After losing star defender Jeremy McGovern, the Eagles showed great courage to come back and score a flurry of late goals in a dramatic final quarter.
With a place in this year’s finals up for grabs, there was a lot at stake for both St. Kilda and the West Coast on Thursday night at the Gabba.
In what was a gripping contest it was ultimately West Coast’s power and grit that pulled the Eagles back in front late on.
The Eagles came back from a 3-goal deficit in a dramatic final quarter to beat the Saints 9.11 (65) – 6.14 (50), and secure their 26th final’s appearance in their 34 year AFL club history.
Although Adam Simpson’s injury woes continued after star defender Jeremy McGovern limped off the field in the second quarter with what looked like another hammy blow to an already heavily depleted Eagles side.
We expect McGovern not to return for at least two weeks, perhaps in time for finals at a push, but is another worry for the Eagles, who’s mounting injury list with Shuey, Redden, Jetta, Hutchings, and Yeo all still in the treatment room with 20 days left before the finals commence.
Despite McGovern being off the field, it was the Eagles stand up leaders that pulled them back into the game in the final quarter, with Josh Kennedy stepping up in the fourth to put through a clutch strike, giving the Eagles a huge momentum boost going into the last ten minutes of the game.
We were in for a big bout in midfield even before the match with veteran Saint’s ruckman, Paddy Ryder, being named in the team this week to face off against the imperious Nic Naitanui, coming back into the side after missing in last week’s loss against the Bulldogs.
And it wasn’t long before we saw both players getting stuck into the match with Ryder getting up field early on and kicking the Saint’s first goal of the night.
The Eagles started slowly and struggled to retain possession and keep St. Kilda out with Tim Membrey grabbing the Saint’s second shortly after.
But the Eagles hit back shortly after with Tim Kelly recovering the ball off the bounce, to put a belter of a kick through to Jack Darling, who slotted away a mark from just inside the Saint’s arc.
Slippery conditions and sloppy play from St. Kilda allowed Liam Duggan, playing his century game for the club, to capitalise on a miskick from Callum Wilkie, passing to, you guessed it, Liam Ryan, unmarked infront of the goal and converted to bring the West Coast back into the game.
With Schofield back in the side, the Eagles defence was fronted up to the Saints well, with Schoey putting in a couple of big hits in late on in the first, while Jeremy McGovern challenged the high ball well. Unfortunately for McGovern, he suffered a blow to the head in a contested challenge and left the field for a head injury assessment.
The Saints troubled the Eagles, and after some fast handball play, moving the ball forward inside of the arc, Jack Lonie put in a winding kick in to Tim Membrey on the edge of the square who challenged for the mark, seeming to get a hand on the ball at the time, but couldn’t quite make the catch. The footy wasn’t collected by the Eagles backline and kindly bounced through for a goal.
In what was a pretty frantic piece of play, the umpires took the decision upstairs to check if Membrey got a hand to it. The score review, although not conclusive enough, looked to show Membrey getting a feather of a touch on the ball, but match officials couldn’t find enough evidence to overturn the goal umpire’s original decision, giving the Saints a 10 point lead at the end of the first term.
Jeremy McGovern returned to the field at the start of the second quarter, and so did the video match referee, who was called in again to adjudicate a towering mark taken by Oscar Allen just on the Saint’s goal mouth. The mark was awarded as fair and Allen continued his fine run of form, notching his first of the night.
And the Saint’s failed to score a goal in the second quarter with Eagles, Tim Kelly and Andrew Gaff controlling the midfield sweeping up the loose ball, feeding through multiple inside 50s to Ryan and co up in the forward line. Tom Barrass was also huge in defence, putting his body on the line, making a massive hit against Josh Battle in the middle of the park.
But the standout performer tonight was Tim Kelly, who filled in for Luke Shuey, dominating pretty much every lose ball on the field racking up 30 disposals, 6 marks, taking a goal himself and being involved in 9 score involvements. He was absolutely lethal tonight, and linked up with Liam Ryan on multiple occasions, with the pair evading heavy traffic to set Andrew Gaff up for the most notable being to set Andrew Gaff up for the Eagle’s second of the quarter.
Kelly was again involved in the Eagles next score, collecting the ball from the immediate bounce and tapping a great pass over to Gaff who kicked through to Jack Darling, just inside the arc who put the Eagles 11 points up at the half.
But it wasn’t all good news with McGovern limping off field just before half time, pulling up straight away and wincing as though he knew he’d done some damage to his hamstring. A huge blow for the Eagles.
The third term was a cagey affair and became a battle of the two defences, with both St. Kilda and the West Coast piling on the pressure, getting into ample scoring positions, but failing to convert.
And with Mcgovern off the pitch, Brad Sheppard and Barrass stepped up combining well to bat away the saints who started on the front foot. But some loose kicks gave the saints multiple early inside 50 entries in the 3rd quarter. But the Eagles repelled the Saints forward attack well with Naitanui getting back to clean up the ball on the floor.
But after playing their 5th game in 19 days’ and coming off the back of a sore loss to the Bulldogs, the Eagles players did at times struggle to keep up with St. Kilda’s pace, as the saints dominated the lineshare of possession having 94% of territory in the early parts of the third term in the Eagles half.
As the rain came down that surface became more slippery towards the end of the quarter, and the game became more scrappy with both teams putting their bodies on the line to get to that final spot.
Oscar Allen copped a hit challenging for the footy, and came off for a check up with the doctor, a slight worry for the injury riddled Eagles, but he came back onto the field in the fourth to finish the game.
Highlight of the third was a break away interception form Liam Ryan, who intercepted a ball in the Eagles half and booted forward in a footrace with Dougal Howard who just got to the ball before him tipping it over the line for a behind.
St Kilda hadn’t kicked a goal since the end of the 1st quarter. But shocked the Eagles early on in the fourth fourth grabbing 3 goals in just 7 minutes.
Seb Ross got the first pushing forward to take a catch close to the Eagles goal line and snapped the ball over.
Dan Butler followed shortly after slotting the ball through after the West Coast Defence struggled to cope with the mounting Saints pressure to bring the Saint’s level.
And then they took the lead, working the ball forwards in congested quarters to Rowan Marshall who put the Saint’s six points ahead with 10 minutes to play.
But that was to be short lived, as Jarrod Brander who had been kept quiet all night, took a great intercept just outside of the Saints 50 and played in Josh Kennedy to took an important mark to make a clutch kick propelling the eagles back into the game with 7 minutes left on the clock.
This was the turn in tide for the eagles.
The teams leaders stood up towards the end to put pressure on the Saints, with Tim Kelly coming out of nowhere to take a handball off Darling inside the Saint’s 50 to make an important kick from open play.
Nic Naitanui was also imperious in the final quarter lifting the team massively winning multiple bounces, getting 33 hit outs during the match, setting up multiple goals, and got high up the pitch late in the game to collect multiple marks and kick back into the Saint’s 50 to ramp up the pressure.
The Saints couldn’t manage the late pressure, with Oscar Allen winning a free just outside the square and making no mistake in putting the ball over for a major. Jack Darling did incredibly well to slot a kick through under pressure to tee Allen up in front of the goal.
The Eagles showed incredible courage to come back in the final quarter, with Simpson stating after the game, “it really was a brave effort,” heaping praise on Kelly and Naitanui, “I thought Nic and Kelly in those last five minutes, when we were behind, those two, and Gaffy, really just took the game away from the Saints in the middle.”
And he’s right, Kelly, Naitanui, and Gaff were superior in the middle of the pitch, with Gaff mopping up pretty much everything making 33 disposals and 3 tackles in midfield.
The Eagles took the sting out of the game late on, but the Saints came back, right at the end putting the pressure on in an intense couple of minutes for the Eagles, but it was too little too late with the Eagles recovering to hold out and getting the ball upfield to Tom Cole who added the final score for the Eagles putting them into the 2020 finals.
With one week to go before their game against north Melbourne, the Eagles will be hoping the Cats can take points off Richmond tomorrow night in a game that could decide whether the eagles can go 4th place and secure a qualifying finals spot.
West Coast Eagles: Darling (2.1); Allen (2.0); Kelly (1.2); Gaff (1.1); Kennedy (1.1); Ryan (1.1); Cole (1.0); Brayshaw (0.1); Duggan (0.1); Petruccelle (0.1).
St Kilda: Butler (1.1); Ryder (1.1); Lonie (1.0); Marshall (1.0); Membrey (1.0); Ross (1.0); King (0.4); Jones (0.3); Hill (0.1); Hind (0.1).
Our Eagles MOTM: Tim Kelly.
Stand-Out Players: Liam Ryan; Andrew Gaff; Nic Naitanui.
Injuries: Jeremy McGovern (Hamstring).