In the 25th anniversary of West Coast's first premiership, the Eagle Eye recounts the Eagles historic 1992 season.
West Coast sealed a third straight finals appearance under Mick Malthouse and ended the Blues 1992 season with a 33 point at Subiaco.
The Eagles and Blues entered the final round of the home-and-away season sitting in fourth and fifth spot respectively and were both well aware of what was required when they kicked off in the final game of the regular season.
The Eagles – who were assured of finals action regardless of the result – had seen the Cats, Bulldogs and Magpies all win the day before meaning they could finish no higher than fourth. Losses to any of those sides could have seen the Eagles finish anywhere in the top three, but West Coast were guaranteed a home final with a win that would secure fourth.
Geelong and Footscray both recorded easy wins against the Bombers and Bears to wrap up the top two spots, and the double chance, while the Magpies held on to third spot, despite being made to work against Adelaide. The Crows led by three goals at Victoria Park at half-time, but the Magpies were able to clamber past the visitors, with their accurate kicking at goal securing a five point win.
The 1991 premiers Hawthorn won a high-scoring clash against Melbourne by 19 points, meaning they moved back into the top six, replacing the Saints who had started the round in sixth spot behind Carlton. The Saints though would move back into sixth spot if West Coast could defeat the Blues, courtesy of a superior percentage.
Meanwhile a Carlton win would have seen the Blues jump into fourth and force a re-match against the Eagles at Princes Park. However a record Subiaco crowd of 40,441 saw any hopes of a rare Carlton win in Perth dashed by quarter time after a furious Eagles burst.
The Eagles – led by full-forward Peter Sumich, who had made a quicker-than-expected recovery from a hamstring injury – booted seven opening quarter goals, while keeping Carlton to just four behinds to take a 40 point lead into the first break and effectively end the contest.
Sumich booted three first-quarter goals, including a freakish mid-air soccer effort from 40 metres out, after initially dropping a chest mark, on his way to a personal best haul at Subiaco Oval of eight.
The Eagles spearhead was one of three additions to the side that lost to Footscray the week before, with West Coast presenting arguably their strongest line up of the season. Paul Harding and John Worsfold also both returned from injury, with youngster Matt Clape and Mark Hepburn making way. David Hart couldn’t be considered due to a thigh problem suffered against the Bulldogs, ruling him out of the next two matches.
Despite lacking any influence the week before in his return from a two week stint at Claremont, Chris Lewis held his spot, while Chris Waterman was also retained despite being under an injury cloud with a shoulder problem.
While West Coast were able to welcome back a host of stars, the Blues lost their key centreman in a desperate race against the clock. Greg Williams travelled with an extended squad of 23 that made the trip West and was given until the final moments to prove his fitness after a knee injury kept him out of the second half of the previous week’s loss to Collingwood.
Williams though couldn’t get up and was replaced by versatile half-forward Rohan Welsh, while defender Michael Sexton was retained despite battling an ankle problem. Blues’ coach David Parkin conceded in the lead up that his side lacked speed and hoped for a wet day in Perth, following the Eagles’ recent struggles in losses to Footscray and St.Kilda, both of which were played in heavy conditions.
However, in the first bad sign for the Blues, both sides were greeted with stunning sunshine when the game kicked off. And while Peter Sumich was reaping the rewards on the scoreboard in the opening term, the real damage was being done in the middle as Paul Harding jumped all over Justin Madden.
Despite conceding 13cm to the Carlton giant, Harding was too athletic in the ruck taps and too mobile around the ground as the Eagles got a decisive advantage in the midfield. With Greg Williams out, the Eagles were able to claim first possession at the stoppages and drive West Coast forward.
Dean Kemp had the better of Craig Bradley, Tony Evans was sent to nullify Adrian Gleeson and Peter Matera and Chris Mainwaring were afforded the luxury of the wide Subiaco wings. Peter Sumich’s early blitz saw Stephen Silvagni shifted from full-back, while Parkin also had his issues with Eagles centre-half forward Karl Langdon.
Jon Dorotich, Earl Spalding and David Rhys-Jones all spent time on the blonde-haired firebrand but Langdon seemed unstoppable as he tallied 17 disposals, five marks and a goal by half-time. Langdon’s influence waned after the main break but with the healthy advantage established, the Eagles were able to hold the Blues at bay.
Carlton outscored the home side across the remaining three quarters, even reducing the West Coast lead to under 20 points late in the third quarter, but the damage had been done in the devastating first quarter, with coach David Parkin acknowledging as much.
“I think the game was over at quarter time. You always give yourself a chance, but it was going to take a miracle to get back.
We took a father of a hiding when the game had to be won.”
Eagles coach Mick Malthouse praised his side for their blistering start, with both sides aware that Carlton were playing for their season. The seven-goal opening quarter also continued a recent trend that had seen the Eagles blitz opposition sides, particularly the top sides, early in games. The Eagles notched up seven goals against the Bulldogs early in the season, kicked eight in the opening term versus the Crows, and blew the Cats out of the water at Kardinia Park several weeks earlier.
Chris Mainwaring finished with a game high 35 disposals, Tony Evans collected 28 while holding Gleeson to just 12, Craig Turley had 21 and a goal, while down back Glen Jakovich won his battle against Stephen Kernahan.
Dwayne Lamb had 23 possessions through the middle, while Karl Langdon also laid an astonishing 13 tackles to go with his final tally of 21 touches, seven marks and a goal.
Fraser Brown was the best for Carlton with 23 touches, while Anthony Koutofides got better the longer the game went, on the wing. Mil Hanna had the better of Chris Lewis at half-back and Peter Dean kept Ashley McIntosh in check, although McIntosh did manage two majors. Justin Madden got stronger the game went on as Harding tired and finished with 34 hit-outs while Mark Athorn had 21 disposals and a goal through the midfield.
With Carlton dumped from the top six, the remaining finals contenders were confirmed for 1992. Geelong and Footscray were set for a Qualifying Final, with the two sides earning the luxury of the double chance. Collingwood would host the Saints in the first elimination final, with West Coast to take on their 1991 nemesis, Hawthorn, in the second elimination final.
12 months earlier the Eagles hosted the Hawks in the first ever final to be played outside Victoria, but it was Hawthorn who claimed the spoils on the day, as they overran an overwhelmed Eagles outfit. The Hawks then claimed the 1991 premiership three weeks later against a West Coast side that had been the benchmark but ultimately ran out of steam.
Malthouse though was sure his side had learned from the experience and would be ready for the Hawks this time around. “You learn from experience and I trust the players have learnt from last year.”
The Eagles win over Carlton had a dramatic postscript when Karl Langdon fronted the tribunal following the serious charge of manhandling an umpire. Langdon had only just returned from a two week suspension and was reported during the second term over an incident involving boundary umpire Andrew Neale. Langdon believed he had tackled Luke O’Sullivan over the boundary line but umpire Neale called play on leading Langdon to remonstrate with the official.
Neale presented his match day uniform showing two muddied handprints on his chest. The Eagles took the bizarre step of using the testimony of a supporter from near the boundary line who stated no such contact was made. In the end, Langdon confirmed that there had been minimal contact, but that it was unintentional and he had apologised at the time of the incident. Following a two hour hearing, Langdon was eventually found not guilty and would be free to meet the Hawks in the first week of the finals.