West Coast’s premiership hopes took a hit, when they fell to the Swans in a nail-biting Qualifying Final.
Michael O’Loughlin would be the match-winner with his goal in the dying minutes seeing the Swans over the line by a point, and into a home preliminary final.
West Coast started favourites having finished top, but the Swans came into the match on the back of six wins from seven games. The Swans brought the same side across to Perth that thrashed the Blues by 92 points in the final game of the year.
The Eagles made just one change to the side that belted Richmond the week before. David Wirrpanda was brought back into the side at the expense of Brett Jones, but he earned a reprieve when Mark Seaby pulled out before the bounce. That left the Eagles with just the one ruckman in Dean Cox, up against the duo of Darren Jolly and Stephen Doyle, but Cox was one of the dominant players on the ground, giving the West Coast midfielders first use of the ball.
Cox finished with 39 hit-outs (compared to the combined 31 from Jolly and Doyle), which led to the Eagles midfield winning the clearances and inside-50’s. The Eagles also booted a number of goals direct from stoppages, but the overall advantage in clearances and forward entries didn’t translate into enough effective scores.
Instead, many of their thrusts forward hit brick walls in the name of Tadgh Kennelly and Craig Bolton. The two defenders had 22 and 14 disposals respectively and combined for 15 rebound-50’s, as they repelled many of the Eagle forward entries. Many of the Eagle forwards struggled to get into the game.
Mark Le Cras came crashing back to earth following his five goal performance against the Tigers. The small forward managed just two possessions for the night opposed to the close checking Sean Dempster. Brent Staker had just nine touches and a goal, while Quinten Lynch was barely sighted, despite finishing the night with two goals.
As West Coast pushed their numbers forward, the Swans were able to rebound into vast amounts of space. Barry Hall, in particular, enjoyed the space he was afforded to be nearly best on ground. Hall roamed up and down the ground to pick up 16 disposals, 12 marks and kick 5 goals. Michael O’Loughlin finished with four goals as the pair combined for nine of the Swans 13 goals on the night.
Regularly, the two Swan forwards were given the chance to operate one-out against their direct opponents, and the Sydney midfield were able to spot them up. In a rare poor performance, Darren Glass had his colours lowered by Hall, while Hunter struggled to hold O’Loughlin, before he was systematically pushed forward.
The Eagles pulled the first surprise on the evening when Beau Waters started in the forward line. The move reaped immediate rewards with Waters kicking the opening two goals of the game. Michael O’Loughlin responded with two goals of his own, in the space of a minute, before a controversial goal to Kirk gave the Swans a slender lead at quarter time.
As was customary in recent meetings between the sides, the Swans then got themselves a break. O’Loughlin nabbed his third goal of the evening, courtesy of a 50m penalty from David Wirrpanda, before Wirrpanda gave a clumsy free kick to Barry Hall for his first. The Swans had booted five goals in a row and West Coast needed a response.
Brent Staker ended the run following a strong mark in the goal square, only for Adam Goodes to immediately reply. Tyson Stenglein received a controversial free kick to bring the Swans lead back to 10 points, but on the brink of half-time, Barry Hall booted his second goal from deep on the boundary line, and the Swans lead was 15 points.
For West Coast, too few were getting involved, and despite the dominance of Cox, the midfield was being well beaten. Braun had just one possession in the first half, Stenglein collected just four, while Cousins and Judd had Jarrad McVeigh and Brett Kirk for company throughout the night. With Daniel Kerr still sidelined, the Eagles were lacking a line-breaker, meaning the Swans were able to flood back and stop the Eagles from scoring.
The third quarter started in the typical arm-wrestle that these two teams have been accustomed, before Adam Schneider broke the drought. The Swans lead had reached a game high 22 points, but just as Sydney seemed to have the game in their keeping, West Coast exploded back into the game.
In a change from recent Eagles-Swans clashes, the two sides combined for seven goals in the space of 15 minutes, with the Eagles booting five. Adam Hunter started the run after he was moved forward, before Chris Judd kicked a goal after a clever punch forward from Daniel Chick.
Barry Hall kicked an instant reply from the next centre bounce, before Quinten Lynch booted two goals in a minute. The first came from a snap after Leo Barry fumbled a loose ball inside-50, with his second a booming goal from outside 50 after Judd found him at the centre clearance.
Remarkably, West Coast soon had the lead when Adam Hunter notched his second goal of the term. As he did in the 2nd quarter, Barry Hall goaled just before the siren, following a strong mark opposed to Jaymie Graham.
With one quarter to play, Sydney led by 3 points. The final quarter would go goal-for-goal in a classic finale. Ben Cousins put the Eagles back in front with a classy finish from the boundary line before Schneider goaled after taking a strong mark grappling with Wirrpanda.
Chris Judd then roved a Dean Cox tap from a boundary throw-in to goal on his left foot, but the Eagles lead was shortlived again, as the Swans broke from the next centre clearance to find Hall for his fifth goal. Minutes later, it was a replica goal for West Coast as Cox this time found Armstrong from a boundary tap in the opposite pocket to Judd’s goal.
It seemed as though the Eagles would hold on, but the Swans had one final play. A string of handpasses deep in defence released the Swans through the middle of the ground. The ball ended with Malceski who pumped the ball deep into the forward line to a contest between Ryan O’Keefe and Drew Banfield. Banfield got the spoil in, but could only force the ball backwards to the Swans goal, and O’Loughlin – who was well held by Brett Jones in the second half – pounced on the loose ball first to fire the Swans back into the lead.
It would prove to be the final score of the night, with the final few minutes played out as a desperate scrap. The Swans one point victory continued an extraordinary run of results between the two sides. The past four games had now been decided by just 11 points and reversed the outcome of the corresponding game 12 months earlier.
Ultimately, the differences of the forward lines proved vital. While the Swans got the desired returns from their two key forwards, the Eagles were forced to find different avenues to goal. Two regular defenders in Hunter and Waters contributed four goals, while Stenglein, Judd and Cousins all hit the scoreboard from the midfield.
John Worsfold, though, wouldn’t be drawn on the efficiency of his forwards. “One point yeah? One point more dangerous. If we had have been in front by one point at the end, would our forward line have been more efficient?”
As well as criticism towards the Eagles inability to maximise their entries, the Eagles coach was also questioned over the defensive mechanisms. The Swans had space all night in their forward half, with the Swans long-kicking game continually exposing West Coast. Sydney had just 76 handballs for the evening, as they looked to crowd back in their own defence, and then rebound by foot with the space at their offering up the ground.
For West Coast, captain Chris Judd was colossal. The Kirk tag dropped off in the second half and Judd was left to run against Goodes. Judd finished the night with 34 possessions, 11 clearances and two goals. 13 of those disposals were in the last quarter, when the game was on the line. Cousins also managed to break free of McVeigh’s close checking to register 9 touches in the final term, for a total of 19.
Rowan Jones clocked up 28 disposals for the evening, while Adam Selwood chimed in with 22 and 8 tackles. For Sydney, Kennelly was the leading disposal winner with 22 running out of defence, while Adam Goodes was the Swans most proficient midfielder with 20. Apart from a couple of minutes in the third quarter, Leo Barry held Lynch, with Staker also well held by Ted Richards.
Importantly, the Swans had now secured a home preliminary final, as well as a week off. The result flipped the finals series on its head, and the ramifications for West Coast’s flag hopes were huge. While West Coast would earn a home semi-final the following week, the final fortnight would have to be won on the road.
With Adelaide defeating the Dockers in the other Qualifying Final, the Crows had locked in their preliminary final, meaning that West Coast were destined for a trip to Adelaide, provided they could take care of their semi-final opponent.
That opponent would be the Bulldogs, who despite finishing 8th, were too strong for the Mapgies to the tune of 41 points. In the other elimination final, the Demons got over the line against the Saints, to set up the other semi-final against Fremantle, which was also to take place in Perth.
The Eagles had enjoyed two home finals on their journey to the 2005 Grand Final, but if they were to at least match that effort, they were going to have to do it the hard way.
Match Details Saturday 9 September 2006
Sydney 3.2 7.3 10.6 13.7 (85)
West Coast 2.3 4.6 9.9 12.12 (84)
Subiaco Oval Attendance: 43,116
Best: SYD Hall, O’Loughlin, Kirk, Kennelly, Barry, Richards, Goodes
WC Judd, Cousins, Cox, A Selwood, R Jones, B Jones
Goals: SYD Hall 5, O’Loughlin 4, Schneider 2, Kirk Goodes.
WC Waters, Lynch, Hunter, Judd 2, Staker, Stenglein, Cousins, Armstrong.