Beware of Josh Kennedy, he single-handedly dragged the Eagles into the game against the Roos on Saturday. Photo: Getty Images
When the Dockers towelled up the Eagles in round 3, even the most optimistic of West Coast Eagles fans would’ve been brave enough to predict the club would make the grand final.
Even before a ball was kicked in anger in round 1, the Eagles weren’t even predicted to make the top 8, because West Coast were so badly ravaged by injury.
But the Eagles kept defying the odds and banked win after win, despite losing key backman Jeremy McGovern and Will Schofield for brief periods in the later part of season.
Eagles coach Adam Simpson has already achieved remarkable success by getting the club to the big dance.
But moments after the Eagles’ beat a gallant Roos’ outfit on Saturday night, the narrative amongst West Coast fans shifted dramatically negative again.
That line, “we weren’t expected to get to the grand final anyway, so it doesn’t matter if we lose,” was already been sprouted out of mouths of fans.
And as the club’s sixth grand final looms, the congo line of doubters have already started to line up to take pot shots at the Eagles.
Carlton legend and respected Fairfax Media journalist Robert Walls has all but written off West Coast. In his article in the Age on Monday, he gave three reasons why the Eagles couldn’t win the flag.
“One: too many young Eagles will be overawed playing in their first grand final. Two: the game will not be played at the Domain “House of Pain” – they will be out of their comfort zone. And three: the opposition is Hawthorn, quite possibly the best-coached team that any of us have ever seen.”
Despite the brevity of his reasoning, I’m going to give five reasons why the Eagles can win the flag this Saturday.
1. Josh Kennedy.
There had been some questions raised about the 28 year old’s ability to score against quality teams. Kennedy’s performances in this year’s finals has put that to bed. The power forward has had some big game-changing moments in both finals. He single-handedly dragged the Eagles into the game against the Roos after taking a courageous mark against defender Scott Thompson, before bouncing up and kicking the Eagles’ first goal. Truly inspirational. Don’t be surprised if he wins the Norm Smith Medal. The Coleman Medalist is the form forward of the competition and the Hawks don’t have a backman who can match his speed.
2. Eagles can’t win at the MCG.
Walls said because the grand final isn’t played at the Domain “House of Pain” the Eagles can’t win. Baloney.
East coast commentators and coaches have rolled out that old chestnut since the Eagles played their first final in 1988.
West Coast have played four grand finals at the MCG* and won three. (There only loss was by 4 points to Sydney in 2005). Most teams would kill for that grand final record at the MCG.
The Eagles have only ventured onto the sacred turf once this year in a game against Richmond, which West Coast won by 20 points.
And the AFL has never done the Eagles any favours when it comes to playing at the G.
When the Eagles last won a flag in 2006, they only played twice on the MCG. Ironically one of those games was against the Hawks, which the Eagles won by 10 points.
3. Eagles young guns won’t be overawed.
Walls also questioned the inability of the Eagles young brigade to handle the intensity of a grand final. Apart from Xavier Ellis (Hawks), Sharrod Wellingham (Pies) and Sam Butler (Eagles) no other current West Coast player has played in a grand final.
But the Hawks had about the same number of players with grand final experience when the club upset the Cats in 2008.
And the Eagles have a crop of players who will run out this weekend, which played in the clubs’ 2011 and 2012 finals campaign. Luke Shuey, Andrew Gaff, Chris Masten and co won’t flinch once the ball is bounced on Saturday.
4. Defence wins premierships.
A lot has been spoken and written about the Weagles web.
Whether or not Simpson “invented it” out of necessity because the club was short of tall timber down back is irrelevant. It’s worked and few teams have been able to penetrate it. Wellingham (who was almost best on ground against the Roos ) and underrated backman Brad Sheppard and captain Shannon Hurn continue to be creative and attacking from the back half. And Jeremy McGovern is the best intercept mark in the AFL at the moment.
While the Eagles looked surprisingly settled down back, there are some serious doubts about a few of the Hawks’ defenders. James Frawley has looked lost a few times during the finals and Brian Lake isn’t the same player which won the Norm Smith in 2013.
If Kennedy gets on top of Frawley early, the Hawks might have to switch their best backman, Josh Gibson onto him. That would rob the Hawks of some serious run out of their defence.
5. Defence might win premierships, but the Eagles have a better attack.
It may come across as lunacy, but the Eagles have more scoring options than Hawthorn.
The Hawks and Eagles are one and two for most points scored in the 2015 season and both clubs have five players that kicked 25 goals or more this year.
Saying that, the grand final should be a shoot out. Maybe not.
The problem for the Hawks is their number one goal sneak this year – Jack Gunston (53) – will be running around with a dodgy knee if he plays. And the club’s third most prolific goal kicker – Jarryd Roughhead (49) – hasn’t set the world on fire over the last month. And reports were fellow forward Luke Breust was sold the riot act after his poor showing against the Eagles last time around.
On the flipside when the last two teams met in the qualifying final earlier this month, Kennedy (3), Hill (3), LeCras (2), Cripps (2), all got amongst the goals.
If the Eagles quartet repeats that effort, West Coast will romp it in.
* Eagles 1991 grand final was played at Waverley Park.