It became about heart and guts as West Coast clung on grimly against the tide through the final term in the hope that destiny might gift them a slice of fortune. For Bunga.
With the Eagles’ system and any semblance of productive ball movement having been throttled out of them by a steely and committed Greater Western Sydney, the dam wall could only hold up for so long.
Bobby Hill sprung a leak for the Giants when he slipped out the back for his first goal. When Dom Sheed lost his head just moments later to hand Hill a needless 50m penalty for pressing his head into the turf, West Coast knew all the desire in the world to get this done for record-breaker Shannon Hurn would not be enough.
The teams went goal for goal for much of this brave 16-point win for the home side, 13.15 (93) to 11.11 (77), at Giants Stadium.
But like Tom Cruise in a Mission Impossible movie, the Eagles spent much of the second half clinging onto the edge of the cliff with their fingertips.
West Coast were completely denied the way they wanted to play, as the Giants swamped them with 49 more marks and 95 more uncontested possessions. The Eagles averaged 118 marks before yesterday and took just 71.
West Coast found a way around it thanks to their stoppage work and forward efficiency in the first half but, having lost second-half clearances 23-14, there was literally no path to goal as they got trapped in their back half.
The Giants led the tackle count 77-46 despite having 101 more disposals. No tackle had more impact than ruckman Shane Mumford’s brutal dump of Jarrod Brander in the middle of the ground in the third quarter.
GWS took a one-point lead to the major break, but there was nothing even about a stats sheet which painted a fascinating story about the way the contest was unfolding.
Led by the usual inside tag team of Nic Naitanui and Tim Kelly, who each finished with a game-high eight clearances, the Eagles had control of the contested ball battle to all-but level the clearance count. Yet they couldn’t stop the free-wheeling Giants on the spread.
While Oscar Allen was at times summoned to defence, West Coast still had an array of tall targets in attack as Bailey Williams enjoyed some good early moments in support of Jack Darling and Josh Kennedy.
But the price of the Eagles 9-2 first-half edge in contested marks was a lopsided 14-1 count in inside-50 tackles in the Giants’ favour and West Coast just didn’t get enough from the vaunted tall trio with Kennedy, Darling and Allen each held to one goal.
The pressure meant the Eagles’ defence was often the scene of chaos and nerves despite the addition of Hurn’s cool head, with Brander and Josh Rotham involved in some moments they would have liked back.
The worst of them came with Jeremy Finlayson’s fluke second-term goal, which the pair allowed to pitch on the turf before it took a wicked bounce to register.
The Eagles were on the back foot during the third, and received a huge let off just before the final change when Sam Reid slammed his close-range snap into the goalpost after Andrew Gaff was exposed against the big man on the last line of defence.
Shannon Hurn was hoping it would be third time lucky after his record-breaking 291st game had twice been put on hold by injury.
But the popular veteran, who was carried off by Kennedy and Sheed, was left with the emptiness of a disappointing defeat that has the 6-4 Eagles’ top-four hopes hanging by a thread.
And spare a thought for defender Brad Sheppard. The Eagles fell to a terrible loss against St Kilda in round four in his 200th game and while yesterday was Hurn’s day, it was also Sheppard’s 30th birthday. Sheppard also hurt his ankle to rub some salt in.
FINALLY IN LIKE FLYNN
Any player’s first goal at AFL level is a special moment, but it’s hard to match the backstory that lead to GWS ruckman Matt Flynn’s milestone yesterday.
Taken in the 2015 national draft, the 23-year-old didn’t play a game in his first five seasons on the list amid injury travails that included a knee reconstruction.
When he announced Flynn’s debut to the players earlier this season, Giants coach Leon Cameron held up a whiteboard with the number 1944 on it – the number of days between when he was drafted and his first game.
Flynn’s first goal came while rucking against All-Australian Naitanui, after he received a free kick at a boundary throw-in and converting the set shot. When it rains it pours and early in the second term the big man had his second, before he finished with 13 disposals and six marks to go with his two majors.