Round 9 – West Coast v Geelong: Reasons to be Cheerful


AFL (insert professional sport code here) Season 2020 should be:


(A) Abandoned as cynical exploitation that only fuels the inflated pay packets of executives, coaches, players, tv networks, gambling and fast food corporations; or


(B) Embraced as a welcome release and distraction from the fears and restrictions of everyday life.



Most of last week I was firmly Option A. So many people doing it tough – here and overseas – with worse to come physically and economically. So many unnecessary risks. So much short term thinking. So many brutal rulers imposing their wills and exploiting community fears.  Footy a folly; a trifle.


The one-sided games I saw bits of in Round 9 confirmed the feeling that many hub teams are lost and going through the motions for a pay cheque in Covid season. Not worth watching.


But Saturday in Perth wakens to early spring sun rather than mid winter gloom. Early start to see a young Swan Districts team have more possessions than premiers Subiaco but let down by skinny bodies and costly turnovers. Kids learning and improving. Nephew Brandon second best. First reasons to be cheerful.


Off to Optus for the 6.10 start. The kilometre walk to the ground from our parking spot at the Crown is always a highlight. The Swan River on our left bathed in winter sun setting over the WACA and city skyline.


Where in the world can you now enjoy this level of safety and prosperity? WA our Eden. The Avenging Eagle gives daily thanks for the Croatian father who left to search for work when she was age 2 – without a shilling or a kuna in his pocket – to come here and cut timber for a year to save the money to bring his family out. Then working 3 jobs to build a home and a vineyard. A family of high achievers – “I do my job; yours is school”.


My old punters’ pessimism is always looking for vulnerabilities. I text Harms ‘Cats need a fast start and mids to get on top to counter Nic & Oscar. Your defence should hold up and ours is shaky this year’. He counters with a bid to see my pessimism and raise his own Catastrophe.


At half time the Eagles are 16 points down and the thought of ‘I predicted this’ leaves a sour taste. Ratugolea and Blicavs are using their spring and athleticism to jump with Nic Nait and last week’s boy wonder Oscar is nowhere to be seen. Mitch Duncan is leading a pack of Cats mids that is well on top. Only Tim Kelly is doing much for the Eagles (inserted to annoy Dips).


An early free and goal to Tuohy and the Cats are 20 points ahead half way through the 3rd. But quick goals to Ryan and Cripps get the crowd up and roaring. The momentum is with the Eagles but the Cats mids are still counter punching. The Cats have kicked 8.0 but Rohan and Ratugolea both miss from easy set shots and the teams trade late goals on 3/4 time for the Cats to hold an 8 point lead. Feels like we dodged a firing squad bullet.


The miracle of the season has been Nic Nait’s endurance after a full pre-season. Historically a burst player he now rucks most of last quarters. Ratugolea has been brave but tires trying to keep up with him and makes some costly turnovers.


Nic Nait’s sublime tapwork is only half the story as he bursts out of packs to tackle and surge the ball forward. No other ruckman has his level of athleticism. Josh Kennedy has been well held by his Northampton Under 10’s team mate Harry Taylor but now he swallows one on the chest from Kelly (not really sorry Dips) and then a brilliant set play tap from Nic where they reprise Kareem and Magic. Good big men now play like basketball power forwards.


Simpson ‘toes’ one on the goal line for the Cats to regain the lead. It comes off anywhere but his foot – but hey the modern game has borrowed throws from rugby – why not knees, chests and headers from soccer?


The game becomes an arm wrestle full of frantic pressure where one missed tackle or lucky rebound could decide the game. Cam Guthrie combines the mark of the year with the brain fade of the year and is caught trying to play on at the 50.


Normally we sit up high with a 360 degree panorama that sees all the strategy but little of the grunt. This week’s lucky dip seats has us 6 rows from the boundary at the Eagles end in the last quarter.


There is a play where Shuey just keeps a ball in that’s destined for OOB and slides it along the boundary for Cripps to mark on the 50. He turns and takes a calculated risk chipping low inboard to space. A retreating Darling pirouettes to mark at his ankles then kicks truly from 25 out on the angle for the Eagles to regain the lead.


It’s a sublime series of gambles and executions under extreme pressure. Sitting close to the action reminds me of Malcolm Blight’s axiom of how hard the game is to play at this level. The obvious on TV is the miraculous up close.


The whole last quarter has been shades of the 2018 Grand Final with thrust and parry from two teams of desperate competitors. I haven’t felt more anxious and engaged in a game since then. Heart thumping; fists clenched; voice hoarse. Viscerally alive.


The game is still on the line with a couple of minutes left as the Eagles run it down the far wing for Cripps to mark just outside 50. He wastes the obligatory 30 seconds despite not kicking that far since Cyclone Iggy hit Northampton and the Eagles assemble the cavalry in the square. Kennedy, Darling, Allen and Ah Chee prove another axiom that little blokes get slower but big blokes don’t get smaller. Kennedy’s strong goal square mark finally makes the game safe with 90 seconds left.


My Eagles win by 9 points and its a testament to our resilience when the Cats had the game on their terms for two and a half quarters. My rule of thumb is that sleeping in your own bed is worth 3 goals start and the Cats have given the best performance I have seen from a hub team.


Selwood and Ablett makes them formidable with the main structural weakness their lack of a marking forward to complement Hawkins. Thats probably Ratugolea if his goal kicking is reliable, but it exacerbates their other weakness in ruck. That said they are a Top 4 side.


Noticeable after the game is the generosity and spirit both within the playing groups and between the teams. Both genuinely look to play for each other and there is an obvious respect between the sides. Tim Kelly the son of two fathers embraced by parents on all sides.


Walking back to the car with the city lights blazing across the river a half hour after the siren I still feel a familiar tightness across the chest. Angina or ecstasy? A calming pinot in the hotel bar settles me.


I’ve changed my mind – I’ll take Option B thanks Eddie.


More from Peter Baulderstone HERE


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  1. Eagles were just too good PB. We threw the kitchen sink, the bath and the stove at them. Would have been handy to have a ruckman. Our blokes did very well for a half but as they say, “the big blokes don’t get any smaller”

    Gee Kelly is a beautiful footballer. Beautiful.

    I hope we get another crack at the Eagles before 2020 finishes. And Collingwood for that matter.

    One thing Chris Scott was right about is that this season is not so much about who you play, as they are pretty even, but when you play them.

  2. Daryl Schramm says

    Haven’t seen any of the game but a very enjoyable read none the less PB. I thought the first half of WCEE and Coll a couple of weeks ago was the best footy I had seen on the telly this year. This sounds even better.

  3. Why did we opt for a mini Fijian like Sav Rata when we could’ve chosen a standard sized Fijian like Nic Nat? A really goof read, Peter. I never felt safe, figuring our pinch-hitting rucks would tire and NN would get his tail up. But we could’ve won all three in the west with a bit of luck. So not too unhappy.

  4. John Butler says

    PB, this game and Collingwood’s loss salvaged an otherwise poor round.

    Nic Nat was just superb in the last half.

    Despite all the Cat pessimism on this site, I reckon they look pretty good.

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