The warm up
Coming home after a lacklustre effort against Richmond the previous week the West Coast faced a Sydney side which was clearly better than their 0-3 start. The Eagles, no doubt eager to improve on their Round 3 performance combined with the Swans not wanting to fall into a 0-4 hole. The effort from both sides was not going to be a question mark coming into this match.
A lot had been made of the West Coast's short 5-day break. People forget that this team travels around 6,000kms almost every 2nd week. This isn't the NBA or NFL; these guys are flying cattle class with the rest of us. One less day of rest doesn't take as much a toll as what the media made it out to be.
Although next to no one is left for either side of the mid-2000 rivalry teams, this match replicated something similar to some of those epic battles. Low scoring, the tackling pressure leaving players little or no time to make a decision. A vast improvement from the Eagles effort in the Tigers loss. Five more tackles this week compare to last week with tackling numbers inflated due to the wet weather.
The late withdrawal of Jack Darling left somewhat of a hole up forward. His replacement, Will Schofield, to an already overloaded back half of bigs indicated that the Eagles would do something I referred to in my best 22 article. Play Barrass or McGovern up forward in spurts in an Ash Hanson type role. McGovern was the man, and I was pleased with what I saw. Although the kicking was questionable at times, his ability to read the play, take a contested mark and even deliver the ball accurately inside 50 is equal to if not superior to what Darling can offer. Not only does this make the murmurs of Darlings ability to maintain his spot in the side louder but there should not be any reason that Drew Petrie comes back into this side barring injury.
The Eagles intercept marks shone through again lead by the usual suspects of Yeo, McGovern and Barrass. Sloppy disposal in the first half along with inaccurate kicking at goal kept the Swans in touch and still shows the Eagles have a higher ceiling than what's currently displayed. With supreme firepower, they have maintained last year's ability to 'run downhill' in the second half of matches.
Elliot Yeo, the most consistent player thus far, was a standout again with 11 marks, 29 disposals at almost 90% effective disposal rate. Along with Shuey, Gaff and a quietly solid game from Redden. Compared to the previous week the Eagles had 19 more contested possessions, four more contested marks and almost +5% disposal efficiency.
The increased tackling pressure and contested possession were the best efforts so far this year. But before we anoint them, kings of the castle, let's remember that Sydney did have 12 players with under 50 games experience and 4 of their best 22 out with injury.
The momentum changer
As the Swans were making a charge, bringing themselves within a major with 13 minutes remaining, a questionable free kick awarded to Luke Shuey who slotted a goal from 50m out on the boundary line on the wrong side for a right-footer. Followed by a goal straight out of the centre to McGovern and the Eagles never looked back kicking 4/5 of the final goals.
Less than 5 minutes into the first Buddy Franklin met a terrific bump from Shannon Hurn. Probably only one of very few that could deliver such a shot to Buddy that could leave him, as it did, on his haunches. Buddy, clearly sore, had minimal impact for the rest of the game by his standards.
Sam Mitchell copped some friendly fire putting him in doubt for next week's match vs his old club. As Redden lunged in an attempt to tackle, Mitchell coming in the other direction was hit in the lower leg, which could have very easily have resulted in a broken leg.
The ice bath
Clearly, there is going to be a selection problem with bigs. To be honest, I'm unsure of the solution. I've heard calls for Nathan Vardy to be dropped and play McGovern or Darling in the ruck. I could not disagree more. They are not ruckman, and Vardy has done a solid job in the hit out department. Vardy has great versatility. He can take a good overhead mark with the ability to kick a goal with his textbook kicking action. If the Eagles are thinking big picture, they need to keep him in the side to give him match experience, not bury him as he was in Geelong.
Mark LeCras got off with his late bump on Aliir Aliir.
Now is the time for West Coast to rid themselves of the 'flat track bullies' tag. Hawthorn will be on the ropes much like the Swans were this week. If the Eagles consider themselves contenders this is their chance to stand up and beat the Hawks at the MCG where they have notoriously struggled for years.