What went right?
Forgive us for stating the obvious, but it would be amiss to not mention winning the premiership in this space. As is often the case with premiership teams, they were elite on the road too winning 8 of 11 interstate trips.
Their back six was rock solid all season and were ranked fifth for points against in 2018. Led by All-Australians Jeremy McGovern and Shannon Hurn, the Eagles would continually interrupt opposition attacks with intercept marks.
Filled with stars, their midfield unit was consistent all season even after the loss of Nic Natanui to a season ending knee injury. Andrew Gaff was the only Eagle midfielder recognised with All-Australian selection but he was by no means head and shoulders above his team mates Elliott Yeo, Jack Redden, Dom Sheed, and Luke Shuey. Mark Hutchings elevation to elite tagger status was also a key plank in West Coast’s Premiership charge.
Willie Rioli and Liam Ryan exploded onto the scene in 2018 and provided an added spark to a forward line already stocked with fire-power. Spearheads Josh Kennedy and Jack Darling were exceptional despite injury interrupted seasons. They proved a deadly combination when on the park together, with the Eagles 13-0 with them both in the team.
What went wrong?
Well what lay in store was not immediately apparent when the Eagles joined the Perth Scorchers and Australian Cricket Team in losing their first home game at Optus Stadium. Four losses in seven games between Rounds 13 & 19 looked likely to derail their season with injuries taking a consistent and massive bite out of West Coast’s best 22.
Andrew Gaff’s brain fade against the Dockers, which saw him break Andrew Brayshaw’s jaw and receive an eight game suspension, was a big blow with the 26-year-old in career best form. The Eagles response which saw them seemingly dedicate the following week’s victory over Port Adelaide to him was one of the few missteps the club made in 2018.
While he may not have grabbed the eye of the All-Australian Selection Panel in 2018, Elliot Yeo’s importance to the Eagles Premiership was not lost on his team, with the former Lion rewarded with the Premiers Best & Fairest award. After splitting his time between midfield and defence last year, the 25-year-old spent more time in the middle this season and quickly made claims to elite midfield status.
After posting career highs for disposals, tackles, inside 50s, clearances, contested possessions and goal assists, his new status in the game was made complete on Grand Final day when he found himself tagged by Collingwood’s Levi Greenwood. After a disappointing decider in 2015, he was able to put those ghosts with some critical involvements in the second half of West Coast’s famous victory this year.
West Coast 11. 13. (79) def
Collingwood 11. 8. (74)
What would become one of the great Grand Final’s of modern times, looked anything but when Collingwood rammed home a fifth first quarter goal with West Coast still yet to register their first. While the scoreboard dominance did not reflect the general play battle taking place, with the game still new the Eagles were face with a massive mountain to climb.
The second quarter became an arm-wrestle after the Eagles had kicked two late goals in the first to stem the bleeding. A big third quarter from Jack Darling, who has been much maligned since his 2015 performance, saw the Eagles briefly grab the lead before going into the final break on level footing with the Pies.
With supporters barely back in the seats for the last term, Collingwood had again jumped out to a two goal lead and looked likely winners but the Eagles were not to be denied. Goals to Josh Kennedy and Nathan Vardy saw them draw close but wayward kicking prevented them from taking the lead before Dom Sheed wrote his name in Grand Final folklore.
Sheed’s match winning kick came about as a result of an attacking thrust that began with an intercept mark by Jeremy McGovern in defensive fifty. Threading the needle the defender found Vardy with a pinpoint kick amongst a nest of Magpies. Liam Ryan was next link in the chain before he drove it towards Sheed at half forward. With ice water running through his veins, the veteran midfielder didn’t as much as flinch before putting a knife through Magpie fans hearts with a drop punt right through the middle of the big sticks.
Collingwood had one last roll of the dice but came up short meaning West Coast were premiers for the fourth time. On every possible level, it was the best win of 2018.
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