West Coast Eagles fans have been used to taking losses this season, but Sunday’s crushing defeat to Greater Western Sydney felt… different.
The derby loss to Fremantle was serious, and the heavy defeats for premiership fanatics Melbourne and Brisbane were rich but not necessarily unexpected.
When Sydney and Port Adelaide crushed the Eagles so emphatically in consecutive weeks, fans felt that the pair were far more talented than West Coast – despite the latter not having won a game at that point in the season.
But when GWS, a team that had won just two games en route to Sunday’s game, dismantled West Coast so easily, it felt like the team had no answers.
I watched the game for an answer to my question: What kind of hope can the Eagles give their fans for the rest of the season?
After four-quarters of an hour of panting and puffing, I noticed no answer.
The Giants scored freely after interruptions and switched from defense to offense with devastating ease, finding more time and space than Matt Damon in The Martian.
They scored 21 goals for the game, which says much about the Eagles’ defensive efforts, as GWS has averaged 11.1 times per game this year.
There was so little to take from the West Coast perspective, except perhaps Isiah Winder kicked three goals from 10 touches.
Camera icon Harry Himmelberg of the Giants competes with Jake Waterman of the Eagles. Credit: Brendon Thorne/AAPIMAGE
The fact that Luke Shuey was one of their most impactful players with just 16 touches – he led the team in scoring engagement (seven) and within the 50s (6) as he added five distances and won 430m – before going out late with a new injury speaks volumes.
Before Eagles fans start yelling at me, there are caveats, of course. This season has been a perfect storm of setbacks and injuries, and arguably a predicament they have created on the playing front as their seasoned roster grows older.
They are missing Nic Naitanui, Shannon Hurn, Josh Kennedy, Dom Sheed, Oscar Allen, Willie Rioli, and Liam Ryan, seven players who would reach every top 22 in the league. Shuey and Andrew Gaff struggled with injuries all season.
But the lack of competitiveness at the big loss to the Giants and the disappointing performances of so many players have left a bad taste in fans’ mouths.
Rubbing even more salt into the wound was the condescension of Fox Footy’s commentary team as they celebrated the West Coast beating the Giants by one point in the second half.
Honestly, it’s really hard to get excited to see the Eagles play this year because even against a team in a similar spot on the ladder, there was next to nothing for them.
Regardless of the stars on the sidelines, the squad has struggled to move the needle; if every injury presents an opportunity, very few Eagles – players and staff alike – have met the club’s internal high expectations this season. Met.
Camera IconAdam Kennedy kicks away from the Eagles. Credit: Mark Metcalfe/AFL Photos/via AFL Photos
Even if all those stars woke up tomorrow suddenly cured of their ailments and could immediately rejoin the playgroup, their presence on the West Coast team magazine wouldn’t suddenly become an opportunity for the finals.
The club’s longstanding deep players appear to have reached their ceiling, despite having had to leave of opportunities this season; they have been unable to improve their games to alleviate the team’s scorching displays.
As teams begin rebuilding, fans can take solace in watching the next generation get their chance to take their first forays on footy’s biggest stage, but none of the West Coast’s young relatives are in it yet. I managed to raise more than an eyebrow.
Even fans of North Melbourne, who are still down for another season, can take comfort in watching young guns like Jason Horne-Francis, Jaidyn Stephenson, Luke Davies-Uniacke, and Nick Larkey.
Yes, West Coast will probably improve if they get their injured stars back, but even thet show they can stay healthy.
And ev even then then, any West Coast win would take them further away from a potentially prized number-one draft pick, the centerpiece of the upcoming rebuild.
The Eagles are stuck between a rock and a hard spot, and like James Franco in 127 Hours; things can get worse before they get better.