Loud and Proud and Out of Tune

by Peter Baulderstone

West Coast Eagles V Gold Coast Suns

1.10pm Saturday 4June

Subiaco Oval (Anyone calling it Patt…… should be sentenced to…..)

I suppose that Woodward and Bernstein covered the Rotary Club AGM for their first assignment, not the Watergate break-in.  Laurie Oakes got the Refuse Sub-Committee of the Woolloomooloo Council, not a full-scale Federal Budget leak.

Like the Eagles, my form had been on the rise in 2011.  A few encouraging comments on some website pieces, and then Tuesday’s call-up from the Editor – 700 words for “The Book”. This was the Big League.  My shot at immortality.  Twenty seven copies for the rellies on Christmas morning – each nonchalantly dog-eared at page 117.

And what did I get to review – a nail-biter; a goal feast; a peerless exposition of skills from 2 young and emerging teams?  That I should be so lucky.  No it was the CWA monthly meeting, with stale scones and lukewarm tea.

Eagles supporters have been spoiled this year, after the bitter fruit of the past 3 years.  In recent weeks we have seen home game slaughters of the Demons, Dockers and Bulldogs with skills and relentless pressure not hinted at in recent years.  Last week’s 8 goal loss to the Pies was memorable because of the breathtaking skills they displayed.  That Malthouse commanded such a performance from his men was a mark of respect to an emerging Eagles outfit.

All week my head was swimming with musical metaphors.  The young Coasters would be full of adolescent swagger and style – like the boy bands who periodically dominate the music charts.  Perhaps the original Jersey Boys – Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons – “Walk like a Man”; “Big Girls don’t Cry” or even “Ga..aary – won’t you come out tonight”.  Maybe they would flounder like Take That after Robbie Williams left the group.

Nothing so dramatic – for either good or ill.  The only musical memory that seemed to fit was seeing Eric Clapton at a freezing Memorial Drive outdoor tennis centre in the late 70’s.  Eric had come off a long struggle with the Ben Cousins’s, but there were promising reports from his early tour concerts in Sydney.  Apparently Eric was back in Brownlow form.

Suspicions were aroused with the appearance of 2 large sofas on either side of stage.  Not a normal set-up for a rock concert.  Eric lurched on stage, hammered out a few riffs, and then staggered to the sofa where he periodically awoke and made feeble attempts to join in the festivities.  Fortunately Eric had a canny manager who had seen all this before, and had Albert Lee in the band (for the last 30 years a fixture in Emmylou Harris’ Hot Band).  Albert did masterful Eric imitations through Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs.

It was fine, just not what I had come to see.  Much like today’s Eagles and Suns.  (A final happy note to the Eric saga – I heard him interviewed at the end of the tour.  He said how happy he was with the concerts, except Adelaide.  They gave him a metal caravan for a dressing room and it was so cold he downed a bottle of brandy pre-show.  May all Ben’s problems be similarly minor and transitory!)

The first 15 minutes were breathtaking.  The Eagles led 6 goals to zip.  I turned to my spouse, the Avenging Eagle, and gasped wide-eyed “we are hitting all our targets.”  Here was the previously unsuspected skill level from recent wins, once again on fulsome display.  ‘Wash your mouth out with soap’ as my High School teachers frequently advised.  The Eagles meandered through the last 15 minutes of the quarter, seemingly pleased with their efforts to date.  The Suns sparked up, doubtless fearing having to forfeit the next 3 games as Bluey would make them walk home across the Nullabor if they persisted in this fashion.

At quarter time the Eagles led by 4 goals, but surely it was just our gallant refusal to heartlessly exploit the child labor that the Suns were employing.  At half time it was 5 goals, again demonstrating our generosity of spirit.  The game had become a stalemate with the Suns flooding their backline to quell the Eagles big men.  We were oversized and undermanned when the ball went forward.  At the other end Hurn was enjoying an early Christmas, as the Suns defensive flooding left him to patrol unmanned across half back.

There was little else of interest to comment on, bar the physical abnormalities of the Selwoods.  Adam was having an off-day, like several of his teammates.  Andrew Embley’s wife had given birth on Thursday, and he played like a man who had spent the past 2 days on the Stoli, Bolli and cigars.  Scott Selwood was among the Eagles best on the day, doing a niggardly tagging job on Gazza – who nonetheless garnered 30 possessions.  Still it was work rate more than brilliance, and it was only late in the game that his endurance enabled him to break the tag and start damaging forays.

The Selwoods were apparently brought up in a miner’s cottage with 4 foot high doorframes, previously inhabited by diminutive Cornishmen.  All three have an uncanny ability to duck their head at the last second, when threatened by an oncoming obstacle.  Match stats read Frees For – 22; Frees Against – 22; Selwood ‘round the necks’ – 17.  Lucky the child welfare folk didn’t catch up with Mr & Mrs Selwood – or the Eagles would be short their most effective taggers and the Cats minus a premiership or two.  Those boys are 6 foot standing, and 2 foot 6 when ducking.

Surely normal service would be resumed after half time, and the Eagles could be assured a comfortable win.  Not so, when the Suns kicked the first 3 of the second half, to trail by only 13 points at the last break.  The last quarter was an arm wrestle, but in truth the Eagles were never in danger of losing, and they ran out 18 point winners.

Josh Kennedy twice marked strongly and kicked long goals when the Eagles were under pressure in the last half.  He was the only consistent threat among the Eagles tall forwards.  Quentin Lynch worked hard but mostly down the ground, and his opponent Campbell Brown was a tough rebounder all game.

The Eagles big wins have all been against under-sized defences, and I think the midfield needs to kick to space – more than the current long bombs to a marking target.  They have become very predictable and opposition coaches have been quick to drop back a spoiling tall.  LeCras gathered 28 possessions in the midfield and the experiment is probably worth pursuing.  Kerr is unreliable with soft tissue injuries and Shuey is a work in progress, so Priddis needs

support, but it robs the forward line of creativity and quickness.

The game could be summarized as strength and size from our Coasters, triumphing over speed and endeavor from theirs.  After the first 15 minutes it was largely ‘trench warfare’ played between the 2 half back lines, with lots of ugly packs and skill errors on both sides.

The good point for the Suns is that they do not play like a ‘manufactured side’ made up of selfish superannuants and naive draftees.  They have a genuine willingness to work for each other.  The bad point was that their best were clearly the experienced players – Ablett, Rischitelli, Brown and Bock.  All clearly displayed a willingness to protect and teach their kids.  None of the kids displayed the dazzling talent that I had hoped might be on display.  The season and the travel may already be weighing on them.

Zac Smith is clearly a mobile and talented ruckman, but he was badly outstrengthed by Cox and Natanui who gained a more than 2:1 tap advantage.  Without more support from Josh Fraser I fear for Smith’s developing body.  Bennell gained possessions as a running outside player; McKenzie works hard and is a booming kick; while Prestia showed zip and awareness.  Sam Day and Stephen May are big key position players who have skill and baby fat, where there will be muscle and hardness in a few years time.

The saddest part of studying the Suns young talent was realizing the passing of time.  I have become accustomed to watching young players and nodding sagely “he reminds me of his father when….”.  This is the first time when I remembered 2 players’ grandfathers!!  The first grand final I saw was the 1964 SANFL when Neil ‘Knuckles’ Kerley presaged Barassi by crossing from Westies to Captain Coach South Adelaide to a ‘last to first in a season’ premiership.  Ian Day (Sam’s granddad) was a diminutive blonde rover – the Day’s have grown 30cms in 2 generations!!

Closer to home, I only have 2 football achievements.  In my last game I played on the Wing for the Postal Institute B Grade, with Bruce McAveney in the Centre while he filled in time waiting to call the Globe Derby trots (his real passion).  The other was playing in Yorketown’s 1972 Senior Colts premiership in the old Southern Yorke Peninsula league.  Gold Coast defender Seb Tape is the grandson of Jay Tape, who starred for Edithburgh in their A Grade premiership on the same day.  I made up the numbers, while the Tapes had the talent to pass on to future generations.

For the Eagles, Dean Cox was outstanding.  His contested marking in both defence and attack was telling, on a day where few players dominated.  He is having a stellar year, particularly against lighter bodied ruckmen.  For the Suns, Gary Ablett was more admirable than outstanding.  He collected 32 possessions and his run and strength shone out.  Like Judd he is almost impossible to put to ground when tackled.  He kicked goals with 2 men hanging off him.  What was missing were the streaming, destructive attacking runs.  That is probably more the absence of class midfielders alongside him to share and protect possession.

Like experienced professional golfers the Eagles showed the strength of character to ‘win ugly’.  Is it the end of their beginning, or the beginning of something better?

Collingwood off a 6 day break and an interstate trip is a tough ask.  This seems a season where many teams struggle with ‘being up’ for every game, and the Eagles have never wavered for effort all year.  In part, I think their early improvement caught oppositions napping, and other coaches are now getting a handle on how to combat their game style.

Wins over the Crows and Power in the next 2 weeks should almost guarantee them a finals appearance.  Falter and they will be questioning themselves.  Win and they then have the test of the Blues and Cats to prove their case.  Have they built a platform for maintaining a 6th-8th standard; or building toward a standard where they can threaten the best???

Interesting times ahead.

West Coast                        7.3            10.6            11.7            13.7 (85)

Gold Coast                        3.3              5.4              9.6            10.7 (67)

GOALS

West Coast: Kennedy 4; Cox, LeCras, Natanui 2; Sheppard, Q Lynch, S Selwood 1

Gold Coast: Ablett, T Lynch 2; Prestia, Fraser, Rischitelli, Day, McKenzie, Z Smith 1

BEST

West Coast: Cox, Hurn, Kennedy, Priddis, S Selwood, Lynch, LeCras

Gold Coast: Ablett, Rischitelli, Brown, Bock, McKenzie, Z Smith

UMPIRES: Wenn, Bowen, Margetts

CROWD: 36,815

OUR VOTES; Cox (WC) 3; Hurn (WC) 2; Ablett (GC) 1.

Comments

  1. John Butler says

    Peter

    I know the feeling. My book début last year was the Dogs handing the Blues an historic thrashing in a game that was never a contest.

    Call it Almanac roulette.

  2. Pamela Sherpa says

    Great to read Peter- My last 2 game reports have been of poor games from my teams point of view and my writing seems to have reflected it. That’s the challenge of it I suppose . Things are easy when all s smooth sailing. I tend to watch what I want to watch in a game. I admire people who can wrote an actual balanced report of the action. I’m enjoying the progress of the Suns – Am following them with interest this year.

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