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Eagles Are Champions

The West Coast Eagles came from an early 29 point deficit and win a thrilling Grand Final in the last two minutes. For most of the second half, the game was nearly even. For the club, it was their 4th premiership in the 32nd season since they joined the newly formed national competition. Collingwood fought valiantly but in the end couldn't get that hand on the cup.

Collingwood were out of the blocks early kicking the first five goals of the match.  The West Coast Eagles worked their way back into the match with a combination of a well performed defense and first Kennedy, and then Darling, offering them solid marking targets up forward.  The scores were tied up at three quarter time but in the last quarter Collingwood kicked the first two quick goals and then were overrun by the Eagles who relentlessly pumped the ball inside their 50 meter arc.  The Eagles holding on to win by five points. 

While rain was forecast earlier in the week, and most opinions thought that would suit Collingwood, it was a bright sunny day and a hundred thousand strong crowd that greeted the two teams as they ran onto the MCG.  The only early problem for Collingwood was that their banner tore apart two minutes before they hit the field, the superstitious in the crowd were murmuring about the bad omen. Regardless, Collingwood would start as favorites, largely on the back of their convincing win he eight days ago against the 2017 premiers, Richmond and their home ground advantage.

As always the media build up has been huge in Melbourne for the championship match, but for the first time an American has been front and center in the coverage.  He was the chief destroyer of Richmond last week both across half back and up forward and suddenly everyone wanted to know Mason Cox and his story; after most have dismissed him as a novelty in the three years leading to today.

West Coast almost had the perfect start when they hit Kennedy for the mark up forward early.  But he missed the set shot and that at least lifted Collingwood hearts.  They were even more thrilled when Travis Varcoe, at the other end, ran onto the ball and kicked a running goal.  Eagles supporters might have started to feel it wasn’t their day after all when Josh Kennedy and Daniel Venables collided and spoiled each other, where a mark would have been an easy set shot goal.

Plenty worse was to come for the Eagles when Stephenson ran onto the loose ball up forward twice to goal for the Magpies within two minutes.  When de Goey kicked their fourth unanswered goal for the quarter, it looked like the match against Richmond all over again.  Eagles fans could not help but think of 2015 when they lost the Grand Final by 46 points.

Lewis Jetta tried to pull the lead back but could only manage a behind, before Hoskin-Elliot kicked Collingwood’s fifth goal from deep in the pocket.  Finally, it was sheer will and a little bit of luck for the Eagles to score their first goal 27 minutes into the match.  It required a score review to get the six points on the board as it was a initially unclear whether the ball came off Rioli’s boot before crossing the line.  With the pressure eased a little they quickly added another goal through Kennedy, leaving the Western Australian visitors 17 points down at quarter time.

Mason Cox played in the ruck, very far forward and on the bench in the first quarter and continued to be well guarded by Tom Barrass in the second quarter. Cox missed or dropped three contested marks in the first ten minutes. He did however, play much deeper in the forward line and was providing a marking option.  The Eagles looked to be slow in their transition of the ball forward allowing Collingwood to get numbers back and lock up the contest.  In comparison, Collingwood were moving the ball quickly, particularly on the turnover.  The game became somewhat of a stalemate and it took over 20 minutes before an unmarked de Goey, in space inside the forward 50, ran on to kick his second goal of the match.

The response from Hutchings came quickly as the Eagles got the ball out the back of the Collingwood defensive wall and ran forward using the loose man.  Hutchings had been heavily tagging Sidebottom successfully and the coach Adam Simpson would have been happy to see him have an offensive influence also.  Shuey added another for the Eagles from a stoppage in the forward pocket and reduced the deficit to two goals at halftime and it felt like the Eagles had turned the game around.  Both backlines were set up well and effective, with Cox unable to hold any marks and influence the game in the second quarter, as he did the previous week.  Likewise for the Eagles, Darling was also unusually quiet, with the credit going to Collingwood’s defense. 

Josh Kennedy did what he couldn’t do in the first quarter when he converted an early lead up mark for a goal and reduced the lead to single figures.  Then Mason Cox finally took a mark on a lead at the other end.  From 40 meters out he confidently drilled the goal from pocket.

The contest had now evened up, Cripps kicked a tight snap on right for a goal and Taylor Adams burned off his opponents and slotted it past diving defenders at the other end.  Jack Darling, too, was coming into the match, finding the ball on lead on multiple occasions.   Like Cox he made it on the goalkickers list when Lycett hit him with a short floating pass fifteen meters out from goal.

Collingwood had led for almost the whole match but the Eagles took the lead when Elliot Yeo picked off a bad pass coming out of defense at the top of the 50. His long straight drop punt for goal brought up the two arms from the goal umpire. Collingwood’s runner looked to have accidentally impeded his own club's Stephenson, which allowed Yeo to take an uncontested mark.

The last ten minutes of the third quarter could have seen Collingwood pull away again. Two behinds to Josh Thomas and a rushed behind was not enough to achieve that.  Will Hoskin-Elliot has a shot at goal after the siren, which would have been the perfect lead in to the final quarter for the Magpies, but his kick from outside the 50 meter arc fell short for no score, leaving the match all tied up at 55 points (8 goals, 7 behinds) each.

While the match had not reached any great heights as a display of quality football, it was set up for a classic finish between two teams fighting hard.  Goals came fast early in the quarter.  Two goals to Collingwood from Mihocek and de Goey in the first two minutes gave the impression Collingwood could run away with the match but immediately Lycett’s free kick in the middle turned into a goal and he steadied West Coast’s ship.   

Now is was Cox’s turn, he took a great contested mark, juggling the ball and then catching it on the way down when he hit the ground. His second goal from forty meters out pushed Collingwood’s lead out to eleven points.

But the Magpies would only score one more point for the match.  A Josh Kennedy mark and goal came next and the Eagles had all the run.  They pushed hard to find the lead.  Liam Ryan should have kicked at least one of his two missed shots at goal and another missed shot came off defenders hands when it fell short.  Masten also missed an opportunity when he sprayed a set shot wide, they were eating the deficit one point at a time. West Coast supporters though couldn't help but wonder that four missed opportunities might cost them.  Collingwood defended staunchly inside their 50 meter arc, but they continued to clear the ball out only to have it land with Eagles players. They struggled to get the ball past the wing. 

Mason Cox took another big mark in the forward pocket but could not convert, and Adams kicked the ball out of bounds on the full.  Going forward again on the turnover, the Eagles worked the ball to Sheed deep in the forward pocket. In the games decisive moment, from a very tight angle, he split the big posts with a straight drop punt to put the Eagles four points in front with just 1:45 to play.  Darling could have put the result beyond doubt but made a meal of a potential mark in the goal square and Collingwood kept the game alive as they rushed a behind.  But they could not raise another sortie forward as the Eagles locked the ball up in their forward 50 for the final minutes. 

When the siren sounded it was joy for the Eagles, winning the competition for the fourth time in the club’s history and sending the Premiership cup back to Western Australia for the first time since 2006. The five-point margin will be a bitter pill to swallow for the legion of Collingwood fans who saw their team lead for much of the match. Luke Shuey won a deserving Norm Smith medalist for being the most valuable player.  In a premiership performance he had 34 disposals, 19 contested possession, 9 clearances, and a goal, working tirelessly for his team and continually using the ball well by foot.

In the post-match, both coaches credited both teams for their efforts in a close match that could have gone either way.  It seems it will take a little time for the results to settle in for them with Simpson remarking "I don’t know what’s going on" and Buckley: "I don’t know how I feel now" when queried how they felt about the result.

WEST COAST  2.2 4.3 8.7 11.13 (79)
COLLINGWOOD 5.1 6.3 8.7 11.8  (74)    

West Coast: Kennedy 3, Hutchings, Shuey, Sheed, Darling, Yeo, Cripps, Vardy, Rioli
Collingwood: De Goey 3, Cox 2, Stephenson 2, Hoskin-Elliott, Varcoe, Mihocek, Adams

West Coast: Shuey, Sheed, Barrass, Kennedy, Hutchings, Schofield, McGovern
Collingwood: Adams, Langdon, Crisp, Treloar, de Goey, Mayne

West Coast: Nil
Collingwood: Nil
Reports: Nil 

Umpires: Stevic, Ryan, Rosebury
Official crowd: 100,022 at the MCG

Article last changed on Sunday, September 30, 2018 - 1:57 AM EDT

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