Adam Simpson summed it up best when he said they had to be in it to win it.
The Eagles scraped through to claim the last spot in the top eight, to keep their season going and set up an elimination final against Port Adelaide.
West Coast started the round in ninth position and were outsiders to make it a third straight finals campaign, but were given the lifeline they needed when the Magpies upset the Demons 24 hours before they hosted top side Adelaide.
Essendon accounted for Fremantle before the Eagles and Crows kicked off, meaning eighth spot was up for grabs, as long as West Coast not only won but defeated the Crows by a large enough margin. The Giants loss to Geelong the previous night had meant that Adelaide had top spot secured regardless of the result, and the first half played out as if it meant more for one team than the other.
Adelaide opened the scoring through Eddie Betts, but West Coast soon took the advantage. The Crows were dominant around the centre square clearances but broke down going forward. With Taylor Walker left out of the side and Mitch McGovern and Josh Jenkins well held, the Crows were repelled consistently by the Eagles defence.
After a scrappy 10 minutes, the Eagles levelled the scores through Nathan Vardy and then possesed the ball in their forward half for the remainder of the quarter. The Eagles exploited the Adelaide defence on the longer Subiaco Oval with Jamie Cripps and Jack Redden both getting in behind the Crows backline to run into open goals.
The Crows got the game back on their terms through the second term and had reduced the Eagles lead two just two points early in time-on. The Crouch brothers were running a clinic with Matt and Brad accumulating possessions at will, while Rory Sloane was influential at the stoppages. The Eagles started with Hutchings run a tight tag on the Crow, but dropped the run-with role in the second half as they chased the percentage they needed.
Just as Adelaide were pushing, the Eagles responded with three goals in quick time to Gaff, Hutchings and Shuey to take their advantage back to 23 points. Josh Jenkins goaled seconds before half time to reduce the Eagle advantage to 17 points at the main break.
The late Eagles burst of goals continued through the third term as West Coast took a stranglehold on the game. Hutchings had his second major before Matt Crouch responded. The Eagles then kicked four of the next five goals as they continually surged forward. Mark LeCras started the run after receiving a free kick, making amends for a horrible error, moments before.
With West Coast running free into the forward 50, LeCras could have picked out a number of teammates to make certain of an easy goal, but instead went for home, spraying the shot out of bounds. From the resultant boundary throw-in LeCras received the free kick to boot his first, and then had a second not long after.
Josh Kennedy also got his first major for the day in what had been a tough day for the Coleman medallist hopeful. Lance Franklins haul of 10 goals in Sydney’s rout of Carlton meant Kennedy required six to claim the medal, but found the going tough against the combination of Jake Lever and Kyle Hartigan.
It mattered little for West Coast though, who had plenty of scoreboard contributors led by Jamie Cripps who finished with three. 41 points in arrears deep in the third quarter, the Crows clicked into gear but failed to capitalise on a period of forward dominance. Riley Knight, Matt Crouch, Tom Lynch and Eddie Betts all missed shots on goal with Betts eventually finding the big sticks.
West Coast started the final term 31 points ahead, but while victory was assured, Eagles’ fans were now reaching for the calculators. Cripps missed an early chance before Adelaide booted the vital first goal through Mitch McGovern. Kennedy had three shots and missed them all, while Tom Barrass also spurned a rare shot on goal.
Paul Seedsman and Charlie Cameron then kicked goals to make Eagles fans anxious. At 17 points, West Coast were back outside the top eight by the slimmest of percentage difference, but two players who were having forgetful afternoons stepped up when it mattered most.
Lewis Jetta and Jack Darling had struggled to have impact through the first three quarters but would provide magical moments late in the game. First, Jetta picked up a loose ball in the forward half and danced his way past a number of Crows opponents before checksiding through a goal to lift the Eagles percentage back ahead of Melbournes. Jack Darling then made sure of it for West Coast in the dying minutes with a courageous mark running back with the flight of the ball in the goal square to calm Eagle nerves.
West Coast and Melbourne had swapped positions nine times throughout the afternoon, but as the final siren rang, the Eagles had confirmed their place in September by a miserly 0.49%.
The win capped off a day of celebrations as the club played its Subiaco Oval swansong. After 31 seasons, the club was set to move to the new Perth Stadium from 2018 and the 29 point victory proved to be the perfect send off. Eagles fans also were able to show their appreciation for three legends of the AFL.
Matthew Priddis, the clubs third Brownlow medallist, was set to retire at seasons end, as were Sam Mitchell and Drew Petrie – who had made their names at other clubs – but had been warmly embraced by fans for season 2017.
Mitchell did his part in being one of the Eagles’ best in their win over Adelaide, as was another recent recruit in Jack Redden. Redden had been a revelation through the second half of the season and was instrumental on the wing, particularly in the first half. Luke Shuey displayed plenty of dash through the corridor while Andrew Gaff was at his accumulative best with 32 disposals.
Jeremy McGovern and Tom Barrass intercepted many of the Crows forward entries, while Elliot Yeo and Liam Duggan were damaging off half-back.
Match Details Sunday 27 August 2017
West Coast 4.1 8.4 13.5 15.10 (100)
Adelaide 1.1 5.5 7.10 10.11 (71)
Subiaco Oval Attendance: 39,367
Goals: WC Cripps 3, Hutchings, LeCras 2, Kennedy, Darling, Gaff, Jetta, Petrie, Redden, Shuey, Vardy.
ADE Betts, McGovern 2, Seedsman, M Crouch, Cameron, Jenkins, Milera, Smith.
EAGLE EYE VOTES
Round 23 Season Leaderboard
5 Sam Mitchell 37 Luke Shuey
4 Jack Redden 33 Elliot Yeo
3 Luke Shuey 32 Josh Kennedy
2 Jeremy McGovern 30 Jeremy McGovern
1 Elliot Yeo 28 Sam Mitchell
ELIMINATION FINAL FORECAST
With the win over the ladder leaders, there wouldn’t expect to be many changes to the line up for the elimination final against Port Adelaide.
East Perth predictably lost their final game of the season against Subiaco, and with West Perth stealing a last gasp win over Claremont, the Royals were bundled out of the top five meaning that Eagles players on the fringe won’t have any more WAFL games to impress the selectors.
Sharrod Wellingham was again one of the Royals’ best and his experience could get him back in the frame, with youngster Luke Partington showing signs of fatigue after five straight AFL games to start his career. Partington managed just eight disposals against the Crows and was barely sighted in the game.
Elsewhere, the side appears set. Nathan Vardy and Drew Petrie have been the preferred option in the ruck for the latter part of the season, while players such as Jack Redden, Lewis Jetta and Jack Darling have all solidified their place in the side after having poor starts to the year.
Jeremy McGovern copped a knock to the shoulder against the Crows that saw him spend considerable time on the sidelines, but with two weeks to recover, should line up against the Power. Eric Mackenzie and Tom Barrass also appear more settled down back meaning that Will Schofield may find it hard to break back into the line-up without an injury.
While Wellingham led the way at East Perth with 30 disposals and two goals, Chris Masten also put his hand up with 28 disposals, five tackles and a goal. Willie Rioli booted two goals from limited chances, Malcolm Karpany kicked one goal from 12 possessions while Francis Watson displayed some of his early season form with 17 out of the backline.
At this late stage though, it would be unlikely that many of the rookie Eagles will get any chances with experienced duo Wellingham and Masten the two likely to be considered for selection.