On a perfect cool night for football, the West Coast Eagles and the Western Bulldogs showed how a dour and intense game can thrill a crowd. Numbers around the ball, slick hand passing and high pressure tackling was the order of the night. Despite the Bulldogs missing nine of their best players, they matched or bettered the Eagles in all aspects of the game with the exception of marks (catches) within the attacking fifty meter arc and crucially, on the scoreboard.
At center bouncedowns, forwards from both teams routinely lined up along the goal-to-goal spine and broke to the open flanks when a center clearance favored their end. Long kicks left the leading forwards in intriguing one-on-one duels with defenders. The Bulldogs’ Jack Redpath, playing his first game since his third knee reconstruction, grabbed a strong mark and booted the first major score (goal) for the visitors. The Dogs had used their trademark lightening handballs and long kicks to work the ball out of defense. The match then settled into a grim struggle as both teams employed a rolling grid where no player was more than one kick from the ball. The defenses reigned supreme as midfielders worked under intense pressure in the congestion around the ball. At the twelve-minute mark Dom Sheed broke the Eagles’ drought by snapping a 25 meter goal from a stoppage (bouncedown). Forward entries were evenly balanced, but the Eagles proved more accurate, to establish what eventuated to be a crucial first quarter lead. By the end of the quarter the Eagles’ big forwards, Josh Kennedy and Jack Darling, along with Liam Duggan had all scrambled kicks out of packs to goal. The Bulldogs’ applied ferocious pressure but were let down by poor goal kicking. Sam Mitchell, played an outstanding quarter organizing the Eagles’ backline. He received the ball from teammates nine times and coolly set up rebounding attacks from the defensive zone.
Play in the second quarter was as tight as in the first quarter. The Eagles like to get numbers around the ball and the Dogs excel in congested play. The fans we treated to a mixture of high intensity handball and quick transferences of play as midfielders worked the, sometimes invisible, ball out of congestion with lightening handpasses. At center bounce downs, the Eagles forwards congregated centrally at the 50 meter line. The Bulldogs forwards were also positioned along the center corridor but stretched from between 25 meters and 50 meters from goal. The Eagles had created space behind their forwards to give Kennedy and Darling space to work. The Bulldogs forwards led to the flanks. The Eagle players had the more direct shots on goal, but by the end of the quarter both teams had added four majors each. Sam Mitchell moved to the Eagles’ midfield and along with Andrew Gaff continued to receive handballs from a burrowing Matt Priddis to launch attacks. Eagle defender Shannon Hurn used long and searingly accurate kicks to initiate rebounding attacks. For the Bulldogs, Ling Jong used his hard running and uncanny reflexes to work the ball out of the congestion. Marcus Bontempelli continued his good midfield form and was well supported by Jack Macrae who was in everything.
In the third quarter the game was purely a game of midfields and defenses as both teams added one goal and four points to their scores. Jong, Macrae and Bontempelli repeatedly drove the Dogs into attack. Hurn and Jeremy McGovern repeatedly repelled the Bulldog attacks. Sam Mitchell and Sam Gaff electrified the Eagles in the midfield. Liam Picken and the diminutive Caleb Daniel linked well to hold the Bulldog defense firm and launch counter attacks. This was a quarter of attrition, little more than trench warfare. Halfway through the quarter the Dogs stopped running into attack. They looked spent when they held the ball back, to allow their forwards to move into attacking positions.
In the final quarter; however, the Dogs did what no team has done at Domain Stadium since Geelong in Round One. They competed. Not only that, they became the first interstate team this year to outscore a home team in a final quarter at Domain. The Dogs won more clearances at stoppages and matched the Eagles in attacking entries. Wayward Eagle goal kicking allowed the Dogs to work to within seven points of the home team. Macrae, Daniel, Jason Johannisen, and Lachie Hunter repeatedly won the hard ball for the Dogs. Then Elliot Yeo lifted in defense for the Eagles to produce a courageous last quarter, enabling the Eagles to hold off the Dogs - but only just.
Next week the Eagles travel to Etihad Stadium to meet the Essendon Bombers. The Bombers are flying again, having rested several experienced players and should be ready for the Eagles who have not played well in Melbourne. The Bulldogs have another Friday night game at Skilled Stadium, where they meet the Cats at the Cattery. The Cats have had three bad games to mull over and will be in no mood to lose to the Dogs.
Scores West Coast Eagles 4.2 8.6 9.10 9.15 (69) Western Bulldogs 1.4 5.7 6.11 8.13 (61) Best West Coast Eagles: Mitchell, Hurn, Gaff, Yeo, Priddis Western Bulldogs: Macrae, Jong, Daniel, Hunter, Redpath
Article last changed on Monday, May 15, 2017 - 1:32 AM EDT