West Coast ended a 12-year drought and erased the despair of the narrow 2005 loss, with a thrilling one point win over Sydney.
In one of the tightest rivalries in the modern game, the Eagles reversed the result of the Qualifying Final to defeat the Swans by the smallest margin in a Grand Final since 1966. Such is the closeness of the two sides in recent games, that the final scores were also the reverse of the earlier meeting.
The one point win continued a remarkable stretch of finishes between the two sides, with the past five matches decided by a combined total of 12 points.
Andrew Embley claimed the Norm Smith for best on ground with the Eagles wingman tallying 26 disposals and two goals. Embley also took a vital mark as the spare man in defence late in a final term that was punctuated with a number of match-winning moments.
Daniel Chick will long be remembered for two efforts in a gripping final term. First, Chick chased down and lunged at Ted Richards who was streaming down the wing to force his kick out of bounds to halt a Sydney charge.
Then in the final minutes, Chick was able to smother Ryan O’Keefe’s clearing kick before gathering the rebound and handpassing to Adam Hunter who was able to boot the Eagles final goal, which briefly gave them a seven point lead and breathing space.
Beau Waters took several clutch marks, while Rowan Jones had a say in one of the final contests of the game, neutralising a loose ball against three Swans that stopped them from making one last play forward to steal victory.
These were just a snippet of moments throughout the game as the Eagles desperately held on through the second half after holding a healthy 25 point lead at the major break. Often slow starters throughout 2006, West Coast flipped the script to bolt out of the blocks in the opening quarter, with Worsfold controlling the battle inside the coaches box.
Following the loss in the qualifying final, the Eagles match committee were heavily criticised for the lack of change in structure as Barry Hall and Michael O’Loughlin took charge in the Swans forward line. The two key forwards booted nine of the Swans 13 goals on the evening as they were regularly left one-out.
This time around, the Eagles were giving Hall and O’Loughlin no space, as David Wirrpanda continually pushed back to fill the space in front. The Eagles welcomed back the rebounding defender after he missed the Eagles preliminary final win over Adelaide with a hamstring strain. Wirrpanda’s return meant that the unlucky omission would be Jaymie Graham, who was dropped for the second time in the finals series.
Graham had played all 22 of the Eagles regular season games, but with no obvious match-up against the smaller Swan forward line, the young defender was forced to make way. The other question mark across the week leading up to the game was whether Mark Nicoski could break his way into the lineup.
Nicoski had been one of the Eagles’ best through the first half of the season, but a broken ankle suffered against the Hawks in Round 14 threatened to end his year. However, Nicoski had worked his way back into contention and played a starring role in Subiaco’s WAFL Grand Final win the week before.
Ultimately the decision was made to leave out the defender who had played in the Eagles Grand Final loss 12 months earlier.
Adam Hunter initially started on Swans’ spearhead Barry Hall with Glass going to O’Loughlin. Following the opening goal of the game, Hunter was swung forward, Daniel Chick moved back onto O’Loughlin and Glass took Hall.
Elsewhere, the Eagles left Judd to go head to head with Sydney superstar Adam Goodes in the middle and Ben Cousins was pushed to the wing to avoid the tag of Luke Ablett and was instead being minded by Jarrad McVeigh.
Both Judd and Cousins had electric starts and capped off fine first quarters by also hitting the scoreboard. After Hansen opened the scoring, Judd pounced on a fumble by Amon Buchanan, before Cousins kicked truly after being put into space by Hunter.
Three goals down, the Swans wrested some of the Eagles early momentum with a Michael O’Loughlin steadier, only for Hansen to kick his second goal and stretch the Eagles quarter time lead to 16 points.
In 2005, Ashley Hansen lowered his colours to Lewis Roberts-Thomson who was one of the Swan’s best in their premiership win. This time around, Hansen was giving Roberts-Thomson the run around to finish the opening quarter with two goals from five possessions and five marks as the dominant forward on the ground.
Andrew Embley enhanced the Eagles lead in the second quarter with the opening goal, before Ben Mathews responded with the Swans’ second. Quinten Lynch soon stamped his mark on the game with two strong contested marks against the previous year’s hero Leo Barry. Both of his goals were set up by daring runs from the Eagles midfield.
Daniel Kerr set up the first, as he carried the ball through the middle of the ground to kick long to the goal square where Lynch read the fall of the ball better. Moments later, it was Chad Fletcher in an almost carbon copy play with his weighted pass favouring Lynch who was too big and too strong for his counterpart.
Ben Cousins was fortunate to receive a free kick after Tadgh Kennelly lost his footing in the Eagles forward line, and stretched the lead for the Eagles beyond five goals. The Swans were able to steady through late goals from Michael O’Loughlin and Nick Davis, but too many of the Swans players were having little impact.
Conversely, the Eagles were controlling the ball mainly due to the work of ruckman Dean Cox. Cox easily won his battle against Sydney duo Darren Jolly and Stephen Doyle. The two Swans could only manage four disposals between them, while Cox racked up 14 on his own, providing the fellow West Coast midfielders plenty of drive.
Judd was having the better of Goodes, Michael Braun was shaking the tag of Luke Ablett, Cousins had too much run for McVeigh and Kerr and Fletcher both had plenty of the ball. Down back Barry Hall was having a shocker against Darren Glass and Drew Banfield was nullifying Davis’ influence.
The third quarter became an arm-wrestle, as the two sides went goal for goal. The Swans closed the gap twice through O’Loughlin and Roberts-Thomson, who had been moved forward after being unable to contain Hansen. The Eagles responded both times with Embley kicking his second after a chain of handballs that began on the Eagles half back line, and Lynch registering his third after Kerr won a crucial loose ball in the centre of the ground. With the game into time-on the Eagles still held their 25 point half-time lead, but the Eagles showed signs of fatiguing and the momentum of the game shifted.
Sydney, unable to win a clearance for much of the opening half, started to get on top around the stoppage, mostly through the hard work of Brett Kirk. Kirk dragged the Swans back with nine third-quarter possesions and as the clock ticked down to the final break, Nick Davis then broke free of Drew Banfield to boot two crucial goals. With a quarter to play, the Eagles lead had been cut to just 11 points.
West Coast had played an extra game through the finals, and had to travel for a second week running following their trip to Adelaide the previous week. The Swans on the other hand had enjoyed a break through the finals series as well as a home preliminary final.
The Swans were looking the stronger finishers, and when Adam Goodes stormed through the 50m line from the first centre bounce and goaled within 11 seconds of the re-start, it seemed inevitable that Sydney would claim the lead off West Coast.
The two sides battled it out for an eternity until Steven Armstrong pounced on a loose ball to cleverly dribble the ball home to lead by seven points. The Eagles had little time to enjoy the break, with Ryan O’Keefe somehow wobbling the ball home almost immediately before Chick’s heroics restored the Eagles seven point advantage.
Nick Malceski drew the Swans closer once more but the lead would never be in their grasp.
West Coast players would all have their moment in an epic last quarter, finding an answer to every Sydney challenge to claim the clubs third premiership.
For Worsfold, the result was due reward for a long season that had started for the players at the MCG 12 months earlier. “It is just satisfaction for the work that we know that we have put in… for 2006… from within the club, we know the work we have put in and we know the faith we had in everything we were doing, even though we got questioned a lot of times…”
While Embley would be awarded best on ground honours, there were plenty of stars for West Coast. Chris Judd – the Norm Smith Medallist of 2005 – was the leading possession getter for the Eagles finishing with 28 and eight clearances. Beau Waters was impenetrable across half-back collecting 26 disposals and 10 marks.
In a sign of the side’s maturity from the 2005 defeat, Adam Selwood and Sam Butler both rebounded from poor Grand Finals to have an influence. Like Waters, Selwood had 26 disposals and 10 marks winning his battle with Amon Buchanan. Butler had just two disposals the year before, but was one of the crucial cogs in the West Coast midfield to finish with 14 touches.
Michael Braun provided the additional run in a deep Eagles midfield to finish with 22 touches, as did Adam Hunter who spent time at both ends of the ground. Darren Glass was superb against Sydney captain Barry Hall, holding the big forward goalless. Drew Banfield and Daniel Chick did their jobs against Nick Davis and Michael O’Loughlin, while Brett Jones had an absorbing battle with Ryan O’Keefe.
As had been the case for much of the year, the spread of the Eagles performers was the key to claiming victory, and the courage and determination of the final quarter would live long in the memories of Eagles fans celebrating the flag.
West Coast had found redemption for the disappointment of 2005 and were once again kings of the competition.
Match Details Saturday 30 September 2006
West Coast 4.2 8.7 10.10 12.13 (85)
Sydney 1.4 4.6 8.11 12.12 (84)
Melbourne Cricket Ground Attendance: 97,431
Best: WC Embley, Cox, Waters, Judd, Kerr, Glass, Fletcher, Hansen
SYD Kirk, Goodes, Kennelly, Richards, Fosdike
Goals: WC Lynch 3, Embley, Hansen, Cousins 2, Judd, Armstrong, Hunter.
SYD O’Loughlin, Davis 3, Mathews, Roberts-Thomson, Goodes, Schneider, O’Keefe, Malceski.