In the 25th anniversary of West Coast's first premiership, the Eagle Eye recounts the Eagles historic 1992 season.
The Eagles righted the wrongs of 12 months earlier, when they dumped reigning premiers Hawthorn out of the 1992 finals series.
In an identical match up from the first week of the 1991 finals series, the Hawks came to Perth eyeing another upset.
The two teams had finished one and two at the end of the 1991 season, and played off in a historic first final at Subiaco Oval. Despite the Eagles finishing three games clear on top, the Hawks pulled off a finals heist that changed the nature of the finals series. West Coast never recovered from the opening week slip-up and would later fall to the Hawks again in the Grand Final.
While the two teams had the benefit of the double chance the previous year, this time around the stakes were much higher. The loser of the fourth v fifth clash faced direct elimination and both teams received further incentive for victory following an upset in the other elimination final the day before.
The third placed Magpies and sixth placed Saints squared off at Waverley Park in a spiteful clash that ultimately saw the Saints get up by 8 points. That meant the Magpies – who had finished equal top on points, but third on percentage – were out of the finals race, opening up the door for the winner of the Eagles/Hawks clash to play off against the Cats in the first semi final the following week, and possibly earn direct entry into the Grand Final.
Geelong destroyed the Bulldogs to stamp themselves as premiership favourites, recording a 61 point victory in a high scoring game. The two teams combined for 43 goals in the game, with Bill Brownless the best individual in the game with nine. Gary Ablett chipped in with five goals, while at the other end Danny Del Re did the damage for Footscray with eight.
The Bulldogs led by 16 points at the main break having earlier raced out to a 34 point lead, before the Cats eclipsed them in the second half. Geelong booted 15 goals to three after half time, demoralising the young Bulldog outfit who had entered the finals series as the sentimental favourites after several years down the bottom.
With the carrot of the double chance now on offer, coach Mick Malthouse was sure his players would heed the lessons of the previous season. “You learn from experience and I trust the players have learnt from last year.”
The Eagles made one change to the team that accounted for Carlton, welcoming back half-forward Peter Wilson who had missed the previous month with a shoulder injury. He replaced the unlucky Scott Watters, who had been one of the Eagles’ best against Richmond a few weeks earlier.
The Hawks were able to welcome back Greg Dear and captain Gary Ayres from injury. Dear returned from a knee injury to replace first-choice ruckman Stephen Lawrence who picked up a knee injury in the last round win over Melbourne. Ayres hadn’t played senior football since damaging an achilles heel in the Round 14 clash between the two sides, but had managed two games in the VFL.
Dean Anderson was the other inclusion for Hawthorn, with Ricky Nixon and Michael Johnston joining Lawrence as omissions. The Hawks would also be without Dermott Brereton who had battled a hip problem for the majority of the year, making only a handful of appearances with James Morrissey also sidelined with a shoulder injury.
Despite their fitness concerns, coach Alan Joyce was confident his side could repeat their performance of 12 months earlier. "Everything is a blueprint of last year when Hawthorn beat the Eagles in a qualifying final."
Over 40,000 fans crammed into the confines of Subiaco, but they were soon quietened as the visitors took early charge. The Hawks booted the opening four goals of the game as they got plenty of midfield drive from Andy Gowers and Darren Jarman. Gowers and Jarman both hit the scoreboard, as did Jason Dunstall and Paul Hudson.
The Hawks had established control across the park but an injury to a key defender appeared to change the momentum of the game. Veteran Chris Mew badly tore a hamstring meaning Alan Joyce was forced to reshuffle his defence. Youngster Jason Taylor was moved onto Karl Langdon and the Eagle centre half forward responded with the Eagles first goal of the game. West Coast trailed by 21 points at the first break, but were back within touching distance by half-time on the back of a brilliant Sumich quarter.
The Eagles full-forward broke the shackles of Chris Langford to kick four second-quarter goals, including two freakish efforts. Twice Sumich snapped 50m bombs around the corner – one on each side of the ground as the Eagles had all of the momentum. Karl Langdon chipped in with a miraculous checkside effort from the boundary and West Coast had closed within three points.
Coach Mick Malthouse moved his side around at quarter time, which had a desired effect in stopping the Hawks’ prime movers. Chris Mainwaring was moved to half-forward and replaced on the wing by the taller Chris Waterman, who was assigned the role of quelling Andy Gower, who had opened with 8 disposals and 3 marks.
Peter Wilson came to the bench, while Guy McKenna – playing game 100 – came off the bench to shore up the Eagles defence. Darren Jarman proved too much for Dwayne Lamb and had Craig Turley for company after quarter time, while Don Pyke switched from John Platten to Turley’s initial opponent Anthony Condon.
The game turned into a tussle for much of the third term as the two teams traded goals, but West Coast were finally able to hit the lead for the first time in the afternoon when Chris Lewis kicked truly late in the quarter. A Hawthorn goal to finish the term meant they still held a three point lead at the final change, but with the home crowd at fever pitch, the momentum of the game was now with West Coast.
The Hawks had been reduced to 20 players since half-time with Ayres not returning to the field and the Eagles also now had the advantage of a stiff breeze. Brett Heady and Dean Kemp kicked goals to start the term to put West Coast in front, but the Hawks wouldn’t lie down. Jason Dunstall was getting the better of Michael Brennan to kick two goals and keep the Hawks in touch.
The game was crying out for a match winner, and it came for the Eagles in the form of their dynamic wingman. Peter Matera and Darren Pritchard had had an engrossing battle on the wing, with Pritchard getting the early honours as Hawthorn skipped out to a first half lead. But in the final term, Matera proved decisive.
The wingman tallied nine possessions for the quarter and with scores level, kicked two goals in succession to take West Coast out to what proved an unassailable 13 point lead. In one final effort that typified the Eagle performance after the Hawthorn fast-start, Guy McKenna laid a desperate tackle on Tony Hall in the dying moments as the Hawk was set to goal from the goal square, and deny the visitors any lingering chance of a comeback.
Eagles coach Mick Malthouse was beaming following the victory, fully aware of the opportunity that presented at the Eagles. “It was pride that got us there. We are now in a better position after one week of the finals than we were last year, when we finished on top of the ladder.”