The Eagle Empire Rolls On

All hail fellow Argonauts (or should that be Almanauts).  Your faithful scribe Peterbus brings you glad news of battles fought on the far western shores of the empire.

It is the seventh day of Augustus in the year 2011 AD (Annus Demetrious – for those of you who have forgotten your Horace).  Elsewhere in the Empire the ritual slayings ordered by the Emperor have continued apace.  The Carltonius legion dressed in their navy woad uniforms (brought back from their victories over the Picts and Celts) slaughtered the Melbourne Christians at the MCG (Melbourne Coliseum Gargantuous).  Can there be any Melbourne Christians left able to participate in future weekly ritual massacres?

The Cattus Horribilus legion had their wicked way with a helpless band of 17 year old virgins from the Northern provinces.  The Magpie gladiators slaughtered the Port Adelaide heathens (there are no Christians north of the Port Road).

The Emperor Demetrious seems determined to follow in the footsteps of his predecessors Nero and Caligula, and squander the gold that his faithful legions have long provided.  He can no longer offer bread to the faithful, instead he offers these circuses.  How much longer can the patience of the faithful be so tested?

In truth the Western battle was not a slaughter.  More the grinding weight of murderous intent from the Eagle legion, that wore down a brave but frailer opponent.  The first quarter was an even contest with the Tiger midfield more than a match for the Eagles, who were fortunate to take a 7 point lead to the break.

Coach Hardwick had done his homework and played a tight tag on both Shannon Hurn and Mark LeCras all game.  Hurn went forward in the second quarter in an attempt to break the close attention from Jake King and others, but the tactic succeeded in reducing the Eagles run out of defence.  LeCras is by far the most skilful footballer from either side, but all year he has looked a man unsure of his role.  Should he be a forward or a midfielder?  A crumbing or leading and marking forward?  He desperately wants room to dazzle with his sublime skills, but opponents are determined to deny him and the Eagles seem unable to find a structure that creates it.  Like a defanged cobra confined to a basket, he threatens danger more than he delivers it.

Halfway through the second quarter when Vickery kicked his second goal, the Tigers lurked menacingly only 15 points down.  Arriveth the hour, arriveth the Savior.  Natanui’s second quarter was breathtaking.  In a game marked by honest toilers, he provided 30 minutes of sublime dominance.  Early he bashed and crashed, roving his own taps to drive the Eagles forward.  When none seemed capable of capitalizing on his clearances, he decided to provide his own marking target.

His rate of development is astonishing.  Until 6 weeks ago his marking was limited to the occasional ‘speccy’.  For the last 20 minutes of the second quarter he ran and flew and caught everything that came within a 30 metre radius of his commanding presence.  He soared over packs.  He stood and defied anyone to jump over or around him.  The Avenging Eagle and I gasped and whooped in pleasure and disbelief.  The most astonishing was a 20 metre charge to a marking contest at half forward that seemed beyond him.  Somehow arriving at the same time as the clearing kick, he dashed to the front of the pack, but seemed hopelessly under the ball.  He sprang to catch the lightning bolt, just as it was about to disappear into welcoming Tiger clutches.  He tipped it skyward with his right hand, juggled it on the way down, and then dashed forward still juggling the ball from arm to hand.

While your scribe’s feebled mind grappled to comprehend – “it’s a mark isn’t it?” – Natanui charged forward down the right flank.  Ten metres ahead of the flailing Tiger pursuers; ten seconds ahead of uncomprehending fans; and ten light years beyond the speed, skill and mobility of any previous footballer of his size and strength.  He spied a leading teammate 30 metres out and hit him with a bullet pass for an Eagles goal.  The only adjective I could find for his 30 minutes of willed dominance, brilliance and multi-dimensional skills was “Jordanesque”.  Breathtaking.  Four Natanui created or inspired Eagles goals in 10 minutes and the Eagles went to the long break with a comfortable 34 point lead.

By midway through the third quarter the Eagles had got out to an 8 goal lead, and the Tigers looked broken.  But their midfield and backline kept running and challenging Jack Riewoldt to come out of his funk and play with them.  Eventually even the surly Jack could no longer deny himself opportunity and he kicked 3 late in the quarter.  In the matching fixture last year RiewoldtJ kicked 10 goals and the Tigers murdered a hapless Eagles.  As much as the Eagles have risen to the challenge in 2011, Riewoldt seems to have shrunk from his.  There have been suggestions that he has carried an injury, and he does seem to lack the spring of 2010.  But all day he seemed to run and move well.  What seems to be missing is confidence and belief and mongrel.

Natanui and Riewoldt are both sublimely gifted big men.  Natanui seems to crave success, and when his teammates seem unable to supply it, he takes it as his duty to impose it.  Riewoldt currently plays like a man without passion or belief.  When his midfield charged he hung back, until by the third quarter he could no longer deny the opportunities presented him.

Having tipped the Tigers repeatedly to my cost until a month ago, when I like their fans and the rest of the footy world gave up on them, I kept scratching my head as to how such an attractive team could achieve so little.  The midfield was good and the defence whole-hearted.  My eventual conclusion was that they lacked a big man worth tuppence anywhere on the ground.  After 40 minutes of the game I had labeled Vickery as an emerging star.  Then he disappeared without trace.  Graham battled in the ruck, but had no presence around the ground.  Riewoldt sulked.  They seemed committed and Hardwick coached ‘smart’.  My conclusion was find a couple of capable marking big men and improve the fitness and endurance of the midfield – then the Tigers are a 6-8 side not a 12-14 one.

By orange time the Tigers midfield had reduced the Eagles lead to just 27 points, and the first 10 minutes of the last quarter was a tense arm wrestle.  When the Tigers needed Riewoldt to stand up he reverted to funk, with a mark near the right hand goal post.  Choosing style over substance he ran around onto his left foot and sprayed the now off-balance snap out of bounds.  Leopards and spots, or more correctly sulky Tigers need to work for their stripes.  Eventually Eagles persistence and willpower won out with five successive goals pummeling a fading bunch of Tiger triers.  The lead ran out to over 10 goals, until a late Riewoldt goal reduced the margin to a barely respectable 57 points.

Hard game to rate the best.  Natanui (3 votes) for 3 solid quarters and a sublime second that promises to make Judd/Ablett/Swan ‘low to the ground’ brilliance into ‘last years news’ at his current rate of improvement.  Things never before imagined – I dare to hope.  “Jordanesque” – remember where you heard it first.  Spent most of the last quarter on the pine, which is a worry.  Shoulder troubles persisting or just Woosha protecting the crown jewels?

Kerr (2 votes) – first game for a month and knocked up getting possessions for 3 quarters.  Exasperates with turnovers and over-possessing, but can only improve if he can hold his body together.  With all the defensive attention the Tigers focused on LeCras and Hurn they created opportunities for other willing ‘second tier’ Eagles.  Nicoski (6 goals), Darling and Ebert (both 4 goals) all capitalized admirably.  Mark Nikoski gets the one vote because he married his goals to constant running, tackling and pressure.

With Hurn confined, Ashley Smith and Patrick McGinnity continue to surprise with the run and toughness they provide across half back.  The Big Q was whole-hearted after a slow start.  Dean Cox was disabled with a hip injury early that took him back to the rooms for 20 minutes of the first quarter, and he seemed to hold his left arm gingerly for much of the last quarter.  Portents of doom if it is anything serious, but hopefully it was just an unfortunate series of incidents on the day.  The Eagles are rich in emerging talent but they need their 3 key big men – Cox, Natanui and Kennedy – at the top of their game and their fitness if they are to progress deep into September.  On a sad note, Matt Rosa was subbed off with what is rumored to be a season-ending knee injury.  He is a whole-hearted footballer who has been one of the Eagles biggest improvers this year, and it will be sad if he is not able to showcase this on his Victorian home stage in September as he deserves.  Callously, we could probably cover his loss – not so any of the big men.

I always find opposition teams hard to pick individually, outside of the top teams that are regularly on TV.  Deledio, Cotchin, Rance, Tuck, Martin and Houli come to mind, but I thought all the Tiger midfield capable and the defence honest.  Find a big man and a key forward with heart and I would definitely prefer them to the Demons as 2012 improvers.

Final thoughts – the Eagles got a very good trot from the umpires all day, but I still find them infuriating for their insistence on technicalities and literal interpretation of marginal rules (half a metre over the mark; not handing the ball back quickly; expressing understandable exasperation too fulsomely; ‘high’ tackles rewarding duckers over danger).  Until we get an umpiring coach who can instill some sense of purpose, fairness and the ‘spirit of the game’ the hapless umpires will continue to exasperate both fans and players from all sides.

Today was the 25th anniversary of the foundation of the Eagles club, though it is not until next March that we have the anniversary of the first game.  Some marketing genius decided that today’s administrative anniversary was somehow worth celebrating.  All day the muffled, inadequate public address system promised post-game celebrations.  The Avenging Eagle and I lingered for half an hour hoping for a glimpse of past greats and triumphs on the big screens or in the flesh.

Where the screen should have been filled with stars and premierships, instead it was sponsor promos and the Carlton midfield who are apparently scheduled to star in the upcoming Blue Smurfs movie.  Larger than life chipmunks and flowerpotmen wandered the wings, apparently the symbolic representation of the largesse of banks and health insurers.  Perplexed teenagers laid matting to protect the turf and erected tents in a meandering effort to create some sort of village to hold what was to come.

Whatever that was we lost patience to find out.  The final straw was the dancing nymphettes in gold blouses and blue hotpants.  The announcer kept excitedly telling us they were the “Messages on Hold Eaglettes”.  I thought that were the tawdry jailbait, and only lingered in morbid hope that the St Kilda Schoolgirl would make a guest appearance out of a cake singing “Happy Birthday Mr Woosha”.

He would have socked her, like her Dad should have long ago.  Then Woosha can start on the Eagles Marketing Department.



  1. John Butler says


    Any chance of NicNat and Coxy being gone for the season?

    Just kidding.

    Signed, wishful thinking Blue

  2. Great read,
    just dont agree with “LeCras is by far the most skilful footballer from either side”.
    What about nic nat, dustin martin, trent cotchin, deliedio, jack riewoldt, Matt priddis

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