AFL 4 months ago

1988 Rewind: Todd's Fine Start

  • 1988 Rewind: Todd's Fine Start

In 1988, the Eagles made an historic finals appearance in just their second season in the VFL. Here is how that squad achieved a place in West Coast history. 

West Coast started life under new coach John Todd with an impressive 21 point win over Geelong at Kardinia Park to start the season, where many were predicting big things from the Eagles, on a winning note. In a tight and scrappy affair, where blustery conditions were hard to handle for both sides, the Eagles were able to capitalise on their chances to outlast the home side.

Half-forward Michael O’Connell ultimately became the difference between the two sides, managing five goals straight, with the new Eagles coach lauded for his tactical nous opposed to Cats coach John Devine.  

Stephen Malaxos overcame an ankle injury sustained in a practice game against Melbourne to lead the Eagles’ ball winners with 30 and was well supported by Dwayne Lamb (27) and Murray Wrensted (21) who had an intriguing battle with Cats midfielder Paul Couch.

With one end favoured by a slight breeze, the Eagles were able to nullify the Cats advantage with the wind in the first and third quarter to set themselves up for victory. Alex Ishchenko played a key role with Todd instructing the ruckman to set up behind the ball, thwarting many of the Cats forward forays.

It would be one of a number of match winning moves.

Todd opted not to include ruckman-forward Laurie Keene, trusting Ishchenko to get the job done and going with a much smaller, mobile line-up. Vice-captain John Annear was also not considered as he continued his recovery of an ankle injury suffered during the VFL Bi-Centennial Carnival earlier in the year. Murray Rance was brought in for his first game at the club after an earlier stint with Footscray, while the Eagles also handed AFL debuts to Guy McKenna and Karl Langdon, both picked up as zone selections in the 1987 National Draft.

Ross Glendinning was stationed permanently at full-forward, after spending much of 1987 switching between the backline and the forward line, with Geoff Miles and Michael Brennan expected to hold down the key position spots down back. The Eagles captain would manage ten shots on goal, but finish with an inaccurate 2.8

With Ishchenko getting the better of Cats ruckman Damian Bourke – who was returning from injury after missing the majority of 1987 – the Eagles were able to counter the Cats midfield of Andrew Bews, Sean Denham, Neville Bruns and Paul Couch. Todd assigned Murray Wrensted to Couch, and while the nuggety Geelong midfielder had the better of the duel in the first half, Wrensted was able to wear Couch’s impact on the game down the longer the it went on.

After taking a slender two point lead into the first break, the Cats took control at the start of the second term. Interchange players Michael Turner and Gary Ablett were introduced and had immediate impacts although the Cats continued to waste chances going forward and on goal.

Bruce Lindner was giving Geoff Miles a headache, but with Ishchenko playing behind the ball and Andrew Lockyer shifted to a back pocket, the Cats struggled to find other avenues to goal. The Eagles then finished the half with a flourish, kicking three goals to maintain a small lead at the major break.

Inaccuracy continued to plague both sides after half time. As the tricky wind continued to swirl inside Kardinia Park, the Cats could manage just 2.5 with the wind, while the Eagles kicked 2.7. West Coast then capitalised in the final term, kicking away with five goals to register a memorable 21 point win.

The performance of Todd in the coaching box was particularly rewarding, following a controversial incident two days before the opening game. Todd had caused uproar after a physical altercation with West Perth president Rod Brown at a football panel show in Manduarah, after Brown had criticised the club.

Taking umbrage at disrespectful comments made by the outspoken president, Todd whacked Brown in the mouth. The Eagles coach issued a statement of apology the following day to both Brown and Eagles’ fans, but the incident did little to simmer tensions between the WAFL clubs and the AFL affiliate.

WAFL clubs questioned the requirement that they field Eagle-listed players who had missed out on senior selection, with some pointing to the fact that they had no say on who West Coast recruited in the off-season. Claremont coach Gerard Neesham was particularly vocal on the subject, saying that WAFL clubs being forced to select Eagle players was “crazy”.

“None of the eight league coaches had a say in the Eagles recruitment and we might not agree that the players chosen are our best”. Nonetheless, the WAFC threatened clubs with $3,000 fines if they didn’t comply with a satisfactory explanation.

For West Coast the win was the perfect start to a campaign where they had their eyes set on a top five finish. There would be one sour note from the contest, with half-forward Paul Peos breaking an arm that would see him miss the next two months of football, but the Eagles’ second ever win in Melbourne was one for great celebration.

1988 Round 1



Saturday April 2, 1988

West Coast




14.20 (104)





11.17 (83)

Kardinia Park

Attendance                            20,781




S Malaxos, A Ishchenko, G McKenna, M O’Connell, D Lamb, M Zanotti, M Wrensted, R Glendinning



M Bairstow, B Lindner, G Ablett, P Couch, R Scott




M O’Connell5, R Glendinning, P Scott 2, D Hart, K Langdon, G Miles, P Peos



B Lindner, G Ablett, D Cameron 2, P Couch, S Denham




3: A Ishchenko (WC); 2: M Zanotti (WC); 1: D Lamb (WC)

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