They absorbed every challenge the Cats threw at them from there on, and attacked till the final siren to win by 28 points.

Rising to the challenge under early pressure is something the Eagles couldn’t do in last year’s Grand Final, but more important than the Final itself was the lead up.

When the Eagles beat Hawthorn by 13 points in the first week of the finals, a team with the talent to win a premiership became a team with the self-belief to win a premiership.

The confidence to be gained in beating the side that first beat you is the reason this year’s Grand Final rematches – the first one crucially without Jarryd Roughead in the Hawks forward line – will be criticial in dictating whether the Eagles are premiers or less in 2016.

1994

While Geelong’s interrupted preparation during Grand Final week no doubt influenced the end result, West Coast still won this game on their own merit.

The Eagles’ side always looked more complete than the Cats’ on paper, and this converted into a dominant performance all around the ground: With Glen Jakovich and John Worsfold rock solid in defence, Dean Kemp and Matera acting like quarterbacks across the centre line and the reliable Sumich up forward, the Eagles cruised to an 80 point victory.

The Eagles side of 2016 is characterized by this same depth of talent – where in ’94 it was Jakovich, Kemp and Sumich doing damage around the ground, today it’s Hurn, Priddis and Kennedy.

More importantly, with the exception of Priddis, many of the Eagles’ big names – Naitanui, Gaff, Shuey and Darling – are in their playing prime, between 25 and 29 years old. This ensures the Eagles will retain the depth of talent on their list in ways other top four clubs won’t in 2016. Hawthorn have lost premiership stalwarts Lake and Hale, Sydney Goodes and Rhyce Shaw, while Fremantle has lost McPharlin and has concerns over retaining their midfield chemistry with new recruit Bennell.

Their playing list is definitely the angle from which the Eagles look the most appealing in assessing their premiership credentials.

2006

It’s hard, and perhaps naïve, not to view West Coast’s most recent premiership through the lens of the drug culture at the club that has since come to light, but there are still some objective truths to be had here for the Eagles side of 2016.

Having surrendered an early lead to the Swans the year before, the Eagles held firm when Sydney came again in 2006. Tough, ruthless midfielders Kerr and Chick were crucial, setting up late goals for Armstrong and Hunter that ultimately secured the one point win.

It’s this same tough midfielder, undaunted by pressure on the biggest stage, that the Eagles were found wanting in last year’s big dance – witness Shuey’s uncharacteristic errors in the third term – and surprisingly the Eagles had the fourth lowest average tackles per game of any side in 2015.

To their credit they seem to have gone about plugging this hole in their game. The exits of Rosa and Selwood are covered by the acquisitions of Sheed and Duggan in trade period, and the powerfully-built Redden will provide much-needed relief to Priddis when it comes to winning the inside ball.

It seems Adam Simpson’s men have as much to learn from yesterday’s triumphs as from the disappointments – and that they are indeed learning. If their sensible recruiting is matched by level-headedness on the field, they have every chance of thwarting the Hawks in 2016.

About Alex Darling

Melbourne-born, NSW-based footy fan, lover of the Saints, classic rock guitar and good writing on each of these topics.

Comments

  1. george smith says

    Love to see the Weags win it this year, if my beloved Pies can’t. West Australians are a friendly bunch and with the two local teams providing many highlights over the years, it would be good for football…
    Good stuff:
    The highlights of Nic Natanui, the excitement machine of the teens decade.
    Pies have beaten the Weags in most finals, so the revenge factor ain’t really there, compared to Carlton and Brisbane.
    New premiers.
    bad stuff:
    Weags winning another one will equal our post WW2 record of 4 – no bragging rights there.
    No dawn of new era as when Swans, Moggies and even ugh, Brisbane won it after many years of frustration.
    Freo miss out again…
    Just remember west Oz people, Swan beer is no longer made in Western Australia, so be humble in victory and gracious in defeat.

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