AFL 11 months ago

Simpson's Sentimental Battle

  • Simpson's Sentimental Battle

Adam Simpson is facing a potential dilemma.

Criticised for much of the year by frustrated Eagles fans over match selection this season, Simpson must now balance a desperate final bid for September action with the farewell of an Eagles champion.

Last week, Matt Priddis made the correct decision to hang up the boots, reneging on an earlier agreement to play on in 2018.

With the game moving past him, Priddis couldn’t be guaranteed midfield minutes as West Coast look to usher in their next wave of midfielders. Staring at the possibility of spending more time in the WAFL, the 2013 Brownlow medallist called time on his 12 season career.

However the announcement places Simpson in a precarious positon.

How does the Eagles coach respect the career of one of the Eagles finest, when Priddis may not be in the best 22 that make a last-ditch bid for finals?

Adam Simpson has faced this delicate balancing act before.

17 games into his first season with West Coast, Simpson oversaw the retirement of the clubs games record holder, and one of the great ruckmen of the modern era.

Dean Cox confirmed what many had suspected when he signalled an end to his career with six weeks remaining in the regular season in 2014.

After dropping seven games in an eight week stretch from Round 4, the Eagles had spent much of the season playing catch up but at the time of Cox’s announcement were an outside chance of making finals.  

Cox had lost much of the mobility that had defined him as a player, but was seen as deserved to be in the Eagles best 22, despite the emergence of Nic Naitanui in the number one ruck position, and the Eagles desire to get games into the inexperienced Scott Lycett.

Lycett had bided his time at the club since being drafted at the end of 2010, but with both South Australian teams keen on luring him home, the Eagles hand was called.

For much of the year the rookie coach awkwardly juggled Cox, Naitanui and Lycett through the side, often playing the three ruckmen in the same side, with Simpson forced to defend the selections on a weekly basis.

As the home and away season counted down, the Eagles found themselves in limbo. Reward one of the clubs stalwarts and adoring fans with a six week send-off, or continue the late push for finals with the Eagles’ next ruck combination.

In the end, Simpson did both.

Stuck between three rucks and a hard place, the Eagles match committee persisted with their tall timber policy with the finals hopes essentially dashed three weeks from the end.

Against the Bombers at Docklands, with Cox, Naitanui and Lycett all playing, the Eagles built up a near six goal lead, before being overrun in the final quarter and a half to lose by three points at the death.

West Coast’s finals hopes were officially extinguished before they took the park against Gold Coast in Round 23, ultimately finishing ninth – four points behind Richmond, but with a superior percentage.

In being respectful of a club legend, Simpson allowed Cox’ farewell to dictate team selection.

Now, with three games left in 2017, the Eagles sit percentage outside the top eight and team selection is again at the forefront.

West Coast have battled all season to find their most effective inside/outside midfield mix as external criticism of the Eagles often changes between their lack of pace and lack of ability to win the contested ball.

Too slow with Priddis in the side; too soft in the contest without him.

Against the Blues, Priddis will join Sam Mitchell, Jack Redden, Mark Hutchings and Dom Sheed as inside midfielders, although arguably all four have more to give West Coast in the latter stage of the season.

Mitchell provides leadership and poise with ball in hand and has the versatility that Priddis doesn’t in being able to roam across half-back. Hutchings gives Simpson the option of a run-with player, while the form of Redden and Sheed over the past month keeps them in the side.

Priddis on the other hand is limited with his versatility – a quality not favoured in football today. If Priddis isn’t at the coalface, he doesn’t provide value to the side elsewhere on the ground.

The Eagles final two games come against GWS and Adelaide, two of the slickest ball movers in the competition. Both sides look to run and gun which isn’t ideal for a one-paced midfield.

So with West Coast’s season on the line in the final fortnight, will Simpson cast sentiment aside or put Priddis’ achievements and status within West Coast ahead.

Recently, Priddis dismissed talk of a rift between he and Simpson, describing the Eagles senior coach as ‘a mate’. Which has only reinforced the biggest criticism of Simpson of recent times.

Too often, Simpson has been condemned for not taking a hard line at the selection table with underperforming senior players. Too often going ‘back to the well’.

Historically, the greatest coaches haven’t shied away from making hard decisions for the greater good; the decision over Priddis could shape the Simpson as a coach and be the best chance of West Coast keeping their faint flag hopes alive. 

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