One of the most remarkable home-and-away seasons concluded with ninth placed West Coast Eagles defeating the league leaders, the Adelaide Crows, by a large enough margin to slip into the top eight of the competition, at the expense of the Melbourne Demons. To add drama to the last AFL game played at Domain Stadium, the Eagles achieved the task within the last four minutes of the last game of the regular season. The Demons, who would have been watching the game live on TV in Melbourne, would have been cursing themselves for their slow start against the Collingwood Magpies two nights earlier; which left the gate open for the Eagles and cost the Demons their first finals appearance in ten years.
The Eagles knew they had to beat Adelaide by more than seventeen points to replace Melbourne in the top eight. Adelaide had little to gain from beating the Eagles. The Crows were already guaranteed top spot on the ladder and their approach to the game seemed to be one of caution. Despite this, within the first two minutes of play, Eddie Betts opened the scoring by taking a well-judged mark at the back of a pack and then kicking truly. Adelaide then launched repeated attacks but relied on bombing long and high kicks forward, which suited the Eagles’ defender Jeremy McGovern, who either marked (caught) the ball or spoilt the Adelaide forwards’ marking attempts. The game then developed into a battle of defenses until the 12-minute mark, when Eagles’ forward Jamie Cripps centered a kick to Nathan Vardy, who dived to mark a meter from the goal line. Vardy kicked the goal from a sharp angle and the Eagles lifted. Three minutes later Josh Kennedy marked and played on at center-half forward to kick to Jack Redden who scrambled a goal. Cripps positioned himself well in the Eagles forward line to kick two goals before the end of the quarter; one from a hand pass from Jack Darling and the other from a hand pass from Sam Mitchell. Despite losing in the ruck, West Coast had matched Adelaide in contested possessions and had out tackled Adelaide during the first stanza.
Adelaide fought back in the second quarter but it took eleven minutes to score the first major of the term. It was the reliable Josh Jenkins who marked strongly and kicked to Mitch McGovern who marked and goaled from a set shot. Three minutes later Eagles' forward, Marc LeCras, took a clever mark and then hand passed to Cripps who booted his third, from point blank range. The Crouch brothers played inspired football for Adelaide and were both involved in chains of play that saw Wayne Milera and Brodie Smith score two quick goals to almost overtake the Eagles. The Eagles then ramped up the pressure around the ball, preventing the Adelaide midfielders from delivering cleanly to their forwards. At the other end of the ground, the Eagles’ star forward Josh Kennedy was well held by replacement Crows’ fullback, Kyle Hartigan; but the Eagle small forwards were still able to scramble three valuable goals. By the main break the Eagles had regained the vital seventeen point lead, which was just enough to get them into the finals.
Both teams had kicked a goal each in the first five minutes of the third quarter, before the Eagles pressed forward and kicked three consecutive goals from free kicks; and then a fourth from a clever knock-on from Jack Darling to LeCras who snapped the Eagles thirteenth goal. In the last minute of the quarter the Crows attacked again, where Eddie Betts was infringed by Shannon Hurn and Betts duly slotted a goal from the resultant free kick. Despite Betts' efforts, the Eagles lead by thirty one points.
The Crows appeared to have been cruising for much of the game and at times seemed to be more concerned with avoiding injury or suspension, than winning the game. However, they did fight back with Sloan and the Crouch brothers using their skill in the midfield, and Mitch McGovern and Eddie Betts providing the required spark in attack. When Paul Seedsman kicked a goal for Adelaide at the 15-minute mark, there was little doubt that the Eagles would still win the game; however, the Eagles lead had been reduced, so that they were hanging onto a position in the top eight by just 0.1 of a per cent. Five minutes later the Crows pushed forward again and Eddie Betts hand passed to Charlie Cameron who kicked the goal that was enough to push the Eagles out of the finals. The Eagles’ season appeared to be over. Then with less than five minutes to play; a poor clearing kick by Adelaide defender Jake Lever gave Eagles' speedster, Lewis Jetta, the chance to intercept, elude two Adelaide defenders and snap a magical goal. Two minutes later, a long kick from Josh Kennedy was marked courageously by Jack Darling in the goal square. Darling booted the goal and the Eagles held on for the next three minutes and thirty seconds to win by enough to slip into top eight, in one of the most closely contested finishes to a regular season.
The Crows will host the Giants on Thursday week in the First Qualifying Final, at Adelaide Oval. The Crows have finished on top of the ladder despite losing their last two games. They will need to get serious to beat the Giants who have been stung by a loss to the Geelong Cats. The Eagles will play Port Adelaide at the same venue in an Elimination Final the following Sunday. The narrowness of the oval suits the Eagles’ style of play, where they can shut teams down by pressing players to the ball. They have won five of their last six games at that venue. Port are no certainty to win.
West Coast Eagles 4.1 8.4 13.5 15.10 (100)
Adelaide Crows 1.1 5.5 7.10 10.11 (71)
West Coast Eagles: Mitchell, Gaff, Shuey, McGovern, Hurn
Adelaide Crows: M Crouch, B Crouch, Sloane, Jacobs, Hartigan
Article last changed on Monday, August 28, 2017 - 12:50 AM EDT