The Tipping Point – Eagles v Bulldogs – 22 May 2011

40,000 Eagles supporters will wake up in Perth on Monday morning with one thought on their mind.  Did that really happen?

Did we really beat last year’s preliminary finalist by 20 goals?  Kick 17 of the last 18 goals of the match after the 5 minute mark of the 3rd quarter.  Hold the Bulldogs (a team that dismissed the Tiger wunderkinds by 6 goals last week) scoreless in a final quarter, while kicking 10 goals ourselves.  Have 121 more possessions – 34 more inside 50’s?  Did we really take 27 contested marks inside our forward 50, to their 5?

Isn’t this the part of the dream where I hear Darryl Kerrigan intoning “tell him he’s dreaming”?  Apparently not.  How to explain it then?  How do wooden spooners become a serious top 6 team?  How does the improbable become the inevitable?

As deterministic Westerners we are predisposed to think that change should happen gradually; logically at an observable pace.  The sudden fall in the New York City crime rate; the mysterious rise in the popularity of Hush Puppies shoes in the mid 90’s (as Malcolm Gladwell observed in his best-seller ‘The Tipping Point’) and the resurgent West Coast Eagles of 2011 are demonstrable proof that this is not the case.

Sociologists define a tipping point as the event in which a previously rare phenomenon becomes dramatically more common.  Gladwell calls it “the moment of critical mass, the threshold, the boiling point.”  His book seeks to explain and describe the “mysterious” sociological changes that mark everyday life. As Gladwell states, “Ideas and products and messages and behaviors suddenley grow and spread like viruses do.”

In his First Epistle to the Corinthians St Paul said “but now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love”.  In 2011 St Woosha said to the unbelievers (and yea I confess to having great sin and doubt) “fitness, experience, confidence, these three; but the greatest of these is confidence”.

The experienced campaigners from the 2006 premiership are now all fit at one time, and providing the solid nucleus of the team – Glass, Embley, Kerr, Cox, Selwood A.  We tend to forget that Lynch and Butler are premiership players, and that Nicoski (resurrected as a forward after crippling leg injuries) was a 2005 grand finalist.

Then there are the ‘promising’ players with 2, 3 and 4 years of experience who can now translate intent into reliable action week after week.  The brilliance of Mark Lecras (82 games as a star forward now doubling as a creative midfielder); Josh Kennedy (74 games – who needs broken down old Brownlow Medalists with dodgy legs – sorry Carlton you can’t have what could have been your premiership forward line back); Natanui (38 games – the best ruck and rover ‘all in one’ package going around).  Then there are the solid citizens – Brad Ebert (61 games); Will Schofield (after 41 games growing as a tall rebounding defender) and Selwood S (50 games is Kane Cornes reborn inside a younger body).  The round 16 clash of Selwoods J, A and S will be the greatest display of sibling rivalry since Cain and Abel.

Lastly the big one – confidence.  The indefinable – ‘you know it when, you’ve got it’ – but more elusive than a generous publican before payday.  In Ric Charlesworth’s book ‘The Coach’ he writes of the thousands of lonely hours on practice courts that made Martina Navratilova a ‘natural’ volleyer.  When Gary Player holed a bunker shot to win a tournament, he responded to the ‘lucky’ jibe with “the more I practice the luckier I get”.

For the Eagles the basic foundation has been fierce gang tackling to generate pressure and turnovers.  Early in the season that pressure generated more opportunity than was taken.  Those early wins, and tight losses to good teams like Hawthorn and Essendon, has generated its own self belief and consequent skill in execution.  The Big Q caresses the marks he used to anxiously clutch at.  Shuey and Masten take an extra step to evade and balance, then hit a target, where before they hastened into error.  The whole side runs to receive, in the sure knowledge that their efforts will be reciprocated.

Much has been made of the Eagles ‘big’ forward line with Kennedy, Lynch, Darling, Cox and Natanui all rotating through the key marking positions.  All are over 190cm, but ‘big’ overlooks the most important element.  They are all ‘big’ and ‘agile’ by hand and foot, with outstanding ball handling skills below the knees.  Five years ago we marveled at the ‘round the ground’ mobility and skills of Dean Cox.  His talents are little diminished now that he is once again fully fit, but he is now arguably the least agile and mobile of this quintet.  Hudson and Minson were among the hardest battlers in a dispirited Bulldogs outfit, but they looked like WW1 dreadnoughts alongside the cruise battleships of the Eagle fleet.

Josh Kennedy’s 10 goals may seem like a stunning emergence to outsiders who thought him merely handy.  That belies his work rate and influence in the Eagles first 7 games of the year.  His running, athleticism and contested marking have been great all year.  His kicking style may look ungainly, but is effective and now reproducible under pressure.  In truth he did little more than in previous games, but the more dominant Eagle midfield allowed him to play closer to goal this week.  Nick Riewoldt and Jonathon Brown have been the elite power forwards of the last 5 years, but broken bodies and broken hearts are now wearying them.  By years end I suspect that Kennedy will present an irresistible ‘present versus past’ choice for the Team of the Year selectors.

And finally my ‘great white hope’ – Luke Shuey – delivered a tantalizing entrée for the Master Chef judges.  27 possessions; 8 tackles and 5 goals in only his 14th game.  Last week I waxed eloquent about the Dockers’ young Nat Fyfe as ‘Hird-like’.  At the start of this year I underestimated many Eagles players, but I thought that Shuey would be our greatest hope for a breakthrough into elite player status.  His progress has been steady, but unremarkable until this game.  I will put the Bradman curse onto him with the tag of ‘Judd-like’.  He shares two rare qualities with the champ.  Blinding acceleration over the first 5 metres that enables him to get clear of opponents, and a strong upper body that allows him to mix it in close with tackles and fierce bumps.  One to watch.  Fingers crossed.

It seems to me that after 8 rounds the tea leaves are a little clearer about the contenders and pretenders for the year.  For mind – 4 divisions are emerging in a quality year for us footy desperates.

Division One is closer than we could have imagined with 6 quality teams playing hard, skilful football – and all capable of winning against each other on a given day.  In no particular order – Magpies, Cats, Hawks, Blues, Bombers and Eagles.

Division Two are the honest, emerging or just hanging in there, but dangerous – Swans, Tigers, Dockers and Dogs.

Division Three are the unreliable but sporadically capable – Saints, Crows and Roos.

Division Four are the easybeats for reason understandable or inexcusable – Suns, Lions, Demons and Power.

Intriguing stuff.  Next week – Collingwood at the G.  A step up to Group 1 company at Flemington on Derby Day.  Will not disgrace.  Only two dangers – rain or sweating up in the saddling paddock on the big stage.

Will not be disgraced, and whatever the result – will improve with the outing.  Be afraid.  Very afraid.

Peter Baulderstone


  1. John Butler says


    We knew we were giving something to get something with Kennedy.

    But Judd was the big fish we needed to land to show we were back in business.

    At the time, I ventured the opinion (though not very confidently) that we should offer Fev as the trade, not Kennedy. I was roundly howled down by my Carlton mates.

    Of course, Kennedy is precisely the player we now need.

  2. westcoastdave says

    Peter, i reckon it is a bit of a stretch – for now – to put WC in Div 1. Two competitive losses are all we have to show in that company so far this year. A good show against Collingwood will confirm Div 2, but wins are needed against peers. It has been a good draw so far – some realistic challenges and some winable games, and it stays that way for a few more weeks yet.

    The thing that Carlton and probably most Victorians don’t understand is that Judd was past his best when he went back to Melb. I said at the time that while you would never want to lose a Judd, it might turn out to be a trade that brings more premierships to the Eagles than to Carlton. It was partly tongue-in-cheek bravado, but only partly.

Leave a Comment