Attitude can go a long way in football.
And the Eagles, on the back of three straight losses, brought plenty of it with them along with intent and commitment to the ball to defeat the Cats and keep a finals berth well in contention.
West Coast finished 13 point victors, but had the game in control for much of the evening bringing a hardness to the contest that hadn’t been evident in disappointing displays against the Bombers and Suns.
Nakia Cockatoo kicked the opening goal of the game, but the Eagles had the next six, and should have had a far greater margin than the 36 points they held at half time, with poor kicking on goal and a number of wasted forays forward.
West Coast had had 16 scoring shots to just five at this point, but it was their advantage in the contest that was separating the two sides. Across the opening 11 games of the season, the Eagles averaged 64 tackles per game; against the Cats they laid 50 in the first half as well as winning the contested ball and matching the Cats in the clearances, another area they were well down on this season.
Such was the Eagles pressure, that even Geelongs best players in Mitch Duncan and Patrick Dangerfield fumbled loose balls they would normally gobble up.
Nathan Vardy was the catalyst in the middle, as he relished the challenge of playing against his former side. Vardy was slightly edged by Smith for hit-outs, but was combative at the contest and more productive around the ground. Unlike the previous three games, West Coast were able to get their fair share of clearances with Sam Mitchell and Matthew Priddis both busy early.
The two Brownlow medallists combined for 17 disposals and 8 tackles as many of the tactical questions heading into the game were answered early. Mark Hutchings went to Joel Selwood, Scott Selwood ran with
Luke Shuey while Elliot Yeo and Patrick Dangerfield went head to head. Jeremy McGovern started forward, with stints in the ruck, leaving Drew Petrie to play as a permanent forward.
Dangerfield got the better of Yeo, but was well held with the run and carry usually synonymous with his game. Dangerfield had 15 first quarter possessions to be one of the few winners for Geelong as Hutchings clamped Joel Selwood. The Cats cause wasn’t helped with Cockatoo exiting the game with a hamstring problem, not long after hitting the scoreboard.
The Eagles restricted the Cats to the lowest half-time score in 50 meetings between the two clubs, but Geelong goaled within two minutes of the restart. The two sides played a stalemate for much of the quarter with the Cats reducing the West Coast lead to 26 with one term to play. The inaccuracy continued for the home side, managing 1.5 for the quarter.
Geelong continued to come at the start of the last quarter as Harry Taylor and Patrick Dangerfield goaled within the first four minutes. Unable to put the Cats away with the first half dominance, Geelong had the momentum swinging their way to close within 14 points.
Jack Darling responded to growing criticism with a strong opening quarter and booted his second goal of the evening to give West Coast breathing space, but Rhys Stanley replied to get Geelong within 12 as the quarter clicked into time-on.
West Coast were keeping the Cats at bay and an Andrew Gaff snapped goal out of a congested pack sealed the game and lifted the tension from an uneasy Eagles fan base. Lewis Jetta booted his second goal of the evening to make things certain, although two late goals to Geelong reduced the final margin, and flattered the visitors.
The Eagles had been in the gun heading into the clash with Geelong and a fourth straight loss would have put pressure on a club expected to partake in the finals action. Adam Simpson has shown faith in a number of under-fire players through the middle part of the season and most had a positive contribution against the Cats.
Jack Darling crashed a number of packs early to finish with two goals from 14 disposals and 7 marks, continually presenting all night. With Josh Kennedy still absent with a calf injury, Darling played the role that had been expected of him a fortnight earlier against the Suns. Dom Sheed provided a link through the midfield all night and also booted two goals, while Liam Duggan had a coming-of-age game showing composure beyond his 34 games.
Lewis Jetta was clean with the ball while others fumbled, using the ball at an exceptional 85% efficiency. Eric Mackenzie won his battle in defence and Jamie Cripps worked tirelessly after a missing games earlier in the season with an ankle problem. Most pleasing for the Eagles coaching staff would have been the ability of the midfield to hit the scoreboard. Jetta, Sheed, Duggan and Gaff all goaled, while other midfielders had shots on goal.
While West Coast could celebrate the win, they didn’t emerge from the game unscathed. Jackson Nelson injured a hamstring in the second quarter, and is set for some time on the sidelines, while Luke Shuey will be under MRP scrutiny for a front-on hit on Patrick Dangerfield. Dangerfield continued to play, but Shuey ran past the ball and appeared to make contact with the head, which could be enough for the MRP to hand
down a suspension.
Match Details Thursday 15 June 2017
West Coast 4.3 7.9 8.14 11.17 (83)
Geelong 1.2 2.3 5.6 10.10 (70)
Subiaco Oval Attendance: 35,719
Goals: WC Darling, Jetta, Sheed 2, Cripps, Duggan, Gaff, Petrie, Schofield.
GEE Stanley 3, Taylor, Menzel 2, Dangerfield, Cockatoo, Motlop.
EAGLE EYE VOTES
Round 13 Season Leaderboard
5 Nathan Vardy 29 Luke Shuey
4 Luke Shuey 25 Elliot Yeo
3 Mark Hutchings 18 Sam Mitchell
2 Lewis Jetta 16 Andrew Gaff
1 Sam Mitchell 12 Josh Kennedy
ROUND 14 FORECAST
West Coast tackle the in-form Demons in a second consecutive home game, and will have at least one change to make. Jackson Nelson will miss a couple of weeks after injuring a hamstring, continuing an unlucky run for the young defender in 2017. Sharrod Wellingham appears the most likely replacement, returning for East Perth on the weekend after several weeks out with an ankle injury.
Wellingham had only 13 disposals, but laid 7 tackles which would have been positively received the Eagles match committee. Sam Butler is the other option after the veteran was dropped but only had 10 disposals for the Royals and may have lost his place to Tom Cole who was impressive against the Cats.
The Eagles are also likely to have the option of bringing back Josh Kennedy and Scott Lycett for the Melbourne clash, presenting a positive headache for which tall combination they take in. Jeremy McGovern will return to the backline, meaning that one of Tom Barrass or Eric Mackenzie could find themselves out of the side. Lycett played more minutes at East Perth, and while Jon Giles led the ruck, the Eagles will be keen to get Lycett in with Max Gawn guaranteed to return for Melbourne.
Nathan Vardy will hold his place in the team as a second ruck, meaning Drew Petrie could also return to the Royals, particularly if Josh Kennedy is deemed to have recovered from a calf strain.
The other possible change will be determined by the MRP and any penalty handed down to Luke Shuey. A suspension for Shuey could allow either Chris Masten or Jack Redden to return with the two Eagles the leading ball-winners for East Perth. Masten had 28 possessions and Redden 26 with 9 tackles with Redden potentially getting the nod to play inside the contest.
The Eagles could also be tempted to reward Luke Partington for his season at the Royals with an AFL debut, although Partington had only 17 touches in the Royals’ 32 point loss to Subiaco. Many of the other Eagles had quiet games, including Josh Hill who booted two goals but had little impact.