AFL Grand Final review

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The West Coast Eagles celebrate after winning the 2018 Toyota AFL Grand Final. (Photo by Michael Willson/AFL Media)

In what will go down as one of the AFL’s classic nail-biting Grand Finals, the West Coast Eagles produced a dogged comeback to win this year’s flag from a gallant Collingwood by just five points in front of a mammoth crowd of 100,022 at the MCG.

After trailing Collingwood for most of the match and failing to convert opportunity to goals on several occasions during the final quarter, it was Eagles’ player Dom Sheed who put his side four points up with less than two minutes left to play, when he kicked a seemingly miraculous goal from a very tight angle after taking a memorable mark. 

It was a symbolic and surreal moment seeing Sheed extremely cool under pressure kick the ball through the narrowest of spaces between the two sticks and registering an impossible goal, while the large Collingwood contingent of supporters pictured behind stood like stone in seemingly stunned disbelief, all to the tune of shrieking delight from the ecstatic West Coast fans. 

There was more to come in the dying stages of play, including a botched mark by a fumbling Jack Darling less than a metre out from his team’s goal line, reminiscent of the same thing he did in West Coast’s humiliating 2015 Grand Final loss to Hawthorn.   

Collingwood still had a chance! However strong defensive marks by Jeremy McGovern down in Collingwood’s forward line and later by Luke Shuey after a long kick-in into the centre stopped the Magpies from clutching victory, and brought the Eagles home with a thrilling 11.13 (79) to 11.8 (74) win.

The result was hard-fought, with Collingwood fans wondering how this one slipped through their fingers after the Magpies hammered the scoreboard with the game’s opening five goals to earn a 29-point lead late in the first quarter. This was the same start the Magpies produced in their remarkable win against Richmond the previous week.

However, coach Adam Simpson’s Eagles have endured and overcome many injury and suspension setbacks and were never going to lie down without a fight. After steadying the ship in the second quarter and grinding their way back in the third, at one stage hitting the front via an Elliot Yeo goal, they went into the final break level-pegging with the Magpies and setting the scene for a thrilling final quarter that the fans may never forget.

The Norm Smith Medal went to a deserving Eagle, Luke Shuey (34 possessions, nine clearances, eight tackles, eight inside 50s and one goal), with another sure contender being Dom Sheed (32 possessions, eight clearances and six inside 50s) whose contribution, including the match-winning goal, was outstanding.

Eagles’ forward Josh Kennedy finished with 3.2 (20) and 11 marks, while fellow forward Darling helped his side get back in the game with six solid marks in the third quarter.

Other notables were from the West Coast defence; as well as the commanding back line roles played by McGovern and captain Shannon Hurn, defender Tom Barrass kept previous week’s Magpie hero Mason Cox quiet for most of the match and Will Schofield did well to minimise the impact of possession-prolific Steele Sidebottom, as did midfielder Mark Hutchings who forced a quiet Sidebottom deep into attack in the third quarter to try and find the ball.

With it being such a close game, unsurprisingly, there were also many fantastic Magpie performances, such as midfielder Taylor Adams (31 possessions, nine clearances and one goal), and defenders Tom Langdon (23 possessions, seven marks, and 11 one-percenters) and Jack Crisp (25 possessions and nine marks). 

Adam Treloar (26 possessions, five clearances and 11 tackles) worked hard in the midfield, and Jeremy Howe’s battle against Darling was entertaining to watch. Jordan De Goey shrugged off repeated tackles to boot a well-earned three goal haul for his team, while Travis Varcoe kicked the game’s opening goal, following up with a display of unrelenting pressure throughout the match. NAB AFL Rising Star winner Jaidyn Stephenson showed his class kicking two goals in two minutes soon after Varcoe’s game opener.

Collingwood’s Grand Final loss means the club’s record becomes 15 wins, 27 losses and two draws. A win would have put them equal with Carlton and Essendon with a record 16 premierships, which will rub salt into the wound.

History will judge this a great Grand Final triumph for the West Coast Eagles and viewing spectacle for AFL fans.

WEST COAST            2.2    4.3    8.7    11.13 (79)

COLLINGWOOD       5.1    6.3    8.7     11.8 (74)

GOALS
West Coast: 
Kennedy 3, Hutchings, Shuey, Sheed, Darling, Yeo, Cripps, Vardy, Rioli

Collingwood: De Goey 3, Cox 2, Stephenson 2, Hoskin-Elliott, Varcoe, Mihocek, Adams

BEST 
West Coast: 
Shuey, Sheed, Barrass, Kennedy, Hutchings, Schofield, McGovern

Collingwood: Adams, Langdon, Crisp, Treloar, Grundy, Mayne

Official crowd: 100,022

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