The West Coast Eagles celebrated the 30th anniversary of their debut premiership this week. Ahead of the match against Geelong, the team they vanquished on 26 September 1992, 15 Eagles heroes from that day were in attendance, plus former coach Mick Malthouse.
Did it have an impact on the present-day Eagles, who have suffered such a miserable season? It couldn’t have hurt, though you’d think the inclusion of four key premiership players from 2018 (Elliot Yeo, Dom Sheed, Jeremy McGovern and Willie Rioli) counted more.
Whatever the ratio of personnel, history, and a change in mindset – with a new willingness to keep the ball moving at every opportunity – the Eagles looked like a reborn team against the Cats, pushing them almost all the way to the line at Optus Stadium.
It wasn’t enough to get them over the line, Tom Hawkins sealing the match for the Cats with his third goal. Hawkins also celebrated a milestone of his own, kicking his 700th career goal in the third quarter to move to 26th on the all-time list.
Geelong coach Chris Scott said the 33-year-old, who is out of contract at the end of this season, is showing no signs of slowing down.
It has been assumed in the AFL world for a long time that if you start to get to the 30, you are not sore or a bit out of form, you’re old. We don’t subscribe to that, Scott said.
An electric performance from Tyson Stengle was arguably the difference between the sides, with his 15 possessions and three goals. Midfielder Cam Guthrie’s work rate was enormous, finishing with 13 tackles on top of 25 possessions.
Stengle was in everything early. He passed off an assist to Brad Close for Geelong’s first, laid a brutal and fair tackle on Shannon Hurn, and deserved to get on the end of one himself from a slick Jeremy Cameron pass.
He was a big reason the Cats got away to a first-quarter lead, which widened early in the second when he drilled his second goal from a pocket. Another goal to Cameron had the Cats out by 25, and looking ominous.
But the Eagles found a pulse, levelling the scores at half-time with a four-goal run to get their home crowd involved for one of the few times this season. A behind to put them in front early in the third quarter was greeted with cheers.
But the Eagles were unlucky to lose McGovern, after a collision with Cameron had him gasping for air and clutching his ribs late in the second term.
McGovern was sent to hospital for scans on what looks to be broken or fractured ribs.
You go to hospital, they’re probably broken, Eagles coach Adam Simpson said.
He’s had plenty of knocks over his time and he’s pretty brave. He plays hurt all the time. So for him not to get up, he’s pretty sore.
A lot of guys play with broken or fractured ribs. He’s done it plenty of times before, but it looked like a pretty bad one.
The Eagles lost a little shape behind the ball after that, which the Cats exploited in a third-quarter burst.
They swiftly opened up another four-goal lead, Stengle again prominent, turning Tom Barrass inside-out on a wing to help set up Isaac Smith, and kicking his third goal shortly after from a tight angle.
Jamie Cripps kept the Eagles in touch with a late third-quarter goal, but it was a margin they were unable to breach, despite having the better of Geelong for much of the last quarter, at least in territory.
It was a valiant effort, but the Cats had more guns and more class when it counted. It wasn’t their most convincing win of the season, but they’ll take the four points happily, as they consolidate their hold on yet another top four finish.
West Coast Eagles: Waterman 2, Kennedy 2, Cripps 2, Rioli, Petruccelle, West.
Geelong: Stengle 3, Hawkins 3, Menegola 2, Close, Cameron, Smith, Duncan.
West Coast Eagles: Waterman, Gaff, Redden, Barrass, Cripps, Yeo.
Geelong: Stengle, Guthrie, Selwood, Cameron, Menegola, Tuohy.
West Coast Eagles: McGovern (ribs).
Umpires: Donlon, Gianfagna, Pell.
– With AAP