Janet Linn reporting for AFANA from Subiaco Oval
West Coast Eagles fans have long memories. In 1993 Essendon won a match against the Eagles after the siren and on his triumphant run down the coaches' race, then Bombers' coach Kevin Sheedy showed his elation by waving his jacket helicopter-like over his head. To this day, depending on the outcome of the game, fans continue the tradition. In Round 18, it was West Coast fans whose jackets were flying at full time. The unfancied home team caused an upset by beating Essendon and ejecting them from the Eight, effectively ending their chance of Finals action in September.
While the Essendon team arrived in Perth undermanned with key players Matthew Lloyd, Mark McVeigh, Jason Winderlich and Alwyn Davey ruled out through injury, their flat performance came as a surprise given the high stakes. West Coast started the game looking sharp and full of run. Newcomer Callum Wilson found glory in his first game in Eagles' colors by scoring two goals from his first two kicks in league football. David Wirrpanda's class showed itself when he skimmed a ball off the pack after a bounce and popped it straight through the goalposts to give West Coast a 20 point lead before Essendon made any impact at all on the scoreboard. It wasn't until halfway through the first quarter that Heath Hocking managed a goal for the Bombers but the going was tough. West Coast defenders Darren Glass, Shannon Hurn and Mitchell Brown were on top and repelled the visitors every time they tried to attack. With only four minutes on the clock, Jay Neagle spun around and kicked a good goal for Essendon bringing the margin down to seven points. With the siren about to ring Josh Kennedy kicked to Hurn running free off the interchange bench and Hurn's handball to Ben McKinley resulted in a late goal for West Coast. At the change the Eagles were ahead by only 13 points but the statistics showed they were completely on top of the Bombers.
West Coast continued their good form in the second quarter and increased their lead to 29 points at half time. The Eagles' forward line was in great touch with Mark LeCras, Kennedy and Wirrpanda making the most of their opportunities. Another young Eagle Tom Swift kicked his first goal in AFL and the home crowd was lapping it up. Essendon tried hard with goals to Brent Prismall and Kyle Reimers but they looked underdone and had no answer to West Coast's determination.
During the half time break Essendon coach Matthew Knights no doubt spelled out his requirements loud and clear and the Bombers played with more intensity in the early part of the third quarter. Jobe Watson was busy as the Bombers dominated the forward fifty entries and narrowed the deficit to 20 points. Suddenly the momentum changed as the Eagles ignited and McKinley and LeCras kicked two goals in a minute. The Bombers rebounded through Neagle and Patrick Ryder to get back to within 19 points. Yet again West Coast had the answers, finishing the quarter with some classy teamwork from Kennedy and McKinley for a steadying goal.
Fans were treated to a close tussle in the final quarter as Essendon tried to break the Eagles stranglehold on the game. Reimers led the way with an inspiring run from the half back line, several bounces and a long goal. Courtenay Dempsey followed suit minutes later and the game threatened to turn Essendon's way. Hard finishing has not been a feature of the West Coast game this season and in recent weeks there has been intense media scrutiny on "tanking", the phenomenon of lowly placed teams deliberately trying not to win to ensure themselves a priority pick in the AFL draft. A loss in this game would have helped the Eagles stay below the four wins ceiling to achieve that priority pick and with Essendon challenging hard the opportunity to tank certainly presented itself. If tanking exists, the West Coast players and coaches were clearly not interested in taking advantage of it. When LeCras, McKinley and Swift slotted through a goal apiece to seal the game, a priority pick was the last thing on for the mind of West Coast players and fans. Subiaco Oval erupted in a sea of flying Eagles jackets and the Bombers were left to contemplate their prospects of making the Finals from outside the Eight. With their last four games against Brisbane, St Kilda, Fremantle and Hawthorn, Essendon have their backs against the wall and disappointment looks inevitable.
Scoreboard West Coast 4.2 8.6 11.7 14.11 (95) Essendon 2.1 4.1 7.6 10.8 (68) Best West Coast M LeCras, A Selwood, J Kennedy, Q Lynch, M Priddis, B McKinley Essendon K Reimers, A McPhee, A Lovett, T Pears, B Prismall, J Watson
Article last changed on Friday, August 07, 2009 - 11:06 PM EDT