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West Coast win thriller - now for the internationals

  • Sunday, October 01 2006 @ 01:29 am ACST
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General News

As was widely expected (and hoped for by many), the 2006 AFL Grand Final was a classic, going right down to the final siren. The thrilling match even had impartial observers on the edge of their seats. Perhaps in the end it was fitting that after so many close matches between the clubs in recent years that the Eagles reversed last season's result, squaring the ledger at one premiership apiece from their two Grand Final clashes. Our readers certainly couldn't split them, with just under 47% tipping West Coast and the same number selecting the Sydney-siders, and around 6% went for the draw that so nearly happened. The AFL playing season is now all but over, with players having end of season surgery and most attention turning to retirements and the major draft. Of course from an international perspective this period has the added interest of the upcoming match between Port Power and the Geelong Cats in London, and the International Rules Test series with Australia travelling to Ireland to face what will surely be a spirited contest after the Aussies' controversial win in 2005.

Common predictions for the Grand Final were that if there was a blow out it would be West Coast getting away. On the other hand if Sydney could keep the game tight and "in-close" then it would go down to the wire, with concerns that the Eagles had travelled much further and not had a break throughout the finals. Remarkably both predictions came true, with the blistering midfield of the Western Australian club too much for the Swans, who made numerous uncharacteristic ball-handling errors. In fact by half time the Eagles had over 70 more disposals than Sydney and could have been 7 goals up, not just 25 points. A good lead had been secured but it's always worrying to have that much of the ball and not put the opposition away.

Sure enough the Eagles looked flat in the third quarter and Sydney slowly asserted control. By three quarter time the Swans could smell victory and when they started the final quarter with an amazing 14 second goal fans from the West would have felt very uncomfortable. Yet the minor premiers were able to steady and Sydney also began to look flat as the game reduced to the crunching, tight match that is so often seen at the end of close big games. As is common the umpires generally put their whistles away for the final minutes and when the Swans drew within one point with not long to play a draw was certainly on the cards. In AFL games a draw is not allowed in the finals, with extra time played, except for the Grand Final. One can imagine the AFL would have had a frantic week organising the re-match, but would salivate over the millions of additional income and huge interest it would generate. It was not to be as the exhausted Eagles bravely hung on by 1 point to partially avenge their 2005 loss. But AFL Grand Finals are not about revenge - the West Coast players were simply jubilant to have achieved their ultimate goal. The win brings them level with the Brisbane Lions as the most successful clubs since the competition went truly national and was renamed the AFL, both with three treasured premiership cups.

The Eagles' Ashley Hansen suggested after the match that it was now one all and the decider would be in 2007. This would mean more heartbreak for Adelaide Crows fans, who have watched their club dominate for two years yet narrowly miss both Grand Finals, losing key ruckmen to year-long knee injuries at crucial stages of both seasons, and being crippled with injuries in the closing stages of 2006. The rising stars of the Western Bulldogs and Fremantle will also be keen to spoil an Eagles-Swans trilogy, so it seems a third bout is unlikely - but you never know.

Despite the heartbreak of losing, Swans coach Paul Roos (also a great supporter of footy in the US), was typically philosophical, suggesting last year's win at least softened the blow. A worthy winner of the award for best on ground was the Eagles' vice captain, Andrew Embley. With stars like Chris Judd, Ben Cousins and Daniel Kerr in the midfield, Embley often escapes the heavy attention of the more famous trio, and has once again shown how dangerous he can be.

Team-mate Kerr was under a cloud coming into the match, with suspicision it was a calf injury. All was revealed post-match, as remarkably it was confirmed that he had entered the match with a broken foot, yet was still running hard at the end to finish with 20 possessions. Don't ever believe the cliche that you don't pick injured players for big matches (though note that Kerr has since denied his injury was a broken foot). And in another of those small stories that add to the fabric of the game, it emerged after the match that David Wirrpanda had "22" written on his hand as a tribute to team-mate Jaymie Graham who was omitted from the team as Wirrpanda returned from injury.

Irish fans would be pleased to note that Tadhg Kennelly's run from the backlines, which helped kickstart Sydney's revival, was recognised by one of the Norm Smith medal judges, receiving the Herald Sun's Michael Sheahan's second-best-on-ground votes. The match was frontpage news on the GAA's website. The half-time final of the AFL's sprint competition was won by Carlton's Brendon Fevola, but given a handicap system was used for the first time, it doesn't really tell us anything about who the fastest player in the AFL really is - Big Fev was quick to concede it didn't mean much with an 8 metre head start.

Next on the AFL calendar, Port Adelaide take on Geelong on October 21st at the Brit Oval in London (see the BARFL website for more info). A good crowd is expected for this end of year match, with both clubs expected to give their younger players a run.

Then comes the International Rules with Ireland keen to get back at the Australians after last year's spiteful matches. The Aussies travel to the Emerald Isle, with Kevin Sheedy again coaching them. The first match is at Pearse Stadium on October 28th, giving Galway their first taste of the series. The second and final match is at Dublin's Croke Park on November 5th. Tickets from Ticketmaster in Ireland.

Scores:

Sydney Swans 1.4 (10) 4.6 (30) 8.11 (59) 12.12 (84)
West Coast 4.2 (26) 8.7 (55) 10.10 (70) 12.13 (85)

GOALS - Sydney: O'Loughlin 3, Davis 3, Mathews, Roberts-Thomson, Goodes, Schneider, O'Keefe, Malceski
West Coast: Lynch 3, Embley 2, Hansen 2, Cousins 2, Judd, Armstrong, Hunter

BEST - Sydney: Fosdike, Richards, Kennelly, O'Loughlin, McVeigh, Kirk, Goodes
West Coast: Embley, Chick, Judd, Glass, Lynch, Selwood, Braun

INJURIES - Sydney: Ablett (hamstring)
West Coast: Nil
CHANGES - Nil
REPORTS - Nil
UMPIRES - Vozzo, Allen, Goldspink
CROWD - 97,431 at the MCG (sell out)