For those who think the AFL should pack up for the season and come back next year, last night’s pulsating final term might be used as evidence for the defence.
This was a beauty that had finals-like tension and an atmosphere to match as 26,211 one-eyed fans somehow made enough noise to make up for the empty seats at Optus Stadium.
There was Josh Kennedy’s late heroics. Sam Simpson’s knee and toe. Cam Guthrie’s screamer immediately followed by Liam Duggan’s tackle.
It all added up to a nine-point win for West Coast, who fought back from 22 points down to triumph 11.7 (73) to 10.4 (64).
The Eagles dominated territory in the second half as they set about reeling in a 16-point halftime deficit, but needed someone to grab this game by the scruff of the neck. For the third week in a row, that man was Kennedy.
When Tom Hawkins kick Geelong’s fourth in a row in the second term, the margin had blown out to nearly four goals and the alarm bells were ringing for the Eagles.
A vital goal to the impressive Dom Sheed, his second, before half-time reduced the margin to a more manageable 16 points at the major break.
The Cats’ ascendancy had been helped by their perfect 7.0 in the first half but built on the way they were able to deny the Eagles their game with ferocious and sustained pressure.
Geelong’s 50-23 first-half edge in uncontested marks underlined how they were able to deny the home side their kick and control game. The mark count remained lopsided but the Eagles were in front in the only score that matters.
HARRY AND JK
Harry Taylor went to old mate Kennedy at the first bounce and had a goal kicked on him just 12 seconds into the match.
It got tougher for Kennedy from there though, with little of the silver service he enjoyed last week when he booted seven goals against Collingwood.
Taylor had the upper hand for much of the night and held his opponent to just seven disposals, but Kennedy’s three last-quarter goals proved the difference as he finished with 4.0.
Kennedy’s roving snap from Naitanui’s palm down was an electric moment at a critical time and when Jack Darling followed it up shortly after, West Coast had grabbed the lead.
When Kennedy dragged down a huge pack mark at the goal front with just over a minute on the clock and converted, the Eagles were home.
Judging by the smiles on Kennedy and Taylor’s faces, there was some banter amid the seriousness as a couple of WA champs shared an absorbing duel for potentially the final time.
Let’s hope for an encore in October.
Tim Kelly’s reunion match-up against his former club has been a long time coming, after originally being scheduled for April.
Having starred in the blue and white hoops when these teams last met in last year’ semifinal, Kelly wasn’t allowed the time and space to be as clinical as last week but was still one of his side’s best.
His cleanness when picking up ground balls was a feature and his talent for extracting balls from packs and hacking it forward gains the Eagles metres if doing little for his disposal efficiency. Kelly finished with 23 disposals and five clearances.
DEBUT HARD TO REMEMBER
West Coast first-gamer Harry Edwards’ night was done before half-time after being collected by some friendly fire.
A groggy Edwards was helped from the field by trainers after a flying Brad Sheppard connected with his hip to Edwards’ head as he tried to spoil.
The 19-year-old key defender was ruled out with concussion and forward Jake Waterman moved to defence.
Edwards’ very brief taste of senior footy might be it for a while if Jeremy McGovern (thumb) can prove his fitness for next Sunday’s clash with Carlton.