In the 25th anniversary of West Coast's first premiership, the Eagle Eye recounts the Eagles historic 1992 season.
West Coast were sent tumbling out of the top two with one week remaining in the 1992 season, when they were outworked by a desperate Footscray outfit.
The Eagles were held goalless until the final term as they struggled to handle a Western Oval that represented more of a mudpit than a football ground.
On a six degree day played in driving rain with a gale favouring one end, the Bulldogs showed far greater intensity and desperation for the ball, and crucially were able to capitalize both going into and against the wind. Kicking against the wind in the opening and third terms, the Eagles were scoreless in both quarters.
Football manager Trevor Nisbett described the state of the oval the worst he had ever seen, although Mick Malthouse was more circumspect. “They used the ground very well, the weather very well and the ball better. We’ve got to be better to adjust to those conditions. We didn’t play the way you’re supposed to play [in bad weather].”
The Eagles had just two points on the board at three-quarter time and were a strong chance at ‘bettering’ their lowest ever score of 1.12 (18) against the Bombers three years earlier. However a burst of three goals in the final seven minutes saved the visitors blushes, ultimately going down by 30 points in the low-scoring affair.
The Eagles’ cause up forward wasn’t helped by the late withdrawal of Peter Sumich, who had surprisingly been named ahead of the game, despite injuring a hamstring against the Lions that saw him take no further part. John Worsfold and Paul Harding were already omissions due to a thigh injury and a knee injury, respectively.
Chris Lewis returned to the Eagles line-up after two weeks at Claremont. Despite an inconsistent season, the Eagles match committee took Lewis across as an emergency, with Lewis ultimately replacing David Hynes who was named as one of the original inclusions. Scott Watters and Mitchell White were the other two to come in with White moving to defence to allow Ashley McIntosh to replace Sumich at full-forward.
The loss of Harding though seemed to be the biggest concern for West Coast, with Bulldogs ruckman Scott Wynd one of the Brownlow favourites. The Bulldogs made two changes, recalling Nigel Kellett and Shannon Corcoran for the injured Mark Hunter and Steve Kolyniuk, who was dropped.
The Bulldogs got the first win of the day when they claimed the toss and kicked first with the breeze. Despite being scoreless, the Eagles were content in keeping the Bulldogs to three goals, with the 23 point margin deemed recoverable.
However the Bulldogs were stoic in defence, keeping West Coast to just two scoring shots with the wind. Conversely, Footscray were able to goal through Steve MacPherson to extend their lead to 27 points at the main break.
For Footscray coach Terry Wheeler, the importance of the second quarter was not lost. “Our second quarter was important because we held the Eagles defensively but it also gave us a sniff of the offensive football that was possible into the breeze.”
The Bulldogs employed a heavy defense against the breeze, often having all of their players in the back half. Footscray captain Doug Hawkins was the key move, as he played as a loose man in defence, often intercepting the Eagles forays forward. Hawkins finished with 21 disposals and 10 marks in the heavy conditions, with many of his touches, intercept possessions across half-back.
With West Coast unable to make any inroads in the second quarter, the game became a procession through the third, with the Eagles again unable to score. Simon Atkins goaled on the verge of three quarter time to take the Bulldogs lead out to 44 points and West Coast never looked likely to reel in the home sides advantage.
As the final term ticked down, the main focus for West Coast was registering a major, which they were finally able to do during the time-on period. In a bizarre quirk, it was the three inclusions – Chris Lewis, Scott Watters and Mitchell White – who finished as the three individual goal kickers for the Eagles.
The game was played extensively within the confines of the centre square, with the heavy rain and mud making handling of the ball tough for both teams. However, the Bulldogs were the ones who handled the situation better with West Coast falling to the same issues that beset them in their loss a few weeks earlier to St.Kilda.
That game was also played in heavy, muddy conditions, denying the Eagles their trademark run. Instead, the Eagles and Bulldogs were forced to play contested football with Mick Malthouse conceding that “they jumped on it a few more times than us”.
Scott Wynd proved to be a dominant force, too strong around the ball for Glen Jakovich and Mark Hepburn. Nigel Kellett was the Bulldogs best on his return, completely out-pointing Eagles wingman Peter Matera who managed just six disposals in his 50th game.
Tony Campbell shut out Ashley McIntosh at full-forward, Steven Kretiuk blanketed Brett Heady – who had been the matchwinner when the two sides met earlier in the yaer – while Bernard Toohey won his battle with Lewis in the middle. Don Pyke was another who was overshadowed by his opponent, as Steve MacPherson gathered 20 disposals booted two vital goals in the low-scoring slug.
The Eagles on the other hand boasted few winners. Michael Brennan kept Danny Del Re in check, Chris Mainwaring provided plenty of drive on the wing, Guy McKenna continued his recent head-to-head advantage on Chris Grant, while Tony Evans was sent to Brian Royal and contained his influence, after the Bulldog midfielder picked up nine disposals in the opening term.
Ultimately, it was the Bulldogs pressure around the ball and in the contest that separated the sides as West Coast were unsure and fumbled when they did manage to get ball in hand. “I thought our players were committed to the contest all day and that takes a great deal of commitment in those conditions. It was a day out at the kennel”, a clearly excited Terry Wheeler proclaimed after the win.
The 30 point victory meant that the Bulldogs returned to the coveted top two and with their final game against the lowly Bears, Footscray were set to claim the double chance. The Eagles on the other hand had missed a golden opportunity to claim a second straight minor premiership.
With Geelong being belted by 91 points in Adelaide the night before, West Coast could have sat atop the league ladder. Instead they tumbled back down to fourth, two points behind the Cats, Footscray and Magpies who had defeated the Blues in a Friday night blockbuster.
The hard-fought clash, played in front of nearly 78,000 people at Waverley Park, had seen the Magpies record a stirring 16 point victory. The loss left Carlton – who had sat inside the top six for all bar three weeks of the season, and had never been lower than 7th – vulnerable ahead of a final round trip to Perth to take on West Coast.
The Saints were able to re-enter the top six at the expense of Hawthorn who had the bye. St.Kilda joined the Blues on points after they defeated Melbourne by 15 points in a low-scoring slog, but sat behind Carlton in sixth position on match-ratio due to having played one extra game. The Saints had the bye in the final round, meaning that their finals aspirations were now in the hands of others, but with a greater percentage than Carlton, a loss to either the Blues or Hawks in Round 24, would keep them in the six.
For the Bulldogs, the win came at a crucial time after two straight losses including an 86 point hammering by Carlton the week before. The victory also ended an eight game losing streak against the Eagles, with the Bulldogs last win coming in the first ever meeting between the two sides in 1987.
With West Coast now almost certain to play off in an elimination final, the Eagles path to the premiership could contain no more slip-ups.
Match Details Sunday 23 August 1992
Footscray 3.5 4.5 6.10 7.11 (53)
West Coast 0.0 0.2 0.2 3.5 (23)
Western Oval Attendance: 15,695
Best: FOO S MacPherson, D Hawkins, N Kellett, S Wynd, S Wallis, B Toohey, S Kretiuk, T Liberatore
WCE C Mainwaring, D Pyke, M Brennan, G McKenna, T Evans
Goals: FOO S MacPherson 2, S Atkins, G Coleman, D Del Re, M Mansfield, B Royal.
WCE C Lewis, S Watters, M White.
Brownlow: 3. N.Kellett (FOO)
2. T.Liberatore (FOO)
1. S.Wallis (FOO)