Round 7 – West Coast v Port Adelaide: Darling Buds of May

West Coast v Port Adelaide

2:35PM, Saturday May 5

Perth Stadium



Friday afternoon I made my regular trip to Quangs on Beaufort Street.  The tulips looked brilliant.  And only $12.  Still my eye was not for turning.


“The irises are a bit tatty Mrs Quang.  Have they been open too long?”  But she knows a sucker when she sees one.  “Warm weather,” was her only concession.  I forked out the $16 and took the blue and gold blooms home for the sideboard.  Eagle flowers we call them.


There was a time when flowers on a Friday made the Avenging Eagle edgy.  “Thanks they look lovely, now tell me what you’ve done.”


Now its a part of the established rituals required for an Eagles home game.  We’ve missed one home game in 19 years as members – that for a loved family friend’s 90th birthday party.


I wear the same 2005 Eagles polo shirt.  2 pens (blue and red) for marking the Record.  Chicken, avocado and sun-dried tomato crusty rolls assembled.  Brewed coffee fills the portable microwave.  (Security asked me to open it for the first time ever today.  Looking for smuggled moonshine or explosive liquids?)  


No matter.  Our rituals provide reassurance to calm the pre-game nerves.  Pete’s preparation ensures piss-poor Port performance.  Break the thread and the whole garment would unravel.  


We were 5 goals up and coasting at half time in the Geelong game.  The Avenging Eagle went to catch up with a girlfriend at one of those fancy bars in the new stadium.  And they got talking…


Luke Shuey: “Hey Nic, I can’t see the Avenging Eagle. Do you reckon she’s okay?”


Nic Naitanui: “Hey ump, can you hold off bouncing the ball there must be an emergency up in the stands.”


Jack Darling: “I thought they were putting more loos in the new stadium not fewer.  Does anyone know a plumber?”


Jeremy McGovern: “Maybe its a medical thing, ask the team doctor to ring Royal Perth and ask for her.”


Adam Simpson gave a stern glare when she apologetically returned to her seat at the 3/4 time break.  The boys recovered from their understandable lapse to run out 3 goal winners that day, which was the only reason AE escaped with a reprimand from the Leadership Group.


Port Adelaide promised to be a sterner test this week.  Paddy Ryder was back from 5 weeks out with an achilles problem.  Both teams down a midfielder – them without Wingard and us losing Sheed.  Last year’s epic overtime Elimination Final was fresh in the memory, and Port voodoo dolls were on song when Luke Shuey did a hamstring 2 minutes into the replay of the replay.


Normal service was soon restored with the Eagle’s 2018 hallmarks of manic tackling pressure and high pressing defence soon in evidence.  Ryder oozed class but like a Melbourne Cup stayer resuming in September he was soon outsprinted by the Naitanui/Lycett tag team.  Port hung in but halfway through the second quarter you could see their heads dropping.  “This is just too bloody hard.”


Robbie Gray is clever and worked hard, but he’s just not a full-time midfielder in the modern game.  Last year he cut us up in the forward line at Subiaco, but now the rapier was being pinballed at the contests.  Charlie Dixon clunked a few marks, but he kicked like the Anzac Day marchers – left; left; left, right, left. 


Captain Travis Boak was Port’s best but there was a one-paced sameness to many of their running players, and no confident big men demanding the ball and saying “follow me”.  My notes said “downhill skiers” and “foreign legion”.  Like Essendon the cobbled together addition of bit players from other clubs looks to have maximised skill but minimised commitment.  “The true Port Adelaide tradition…?”  Team meetings at the Ramsgate required for Showdown week.


At half time the Eagles were 37 points up and I thought we were as comfortable and in control as…….the Geelong game.  Uh oh.


Half way through the third it was out to 55 points and looked a matter of percentage, but the Eagles game style is exhausting and we started to turn the ball over a lot with errant kicks and handballs.  The pressing defence leaves no one out the back and makes a team vulnerable to being scored against quickly if the opposition get some clean quick ball movement.  Five Port goals in a row had the margin back to 4 goals early in the last quarter.  Even Jack Watts emerged from the rabbit burrow where he’d been hiding for a half to goal and get a few possessions.


Soon enough my rosary beads overwhelmed the Port voodoo dolls and some Willie Rioli brilliance laid on a goal for second gamer Petruccelle to pull us clear.  Willie is a joy to watch and the brilliant glimpses in his first few games became a solid body of work today.  His footskills are sublime and when he gets the ball you can see him evaluate options in a heartbeat that take a lunar cycle for a mortal.  


“Too far out for a shot.  Petru’s the only Eagle ahead.  He’s small and quick.  I’ll lob it over the top for him to turn the defender and run on to it.  Centimetre perfect.”


Watching any Rioli is like seeing a Renoir in a room full of finger painters.


This year’s Eagles have more reborn players than a Christadelphian convention.  Jack Redden was my BOG second week running, and there is an evident player-coach bond between him and Sam Mitchell.  Not quite the same elite disposal but all the positioning smarts and work rate of the former Eagle great (tell Rick Kane we’re stealing all the great Hawthorn names).  


Andrew Gaff is the hardest running player in the AFL and has already added $100k to his contract value in his last year before free agency.  Bit player Mark Hutchings ran with Robbie Gray and more than matched him for disposals and tackles.  Hurn and Sheppard were solid as ever with their marking, run and rebound across half back.  Jamie Cripps has the body of an elf and the heart of a giant.


Josh Kennedy is still a month off finding marking form but the hesitant stutterer turned eloquent orator threaded 4 goals from only 8 kicks.  Jeremy McGovern’s gadget hands have similarly been deserting him more often recently, but maybe oppositions are putting more attention into bodywork to knock him off balance.  He’ll find a way.


Like Redden, Mark LeCras would have been playing at East Perth for me last season.  But class is permanent and with his body restored to fitness, he is devouring opponents like a condemned man his last meal.


But the biggest Lazarus story this season has been Jack Darling.  Used to be “looks like Wayne Carey plays like Jack Watts”.  He looks to have recognised that his main weapon is his legs, and he gets on the bike to take linking marks across half back and then runs his man back into attack to create space for Kennedy and the smalls.  His tackling and hard body in marking contests are creating a lot of spillage for Rioli, Cripps and LeCras to feed off.  Somehow the penny has dropped and an “almost” footballer looks on track for elite. Confidence is a rising tide that lifts all boats.


If our players have been underestimated, so have our coaches.  Simpson, Rawlings and Mitchell look to have worked some alchemy magic, and my pessimistic pre-season Eagles predictions now look wide of the mark. (Note to Saints fans: buy pessimism early and sell on the Darling buds of May. It’s the hope that kills you.)


WEST COAST                 4.1   9.3   13.4   16.6 (102)

PORT ADELAIDE            2.1   3.2    8.2     9.6 (60)

West Coast: Kennedy 4, Darling 3, Rioli 2, Petruccelle 2, Hutchings, Waterman, Redden, Cripps, LeCras
Port Adelaide: S Gray 2, Johnson 2, Bonner, Watts, Dixon, Polec, Motlop

West Coast: Redden, Darling, Gaff, Rioli, Hutchings, Cripps, Sheppard, Hurn
Port Adelaide: Boak, Houston, R Gray, Byrne-Jones, Ryder

Attendance: 50,516 on a 28 degree day at Subiaco East




  1. Jarrod_L says

    Underrated flower the iris, much like your Eagles were by most of us before this season got started!

    Dad used grow a heap of them in the front garden, used to go gang-busters too. The only time I gave flowers to a teacher (thanks to Ms Grunwald in Grade 2 if you’re reading) I wandered past the snapdragons, cliveas, hydrangeas and roses and straight to the irises…I remember they were very well received!

    As much as it’s nice to see a team do well off a bunch of draftees and recruits, there’s something more satisfying about the old guard getting a second, third or fourth wind.

  2. Dave Brown says

    Nice write-up, PB, I think you have Port pegged. Having watched their reserves on Friday night (Mitch Grigg handing them a gritty midfield lesson on the Parade), I’m confused by their desire to fill the team with half forward flankers/forward pockets when they have players like Rockliff and Powell-Pepper in the twos (Powell-Pepper was serviceable with 20 something touches and two goals but was going to Grigg at the stoppages – he got 40 touches to go with his two goals). Struggle to see how Port beat anyone good playing this brand of footy (noting I’m not convinced the Crows are good yet). Robbie Gray is getting a hard tag each game but his teammates are still handballing to him like he’s running in free space. Conversely, very impressed by your youngsters and Darling was fantastic. Hopefully Partington is not far away.

  3. Mathilde de Hauteclocque says

    I think you should write the player profiles for the Eagles’ little Season Guide booklet PB.

    I am often inspired to pursue the same apotropaic potential of correctly coloured flowers. The problem for a Swan is that often the only options are carnations or roses, both varieties coloured up with fake variegated red and white. I can’t imagine they could do a team any good! The Iris is perfect.

  4. Phillip Dimitriadis says

    I’m liking your Weagles PB. Is there such a thing as early season resilience? Nic Nat has really straightened you up. Midfield gelling, Le Cras and even Darling dangerous.
    “Watching any Rioli is like seeing a Renoir in a room full of finger painters.” Memorable line. Cheers

  5. E.regnans says

    Love it, PB.
    Characteristic eagle-eyed insight.
    Your Eagles strike me as full of 190cm run-like-the-wind machines. With Nic Nat.
    That’s a handy brew.
    That alchemy is the great unknown.
    Turns a rag-tag bunch of blokes into a high-performing unit.

    Why? How? Huh?

  6. Rulebook says

    PB love the AE missing in action and Dixon’s Anzac kicking for goals lines superb.Now I saw a fair bit of this game while out selling raffle tickets Nic Nat overhead marking seems to have improved dramatically and Darling a hell of a lot more physical in the contest in general.WC yep huge surprise packets for mine.
    Re the Nic Nat report and suspension while I don’t completely agree with Christians ruling I understand his explanation and reasoning fully for mine he is a breath of fresh air after the dogs breakfast MRP of 2017.Lets also remember that the players are fully united re the duty of care angle also found it interesting that Malcolm Blight thought Nic Nat should have gotten 3 weeks thanks PB

  7. I (obviously) think the Nic Nait suspension is ridiculous. I don’t even think it was a free kick. Amon’s arms weren’t pinned. His right arm is clearly free but he chooses to hang onto the ball rather than brace his fall. If he was half smart and disposed of it earlier he wouldn’t have even been tackled, but he wanted to “hit a team mate” when he had no options.
    Naitanui’s closing speed is frightening. His size and momentum make the impact more severe. But what is he supposed to do? Slow down? Do they want footy played in weight divisions? Amon should be playing in the under 9’s, and NicNait with the big kids.
    The lesson for opposition players is when NicNait is nearby “get rid of the pill – fast”. NicNait doesn’t have a mean bone in his body, but he is a ferocious and fair competitor.
    Should he be asked to sacrifice his natural advantage and not go in hard but fair. Tackle was front on and around Amon’s waist/chest. NicNait went out of his way not to collect him high. Amon turns at the last minute to shield himself, when he should have just dropped the pill. That is the only reason it was a dubious “in the back” free kick.
    Nic Nait has plenty of vulnerabilities that a fit Paddy Ryder would have exploited. Notably he is a burst player and not an endurance athlete. Which is why Lycett is so valuable as the grunt ruckman. Ryder ran off him in the third quarter and provided a forward link for Port, and NIc Nait cannot keep up with any defensive run. His marking has improved as has his ruck bodywork, but he is not an elite player in those areas. But he is the biggest strongest quickest midfielder the game has ever seen.
    Should he be penalised for that?

  8. John Butler says

    Nice one, PB.

    Though the Weagles only beat us by much the same margin as last year, when we met again at the ‘G, it felt like they had a lot more in hand than last season. I thought at the time that said more about you than us.

    If Darling retains his newly discovered mojo you’ll be a formidable proposition. And Lycett being fit shouldn’t be ignored in the discussion.

    Will playing on a ground of MCG proportions help you when it counts?

  9. John Butler says

    Snap. I see you haven’t ignored Lycett. :)

  10. PB- I declare a Barossa bias, but watching Shannon Hurn kick the footy is a beautiful sight.

  11. You’re not wrong about Hurn From a bloke who last year was kicking dinky little 40 metre efforts to a player who is fulfilling his potential. The Eagles have become accurate kickers and it drives their opponents mad

  12. Bunga Barossa bias? I’m with you Mickey. People talk about his tree trunk legs, but I reckon his technique is so good. Every sport you have to get your weight over and through. Golf and skiing are clear examples that I know. If you lean back you are stuffed. Ball is sprayed high and weak.
    Last week Bunga drilled one about 35 metres that never went above waist height. All technique getting his head and weight well out in front of his foot at impact. Like Tom Watson or Jordan Spieth or Nick Faldo drilling a golf ball into a Scottish gale.
    Dunno why that kicking technique isn’t taught more. Peter Matera did it and he could drill those flat hard low 40 metre passes that knocked the marker over.
    Also Hurn’s marking is remarkably good for a bloke just on 6 foot (186cm). Gets front position and uses his body strength to keep it. Beautiful hands.
    He also does a lot of the organising at the back. I watch a lot behind the play and you see him assessing the matchups, and getting Sheppard onto bigger forwards if they are quick. Keep Barrass on the big lumbering blokes. McGovern zones and is loose so you don’t want him on a forward that gets on a roll. Bunga just orders them all around like a drover with a pack of cattle dogs.

  13. Luke Reynolds says

    PB- love a pre-game ritual. Of course much harder to be consistent with that these days when game times are all over the shop.

    I tried growing a section of black & white kangaroo paws in my garden at one stage. The white ones (a hybrid breed) grew beautifully. Never had much luck in growing the black ones. Obviously too far from their Western Australian natural home. That and my bloody clay based soil.

    Been very impressed with your Eagles so far.

  14. Joe De Petro says

    Glad you are enjoying your Rioli, Pete. We should all get one for Christmas.

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