As a crazy West Coast man, I’d been nervous for a long time about last night’s game against Hawthorn. I wasn’t nervous about the prospect of losing. More of the prospect of winning.
You see the Eagles have under performed in the last decade. Since that nail biting grand final in 2006, (that Sydney probably should have won anyway) there haven’t been many reasons to celebrate. A win against premiership favourites Hawthorn last night would have allowed us Eagles fans to openly dream of potential premiership glory this year. The prospect of being genuine contenders almost frightens me.
Last night we were supposed to find out once and for all whether or not the Eagles were at the standard required to perhaps win the flag.
We didn’t find out in the end. As I sit going through the pieces of that brutal clash last night, I’m really no closer to knowing how close my team is to the title.
These last fews years have seen the emergence of some amazing young West Coast footballers, while other more established players have finally fulfilled their potential. One such player is the enigmatic Nic Naitanui. The absurdly tall, ridiculously athletic ruckman started playing at the highest level while still learning the game. He’s figured it out now. After some years with Dean Cox as a mentor, he’s now the best in the game as far as controlling the centre square. Although his stats around the ground are a little lacking from time to time, his impact on every game is enormous. He is the best tap ruckman in the competition who backs up that work with enormous tackling pressure and that X factor of being able to do amazing things when even his team mates weren’t expecting them. Nic Nat’s team mates are all a few inches taller when he’s on the ground. His presence has been a major part of their self belief in 2015.
When Nic Nat pulled out of Saturday’s game for tragic personal reasons, it changed the game. The loss of our number one ruckman coupled with the late withdrawal of his understudy Callum Sinclair completely changed the West Coast MO in the centre square. Scott Lycett is the best ‘third string’ ruckman in the competition and he gave it his all last night, but he ain’t Nic Nat.
Our other X factor player, Jeremy McGovern returned from a hamstring injury to play that amazing intercept game in defence, but late in the game, found himself reaching for that troublesome hammy again. It was a cruel blow during this game in particular because Gov had been the second string ruckman for Scott Lycett. When the game was in the balance last night we ended up with Elliot Yeo as our main ruckman. He tried his best, but he wasn’t up to it.
Would a full strength West Coast outfit have been too strong for Hawthorn last night ? We still don’t know. Injuries and personal circumstance are a part of football. You have to pick the best 22 players that you have available. We did and they were beaten by a better team. But lingering questions remain as to how these two sides could potentially match up in the finals heat of September…even at the MCG.