West Coast qualified for their second consecutive Grand Final when they accounted for Geelong in the second semi final.
Peter Matera was devastating on the wing collecting a career high 35 disposals and Peter Sumich booted eight goals up forward as the Eagles secured the valuable week off ahead of the 1992 decider. With several players under injury clouds, West Coast would need all the days they could to get their best team back out on the MCG in a fortnights time against the winner of the preliminary final between Geelong and Footscray.
West Coast were forced into two changes before their clash with Geelong, with vice-captain Michael Brennan ruled out during the week after straining a thigh in the elimination final win against the Hawks, and then Brett Heady withdrawn on the morning of the game after straining his troublesome hamstring at training.
They were replaced by David Hynes and David Hart, while Guy McKenna and Peter Sumich both took their place despite injury concerns. Karl Langdon would become another concern after he injured a knee during the first term against Geelong and sat the remainder of the game on the bench.
Geelong also made two changes ahead of the match, bringing in the experienced Andrew Rogers and captain Mark Bairstow. Bairstow had missed the previous weeks qualifying final win against the Bulldogs due to a mysterious virus that had left the midfielder hospitalised. Steve Hocking was ruled out for the year after breaking a shoulder blade in a crunching hit from Doug Hawkins, while Spiro Malekellis was dropped. Malekellis had survived a tribunal hearing earlier in the week for striking Hawkins, but was then dropped to make way for Bairstow.
Coming up against the league’s highest ever scoring team, Malthouse acknowledged the importance of stopping the Cats scoring ability, with the Eagles needing to apply their defensive strategies. “We could start at two o’clock in a three o’clock game and still not have enough goals to beat them.”
The Eagles started the game with little surprise as they implemented many of the successful match-ups that had delivered them a win against the Cats at Kardinia Park several weeks earlier.
Don Pyke ran with Garry Hocking, Dwayne Lamb took care of Robert Scott and Craig Turley went to Paul Couch. Paul Harding had the edge on John Barnes and Barry Stoneham in the ruck with Dean Kemp going head to head with Bairstow in the only offensive midfield pairing.
The Eagles though got plenty of attack from the wings as Peter Matera and Chris Mainwaring carved up their Geelong counterparts. Matera tallied 12 kicks in the opening term against Sean Simpson, and before the quarter was done, he already had a new opponent in Peter Riccardi.
Mainwaring wasn’t as proficient, but chipped in with a snapped goal from the boundary, following what had been a testing week for the blonde wingman. In the early hours after the Eagles’ win over Hawthorn, Mainwaring had been pulled over for drink driving – his second such offence – and had borne the brunt of an unsympathetic Perth media.
Mainwaring, for his part, had stayed out of the limelight in the lead up to the semi-final, adamant that he would repay for his poor decision on the field, and he played the perfect foil to Matera. Up forward, Peter Sumich was the Eagles dominant target as he proved too much for Steven Handley. The full-forward had six shots on goal in the first term, although as was his way, he finished with three goals, two behinds and a shot that sailed out of bounds.
Sumich continued to be the main target for West Coast up forward, but he didn’t see much action in the early part of the 2nd quarter as Geelong controlled the centre square. The Cats owned the opening ten minutes of the term with West Coast unable to get near their forward 50m arc. Goals to Ablett, Bairstow and Couch put Geelong 15 points up but some minor tinkering from Malthouse swayed the momentum back in favour of West Coast.
Peter Wilson was moved off Adrian Hickmott at half-back and was replaced by Mitchell White who not only stopped Hickmott’s blistering start but provided plenty of run from the backline. Wilson was switched to half-forward, as was Tony Evans, and both started having an impact forward of the ball.
West Coast eventually recorded their first inside-50 entry and instantly capitalised with David Hynes hitting the scoreboard. His goal would start a run for West Coast that had them in the box seat by the major break.
Sumich kicked consecutive goals – the first from a strong mark, the second a right foot snap after gathering a loose ball – to give West Coast back the lead, and then Tony Evans goaled from a free kick to put the Eagles eight points in front.
The game had been played at a frenetic pace up to this point with both sides having chances to score, but the game turned into a stalemate as the quarter wound down. After several minutes of no score, Bill Brownless was awarded a free kick and duly booted his first goal, which was also his first possession of the game. After a nine-goal haul against the Bulldogs the week before, opponent Ashley McIntosh completely had his measure.
Sumich responded for West Coast, soccering through his sixth goal from the goal square, and almost had a seventh in identical fashion shortly after. The Eagles spearhead though was starting to get frustrated with Handley’s close-checking tactics, remonstrating on several times with the umpires who weren’t calling any free kicks. Sumich need not have worried for too long though with Malcolm Blight making a switch just before half time.
Barry Stoneham, who was well beaten by Glen Jakovich, was moved to full back with Handley replacing him at half-forward. Chris Waterman though made it six goals out of seven to West Coast when he chipped in with his first and the Eagles took a 15 point lead into the main break. The Eagles finished the term with all of the running and the lead should have been more, but Tony Evans inexplicably missed a simple shot on goal directly in front on the siren.
Still West Coast were looking the stronger team, and Malcolm Blight reacted by swinging his team around for the third quarter.
Brownless was moved to centre half forward and Ablett moved to the goal square. Paul Brown came onto the ground for his first run and went forward with Handley going to the bench. Andrew Bews went into the midfield and Geoff Miles – who had booted five goals against his former side in the Round 19 loss – went to defence.
The changes appeared to have the desired effect as Geelong came out with all the running. Bews, Couch and Bairstow got hold of the stoppages and with plenty of the ball forward, Ablett became a real threat.
Worsfold followed Ablett to the goal square, having minded him through the first half, but was immediately out of his depth on the last line. Ablett proved too fast on the lead and after a missed shot on the ground, goaled to bring Geelong back within eight points. The Geelong superstar could have had his team back in front, but missed consecutive set shots and the Eagles would make them pay.
McIntosh was switched to full back and Jakovich sent to Brownless with the West Coast defence able to weather the early Geelong onslaught. Dwayne Lamb settled the ship for the Eagles, although his goal was met immediately by Bairstow who streamed out of the centre clearance to kick truly.
The Cats continued to dominate in the centre square, but the Eagles were rebounding strongly from half back. David Hynes was proving the perfect outlet in the absence of Karl Langdon, often being the link to the forward line. With Tim McGrath for company, Hynes began to work further up the ground to drag McGrath out of the defensive third, where he had been one of Geelong’s best in the first half.
Sumich then made it another brace of goals to take his match tally to eight, although a Michael Mansfield major reduced the lead back to the half-time margin of 15 points. West Coast were looking the more likely and a burst of goals in the dying minutes of the term proved to be the back-breaker.
Sumich became the assistor when he gathered a bouncing pass to find Peter Wilson who slotted the goal on the run. Matera, who had a quieter third quarter after his blistering first half, then swooped on a loose ball at half forward to kick his first goal of the day. Ablett had one final chance to reduce the margin with a shot on the siren, but could only manage his fourth behind for the quarter, and with one term remaining the Eagles had a 27 point advantage.
It became a procession at the start of the last as West Coast stretched the lead to a game high of 57 points. Matera capped his day off with his second goal and then Mainwaring also registered a second goal with a miracle snap from the boundary. Mainwaring intercepted a sideways pass from Ricardi, intended for Couch, and trailing the ball towards the boundary line, attempted to pull the ball back towards the centre of the ground.
Instead the ball floated through the goals with the aid of the breeze and Geelong seemed shot. McKenna, Pyke and Kemp all tallied majors and while the Cats would add some late goals to make the margin more respectable, Mick Malthouse was left pleased with what was considered the Eagles most complete performance of the season.
The Eagles coach was particularly praising of his side’s response during the second term when the game was in danger of slipping away from them. “It took a very good effort after the seven or eight minute mark of the second quarter to put a lid on it”.
“It was very important that we didn’t get in a shooting match with them and we were able to get our nose in front at half-time and if there was a turning point in the game, that was it.”
The Eagles were naturally flag favourites after their performance and would await their opponents from the preliminary final, which would be a replay of the qualifying final between Geelong and Footscray from two weeks earlier. Footscray made light work of the Saints, who had lost captain Danny Frawley during the week, with Chris Grant was best up forward for with five goals. The Bulldogs led by 55 points at the final change before an eight goal final term to St.Kilda reduced the closing margin to 29 points.
Despite qualifying for the Grand Final, Malthouse was quick to point out that the Eagles had yet to atone for their loss to Hawthorn the previous year. “The players are very resolute in their thinking”.
“We were hurt very badly 12 months ago in that loss to Hawthorn and the players who played in that game now know the requirements.”