A humiliating loss, mounting injury lists, and some serious conversations to come this week, we reflect on a bitter weekend of footy for the West Coast Eagles.
It’s been a very underwhelming start to the 2021 campaign for Adam Simpson’s side. Heavily backed as a flag favourite for this year’s campaign, the Eagles could be in jeopardy of missing out on the top four again this season if they cannot pull together a consistent run of wins.
Admittedly, it’s been a tough opening run of fixtures for the West Coast. Having to play the Bulldogs, the Saints, and the Cats all away from home in the opening rounds of the year is not an easy task.
But it’s the way the Eagles have played that will have a lot of their fans frustrated. Lacklustre performances and poor decision making have dominated most of their match reports this year, with Adam Simpson labelling Saturday’s performance as “weak“.
“There are absolutely no excuses for what we did today,” Simpson said in his post-match press conference.
Sure, the Eagles are missing a spine of key players, but Saturday’s loss to the Cats showed there are some serious issues within the Eagles camp that need to be ironed out quickly if they are to bounce back to defeat Fremantle on Sunday.
The Worst Loss Since 2009
After conceding 13 straight goals between the second and third quarters of the match, there was no coming back for the Eagles, who were boxed into their own 50 for most of the second half.
Conceding the match by 21 goals to a meagre five, this will be the Eagles’ worst loss since 2009, where they succumbed to a 97-point battering from St Kilda.
Having gone 3-3 after round six last season, you could argue that there is a lot of time left for the Eagles to pick their game up and push for a qualifying finals place. But the stark reality is the nature of the losses they have succumbed to are a serious concern for the side, with their points percentage, in particular, taking a massive hit after this weekend.
Eagles fans know all too well how important points percentage can be when it comes to bagging a place in the finals at the end of the season.
Tough Conversations This Week
Between now and the Western Derby on Sunday, the Eagles will spend a lot of time reflecting on what happened at the weekend and how they can rectify that.
Unfortunately, due to the severity and nature of the loss, it’s not something that can be brushed under the carpet. As former North Melbourne player and close friend of Adam Simpson, David King believes, the Eagles players will be in for a harsh wake-up call this week.
“You could see that it hurt him (Adam Simpson) in the post-match. I think it’ll be a tough week,” King said on The First Crack Podcast.
“There’ll be some honesty delivered this week internally. He said they’re not tough enough. You never want a coach to say you’re not tough enough. I know they’ve got some stars out at the moment, but you’ve got to find a way.”
Difficult conversations about performance and covering ground over the full 80 minutes have been a big talking point for the Eagles this season, and perhaps the defeat on Saturday is the motivation the West Coast need to turn their season around.
Like in any sport, the more heat you put your opposition under, the more turnovers and chances on goal you’re going to get.
The Eagles performance in the first quarter was actually some of the best footy they’ve played all year. It wasn’t pretty, it wasn’t neat, but it was the stress they put the 2020 premiership finalists under, straight from the first bounce, in front of a packed out Kardinia Park.
Almost silencing the crowd in that first term, Jack Redden tackled his way upfield, Andrew Gaff won some good ball from the stoppage, and Jackson Nelson did a brilliant job of nullifying Joel Selwood.
Watch Adam Simpson's press conference below pic.twitter.com/aT8ZDVWLbv— West Coast Eagles (@WestCoastEagles) April 24, 2021
That pressure allowed the Eagles to pin Geelong back into their own 50, with the Cats’ managing only a handful of entries into the Eagles half.
Then the thirteen goal onslaught came, and the Cats pounced, seeing the Eagles heads drop after the first two kicks went through. And when the Eagles go on the back foot, their heads drop. Low on leadership, the side had no players on Saturday who were prepared to stand up and spur the team back into the contest after going a few goals down.
Defensively the West Coast were very poor, giving their attackers too much space inside the 50 while failing to recover possession of the football. Cats forward Gary Rohan had a field day in front of the sticks, losing his man to get the run up on the contest and put through a hattrick of goals. His movement around the forward 50 was impressive and proved too much for the West Coast to handle.
When the Eagles recovered the ball, they were immediately swarmed by a wall of Cats midfielders, with Mark O’Connor and Tom Atkins shutting down the Eagles ball carriers to stop them from clearing the ball upfield, keeping them pinned back to their goal square.
It was that pressure that saw the Eagles fail to dispose of the football effectively, and ultimately leak some really clumsy goals.
Jack Darling: Best Afield
With minimal service coming into the 50, Jack Darling still managed to have an impact on the match.
Given his chance, Darling was clinical under the high ball, taking four contested marks and a huge grab that led to his goal in the second half.
Without forward partner Josh Kennedy, Darling played a slightly different role tonight than his usual target man position up top. Making five score involvements while notching four tackles, he was pivotal in putting extra stress to force the Cats’ defence to make errors that allowed Oscar Allen and Nathan Vardy to score from.
Injury Plagued Eagles
Despite the performance, we do have to factor in the number of injuries the Eagles are working through. Although this can’t be used as an excuse for the loss, the West Coast were without a string of key players who could have changed the outcome of the match.
With Luke Shuey, Shannon Hurn, Liam Ryan, Josh Kennedy, and Elliot Yeo all sidelined, the last thing the West Coast needed was another one of their leaders to come down with a problem.
But the Eagles’ curse at Kardinia struck again, with vice-captain Jeremy McGovern leaving the field in the second quarter with a groin injury.
Adam Simpson confirmed after the match that McGovern had suffered an abductor strain but didn’t comment on the severity or how long he would be out for.
Tom Cole and Jamie Cripps also took a beating during the match.
After last weekends clash of heads with fellow defender Josh Rotham, Cole suffered another nasty bump on the head on Saturday. He was fit to continue, but the Eagles’ doctors will need to be cautious to ensure he is showing no lasting signs of concussion.
Likewise, Jamie Cripps also looked visibly hurt after being thrown to the ground in a swing tackle that should have been put on report. Clutching his ribs, Cripps left the field but returned after ten minutes on the sidelines to play out the remainder of the match.
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