Round 14 – Melbourne v West Coast Eagles: Survival of the fittest in Darwin

Melbourne versus West Coast

7.10pm ACST, Saturday July 4, 2015

TIO Stadium, Darwin

Phil Smythe

On a weekend submerged in the aftermath of Phil Walsh’s death, Melbourne and West Coast played a match that seemed the least notable of round fourteen. Of course Sydney and Port Adelaide had played before the tragedy, but within hours of the footy world coming to grips with what had occurred Hawthorn and Collingwood played a memorable encounter that culminated in both teams paying a magnificent tribute to the dead Adelaide coach. This tribute set the standard for the remaining matches.

Next day GWS made light of their injury concerns and pushed Richmond, Tiger supporters happy to see their side triumph in a hard fought match. Then Gold Coast welcomed back Gary Ablett and in the process towelled the Kangaroos, who remain the competition’s most frustrating side. The Western Bulldogs hung on against a Blues outfit that continues its resurrection. Doggies fans likewise were happy to see their team win ugly.

On Sunday we had only two matches with Adelaide versus Geelong being cancelled, as was appropriate. At Etihad St Kilda dealt out a century plus hammering to a dispirited Essendon. That result spoke volumes about where both sides are at. And out west the top vs. bottom clash saw Brisbane go into the last quarter just three points down before being overrun by Fremantle.

Which left the Melbourne/Eagles clash on Saturday night in Darwin. As an Eagles fan naturally this game was the one I was most interested in, but judging by the analysis on various TV and radio shows it wasn’t particularly noteworthy. Even having Eagles coach, Adam Simpson On The actual Couch didn’t engender much discussion of the match.

So what happened up in Darwin? The Eagles always looked as though they had it in hand, but Melbourne hung in and kept closing the gap at the end of the first three quarters to give themselves a chance before West Coast kicked away in the last for what on paper was a comfortable fifty four point win. Maybe Melbourne tired a bit in the warmish conditions or maybe the Eagles’ pressure proved too much in the long run?

In both team’s pre-bye matches it was their rucks that had set things up; Naitanui put on a clinic against Richmond and Gawn had his best ever match to set up the Demons’ impressive win over the Cats. Whoever got the edge would probably decide the winner. And Naitanui got the points, despite Gawn showing he looks like he’s turned the corner and can now be considered a genuine AFL ruckman.

Melbourne structured up well against the Eagles which meant Eagles attacks were often into a congested forward line while when Melbourne got the ball they were looking to catch the Eagles out on the fast break. Both sides made a few skill errors early but the Eagles settled a little quicker.

Jack Darling loomed as a threat and remained so all game to end up BOG with five goals.

Jesse Hogan, while statistically quiet, looks a genuine long term player for Melbourne.

Andrew Gaff had his first sub 30 possession game for about 5 weeks; but he had 29 and continues his stellar form.

Nathan Jones and Bernie Vince got big numbers for the Demons, but I’m not sure they had a comensurate impact.

West Coast’s team defense was again strong with Schofield, Wellingham and Shepherd all playing well. At the other end Dunn did well to keep Kennedy to two goals.

Perplexing though was Tom McDonald. He was playing the best football of his career till a few weeks ago when all of sudden his form has fallen off a cliff. He looked lost at TIO Stadium and I’ve rarely seen such a dramatic turnaround. Is he carrying an injury? And what’s with Jeremy Howe? He’s gone from one of Melbourne’s few winners during their darkest days to a non-entity as they re-establish themselves as a force in the AFL.

So, away from the epicentres (can you have multiple epicentres?) of the AFL, this match was probably most notable for the aftermatch circle of both teams in memory of Phil Walsh. Both teams have bigger matches on their minds this weekend; West Coast hosting Adelaide in their first post-Phil Walsh game and Melbourne with a real chance of a win against a dispirited and Jobe Watson-less Essendon.


Melbourne 2.4 5.5 8.8 9.9  (60)

West Coast 5.4 7.8 10.14 16.18  (114)



WCE: Darling, Gaff, Sheed, Wellingham, Masten, Naitanui

Melb: Jones, Watts, Vince, Tyson


Umpires: Deboy, Hosking, Schmidt


Lifelong supporter of the Perth Football Club and West Coast Eagles supporter since their entry into the VFL/AFL.


  1. Very fair summary Phil. One thing that stands out about the Eagles this season is the evenness and consistency of effort. Kennedy and McGovern had probably their worst games, but still contributed. Our running defence is a standout. Wellingham and Shepherd (two players I bagged endlessly last season – and early this one) were great.
    Interesting that the 2013 B&F Scott Selwood got the sub vest, while youngsters Duggan and Sheed played. Simmo sending a signal that he won’t tolerate turnovers and poor disposal? The kids can kick, SS can’t.
    Melbourne tried a tall forward line but we just spoiled and ran it out. Hogan was disappointing to me. Got his hands to a lot and held very few. His kicking action had almost as many stutter steps as early JK. Will be interesting to see if Hogan grows into himself like JK.
    Great to have another wise and insightful Eagles fan (is there any other kind?) on the site.

  2. Pottering says

    Peter, I agree re Melbourne’s tall forward line not really working. Such a plan is a bit tricky in Darwin where it generally gets dewy and hence quite slippery, though this didn’t seem to really be the case on Saturday night. I’m really pleased that Simpson has stuck with our undersized backline. While they’ll get caught out occasionally height wise the upside is a much more efficient run and carry out of the backline.

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