Round 22 – West Coast v Melbourne: Gawn, Gawn, Gawn

One of my first Almanac pieces told of watching an Essendon and North Melbourne game in the early bloom of romance with the Avenging Eagle in the late 90’s.  Hird and Carey were working their magic and I was gushing.  She was reading the newspaper and dismissed it with “you follow footy and I follow the Eagles”.

I am a glass half empty sort of guy before games – always alert to opposition strengths and looming pot holes.  She is relentlessly positive – and this season has rewarded her optimism.  

Post game on Sunday and we reversed roles.  I was gushing about the best game of footy at Optus all season, with the second half full of ebbs and flows at finals intensity.  She was despondent at the loss of the game and Jack Darling to concussion in the first ten minutes.

“They’ve lost their best forward Jesse Hogan for the season.  We’d beat them by 5 goals with both Kennedy and Darling,” I tried to rationalise.

“What about Naitanui?” “Jake Lever,” I countered.

“Gaff”.  “Peter Dutton”.  Swung a left and took out half his own side.

The game followed a pattern of the Demons getting out to nearly 5 goal leads in the first and third quarters, only to be pegged back by an Eagles side more relentless than brilliant.  The Darling injury had an indirect benefit in proving once and for all that Jeremy McGovern can pinch hit forward, but has no natural awareness for the role.  We wasted him for the whole second quarter in a search for a marking target forward, but he is much easier to spoil than outmark.

We got within a couple of points with an avalanche of goals midway through the third and I thought we would roll over them with our mongrel hardness.  But Big Max wasn’t having any of that.  A couple of deft centre clearances and the Dees were three goals clear again.

With Nathan Vardy having to play as a marking forward without Darling, the Eagles could not run their usual tag team to wear down opposing ruckmen.  Gawn’s field positioning was exemplary, continuing to clog the exit paths for Eagles defenders with his down the line marks and spoils.

Repeating the pattern from last week’s Port Adelaide game we trailed all day, and Melbourne missed some easy chances early in the final quarter that could have put them clear.  This week we only hit the lead once – but in the 20th minute of the last quarter, instead of the 30th.  

LeCras goaled (his only impact in a disappointing display) and I could see Big Max jogging back on from his standard mid-quarter 5 minute break.  Ominously conferring with Nathan Jones, and I sensed that the two old lags had decided “enough was enough”.

Tap, knock on, tackle, chip, pass, goal.  Repeat.

My Eagles were brave, but punched out by then – in a 15 round epic.

Gawn, Gawn, Gawn.

Melbourne were smart in their use of the running game and chipping the ball into their forward line to counter the Eagles marking strengths with McGovern and Barrass.  We will learn a lot from having to play without Kennedy and Darling up forward.  Our small forwards worked hard to keep us in it.  The midfield of Redden, Yeo (in the second half), Hutchings and Sheed were brave and will be better when our double team rucks give them an even opportunity.  Brad Sheppard was our best in a solid defence, but we could not run the ball out with our usual system given the lack of marking link players.

I have been impressed with Melbourne since they beat us at Subiaco late last season.  They have powerful running players and are learning how to win under pressure.  Sam Weideman looked a capable replacement for Jesse Hogan, and they have the best big man in the comp to give them a running start.  The last two premiers had little finals experience leading into September.

The crowd were apoplectic about the umpiring all game.  Accustomed to getting two thirds of the free kicks we only won a slim majority on a day where the umpires seemed to put the whistle away.  Only 32 free kicks were paid against the season average of 41.  I thought that letting the game go added to the spectacle, but footy fans only see the free kicks missed for their side.  

My gripe was the two women sitting behind me on a once-off girls day out.  Loud, ignorant and spilling beer down the back of my jacket.  I kept the earphones in because even Karl Langdon was less inane.  The trouble was that they were Eagles fans.  One announced early that she had bet $100 on us.  A certain jinx.  Only a fool would take short odds about evenly matched sides.  Opposition fans would have copped a gobful for lesser behaviour.  Any suggestions on how you deal with ignorant “friends”?  (I’ll pass any advice on to Malcolm Turnbull).

While I’m grizzling – the Victorian centric footy media continues to give me the tom tits.  Yesterday they were agog at the prospect of “4 First Week Finals for MCG”.  I dismissed it as the Age pandering to local readers, but it was trotted out again today on the VFL National (trading as AFL) website.

The implicit slavering at the prospect of Brisbane beating the Eagles;  Hawthorn beating Sydney; and Melbourne beating the Giants is typically parochial.

How’s this for a first week finals Schedule:

Richmond v Hawthorn (MCG)

Eagles v Collingwood (Optus – Perth)

GWS v Geelong (Spotless – Western Sydney)

Swans v Melbourne (SCG – Sydney)

I hope it happens.  This season is as even as I can remember, and few predicted the last two premiers a month out.

My Eagles are as good a chance as any.  Roll on September.


WEST COAST           3.0      5.4      11.6     14.7 (91)
MELBOURNE           4.4      7.6      12.8    16.12 (108)   

West Coast:  Rioli 3, Hutchings 2, Masten, Ah Chee, Cripps, Vardy, Sheed, Yeo, Venebles, LeCras, Ryan
Melbourne: Melksham 4, McDonald 3, Hannan 3, Weideman, Harmes, Brayshaw, vandenBerg, Jones, Kent


West Coast: Sheppard, Cripps, Redden, Yeo, Hutchings, Sheed
Melbourne: Gawn, Jones, Harmes, Melksham, Brayshaw, Lewis, Salem

Umpires: Stevic, Hosking, Schmitt

Attendance: 55,824 at Optus Stadium

Our Votes: 3,2,1: Gawn, Gawn, Gawn


  1. Love it.
    Love learning of a dominant ruckman.

    Finals were always a different season.
    And it’s exciting to have a side in the race.
    Well done Melbourne.
    Well done to all who qualify.
    After that though, the top 8 side are like the boy with the wheelbarrow, aren’t they, PB?

  2. We also have to put up with the Victorian centric footy media too, Peter. Don’t take much notice. No point. I agree with the avenging angel. I follow the Swans, but I’m also a footy lover, and that game was a ripper. However if it had been my team on the losing end, no such words would have emanated.

    Surely you’ll get the first home final. There’d be an uproar if an away team had to play at Spotless – far too small for a final, and my team well, who knows!

  3. Phillip Dimitriadis says

    Nice on PB and enjoyed the political spin. These days, Twitter decides who becomes PM and how long they stay there.
    I’m a ‘glass almost empty’ fan when it comes to the Pies in September. Bitter experience has taught me that. Your Weagles will be up there when it counts. ‘Lemonade and Tatts Ticket’ on Grand Final appearance at least.

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