AFL 2 months ago

Eagles Hold The Fort: Bulldogs Unable To Close Out West

  • Eagles Hold The Fort: Bulldogs Unable To Close Out West

    PERTH, AUSTRALIA - MAY 12: Shannon Hurn, Sam Mitchell and Luke Shuey of the Eagles celebrate winning the round eight AFL match between the West Coast Eagles and the Western Bulldogs at Domain Stadium on May 12, 2017 in Perth, Australia. (Photo by Paul Kane/Getty Images)

Western Bulldogs     1.2    5.7    6.11    8.13.61
West Coast Eagles    4.2    8.6    9.10    9.15.69

Goals

Western Bulldogs: Redpath 3, Webb 2, Adams, McLean, Wood
West Coast Eagles: Kennedy 3, Darling 2, Sheed 2, Duggan, Gaff

Alex Docherty's Best

Western Bulldogs: Macrae, Daniel, Redpath, Jong, Bontempelli, Hunter, Dahlhaus
West Coast Eagles: Gaff, Mitchell, Yeo, Hurn, Kennedy, Sheed, Priddis

For the second time in three weeks, the Western Bulldogs have rued constant opportunities for goal, with the West Coast Eagles, holding off a fast-finishing Bulldogs outfit by eight points in a scrappy affair at Domain Stadium on Friday night, exacting revenge on their humilating Elimination Final defeat eight months ago at this very same stadium. 

The Bulldogs have not been able to beat the Eagles three times in a row since the Eagles arrived onto the AFL scene in 1987, and despite having more than enough opportunities to break this trend, the Sons of the West encountered the same problems that have been troubling them all season long. Whilst the visitors would celebrate Jack Redpath's first game back from his third ACL injury - slotting the game's first goal from an acute angle, the Dogs would prove to be sluggish in their start yet again, making this the seventh-straight week that they've lost a first quarter, having only led at quarter time during the round one match against Collingwood.

Both teams had 13 inside 50 entries in the opening term, but it was the Eagles who made a better fist of things, slotting four goals in the opening term, whilst the Dogs couldn't capitalise, continuing to waste opportunities on goal as they've so often done over the past number of weeks, but again it's not for a lack of endeavour. This was a game in which, particularly the first half, zipped back and forth at either end of Domain Stadium.

The reigning champs got themselves up off the proverbial canvas in the second term as Lukas Webb took an impressive grab and converted coolly to get the Dogs back to within two kicks early in the quarter, but for every Bulldog goal, the Eagles were quick to respond. There were times all throughout the game in which the Eagles looked ready to run away with it, but whether it was West Coast themselves squandering easy opportunities at goal or the Bulldogs' sheer persistence, they just couldn't deliver the knockout punch. 

Dom Sheed's second goal put the Eagles up by 23 points late in the second term, before Jack Redpath was gifted two gimme-goals in the goal-square to bring it back to just 11 points on the verge of half-time, before Josh Kennedy's second goal gave West Coast a 17-point buffer heading into the main break. 

Both sides continued to butcher opportunities to goal after half-time, but it was Josh Kennedy, who has been for so long a thorn in the sides of the Western Bulldogs, kicked them to a 23-point advantage early in the quarter. Each side could only manufacture 1.4 for the third quarter after Toby McLean converted a badly-needed set-shot to keep the Bulldogs in with a chance in the last quarter. Sure the Eagles had controlled most of the match, but one could've sensed the Bulldogs were ready to make a run in the last.

Despite several missed attempts from Josh Kennedy early in the last quarter, the Bulldogs chipped away at the deficit. Last year's premiership captain Easton Wood strolled into goal to trim the deficit from 20 to 14, and then moments later, it was Lukas Webb, kicking his second goal from the goal-square, reducing the deficit to a single digit - nine points seperating the two sides with plenty of time left to play.

The Dogs continued to run, whilst the Eagles looked like they were simply out of run and were just trying to hold on to the lead for dear life, the Eagles supporters should be and will be grateful that their wasteful shots on goal all throughout the second half didn't cost them the win in the end, as the Bulldogs' lack of polish in front of goal, yet again, proving to be their downfall. 

As ugly as the game was in terms of the lack of goal-kicking, it still proved to be a thrilling finish. Some will say the Eagles' errant kicking should've cost them the game, and others will say that West Coast should've won by a lot more. I'm inclined to believe that the latter should've happened as they had a firm control on this contest for the opening three quarters. If you swap the points West Coast had kicked in the second half, it would've been another comprehensive win at home. West Coast now sit in third place, behind only Adelaide and GWS on percentage, whilst the Dogs are just inside the eight, one of six teams sitting on 5-3.

Leading The Way

The Western Bulldogs had two standouts in the midfield and they were Jack Macrae and Caleb Daniel. Not only were both men leading the team in disposals, but they were both instrumental in the fourth quarter as they tried to will the team back into the lead. Macrae had a team-high 32 disposals and a game-high nine clearances, with his ability to hit targets with handballs in the tight, contested spaces a real highlight, whilst Daniel had 30 disposals, five inside 50s and four tackles and was a real instrumental figure in the fourth quarter, often generating the Bulldogs' run from their defensive half.

Marcus Bontempelli had a solid game, earning 25 disposals, 10 tackles, six clearances and four marks, but anytime he found himself inside attacking 50, we were met with that much-anticipated clash with in-form Eagle Elliot Yeo, and the fact that he couldn't take a mark inside 50 or kick a goal tells that Yeo had his number anytime he went down forward. Lachie Hunter (26 disposals), Luke Dahlhaus (25 disposals and five marks) and Lin Jong (25 disposals and five inside 50s) were also quite prolific in the midfield, but Tom Liberatore could only muster up eight disposals and one tackle in 85 percent playing time in what was an uncharacteristically quiet game from the 2014 Charlie Sutton Medallist.

But it was the return of key forward Jack Redpath that would've delighted the Bulldogs' fans on Friday night, and was definitely a feel-good story to take from the weekend's round of footy. After suffering a ruptured ACL in round 18 last year, Redpath returned to action last week in the VFL and earned a recall into the senior side on Friday night. Whilst I hoped he got through the game okay, he did so much more than that, Redpath loomed as a menacing presence up forward for most of the night, kicking three goals in the first half and ended up with 10 marks and 13 disposals for the night. There was also a bit to like about Lukas Webb up forward, who kicked two goals to go with his 12 disposals and seven tackles and if Marcus Adams (Kicked 1.4) can brush up on his goal-kicking, he will be a massive revelation in the second-half of this season.

The Opposition

I thought West Coast's best player was Andrew Gaff, and he was their best by a country mile. Gaff had a monsterous 35 disposals, 15 marks, four rebound 50s, three inside 50s and a goal, with 33 of those disposals being uncontested possessions - No Bulldog wanted to run with him the entire night, whilst former Hawk Sam Mitchell had a career-night, equalling St. Kilda great Robert Harvey for the most 30-plus possession games in a career at 118 games. Mitchell would finish the night with 33 disposals, six marks and five inside 50s and will be a huge chance to break it next week as the Eagles look to break their Melbourne hoodoo. Dom Sheed (23 disposals, seven marks, five rebound 50s and two goals), Matt Priddis (24 disposals and 11 tackles) and Luke Shuey (20 disposals, 10 tackles and five clearances) were also superb.

In defence, West Coast captain Shannon Hurn had a superb game in defence with 28 disposals, six marks and four rebound 50s, whilst the white-hot form of former Brisbane Lion Elliot Yeo continued on Friday night. Yeo had 29 disposals, eight marks and four rebound 50s, and took a number of telling grabs in defence when the game was up for grabs, and along with fellow intercept marking specialist Jeremy McGovern, they form a mighty tandem in the defensive-half. 

On the other end, Josh Kennedy, who has kicked 45 goals in only 13 games against the Bulldogs, again terrorised the reigning premiers, but only inaccuracy proved to stop him from kicking a bag of eight, nine or 10 goals, kicking 3.6 for the evening in what was an indifferent night for the two-time Coleman medallist, but he wasn't the only one inaccurate. Mark LeCras (Kicked 0.3) and two-game veteran Kurt Mutimer (Kicked 0.2) were also very wasteful in front of goal.

Next Week

The Western Bulldogs have a seven-day break before travelling to Geelong to play another side sitting at 5-3 in the Cats in a must-win game for both sides. For Geelong have lost their past three games after starting the season so brilliantly at 5-0. Their game against Essendon on Saturday night, was perhaps one of the worst performances from the Cats in quite some time, but they will relish the challenge that is the reigning premiers.

They haven't beaten Geelong in nearly eight years, with their last win over the Cats coming back late in the 2009 season, but their last win over Geelong was way back in 2003, when the Bulldogs won the wooden spoon last year. It will be a very interesting match-up next Friday night at Simonds Stadium.


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