West Coast claimed a piece of AFL history when they became the first non-Victorian side to win the AFL premiership.
In just the clubs sixth season, the Eagles hoisted the premiership cup with a 28 point win over Geelong. Peter Sumich finished with six goals – and 18 across three finals – and Peter Matera made it two best on ground performances in a row to claim the Norm Smith Medal. Matera was dominant booting five goals from 18 disposals, including the long-raking effort from 50m out that put the Eagles in front for the first time in the afternoon midway through the third quarter.
Until then, it had been a tough, physical and often spiteful contest where the Cats looked to throw everything at the Eagles. Geelong had easily accounted for the Bulldogs for the second time in the 1992 finals series, extending a three goal half-time lead into a 64 point thrashing by games end. Both sides went into the decider looking to avenge recent Grand Final defeats to the Hawks; the Eagles in 1991 and Cats in 1989.
The Eagles restored their qualifying final side for the last game of the season, bringing back Michael Brennan and Brett Heady who missed the semi final win over the Cats and replacing the two that came in, being David Hynes and David Hart, who would have been unavailable after injuring his hamstring in the previous weeks WAFL Grand Final.
Still there were queries on the final make-up of the final team right up until the opening bounce. As well as Brennan and Heady who were included following minor recurrences of muscle injuries, Peter Sumich had been prevented from kicking during the week to protect his troublesome hamstring. Karl Langdon had minor surgery on a knee following the semi-final and Guy McKenna passed a morning fitness test after suffering lower back problems in the lead-up.
The Cats had fewer concerns and made just one change from the side that defeated Footscray bringing in Neville Bruns for Andrew Bews, who could never be considered after damaging a shoulder. The selection of Bruns caused a stir, with the veteran selected for just his sixth game of the season, and first since Round 23 when he strained medial ligaments in his knee.
However they had a vastly different look from the side that fell to the Eagles two weeks earlier. Along with Bruns, Tim Darcy, Russell Merriman and Trevor Poole had been brought into the squad, with Malcolm Blight looking to experienced members of his squad. Steven Handley, Adrian Hickmott and Paul Brown had all made way for the preliminary final the week before and were unable to reclaim their spots.
The Eagles had claimed wins in the previous two meetings with set defensive match-ups and with that in mind, Malcolm Blight made the first moves of the Grand Final. Captain Mark Bairstow was moved to a wing opposed to Matera, with the Geelong coaching staff aware of the damage he had caused running with youngsters Peter Riccardi and Sean Simpson a fortnight earlier. Trevor Poole was given the role on Dean Kemp and Bruns was sent to Mainwaring.
Gary Ablett started as a third wingman, dragging John Worsfold up the ground, Tim Darcy replaced Handley at full-back against Peter Sumich and Michael Mansfield – who played primarily forward in the semi final – started along half back. Still, some of Malthouse’s predicted match-ups remained. Dwayne Lamb ran with Robert Scott, Craig Turley stood alongside Paul Couch and Ashley McIntosh and Glen Jakovich went to Bill Brownless and Barry Stoneham, respectively.
In a cauldron atmosphere where Victorians were defending their prized possession from being swept away by an upstart WA side, the Cats made sure plenty of heat was brought to the contest. 12 months earlier, the Hawks intimidated a young Eagles side playing their first Grand Final, and Geelong were clearly set on implementing the same strategies.
Brownless and McIntosh were brawling before the opening bounce, and the likes of Gary Ablett and Barry Stoneham flew into contests, intent on making a physical presence. Andrew Rogers and Karl Langdon spent as much time grappling with each other as they did chasing the ball. Inside two minutes, Ablett had collected Don Pyke who looked to shepherd John Worsfold as he dealt with a loose ball close to the boundary line.
Remarkably the play continued around Pyke as trainers attended to the fallen midfielder, attempting to get him on a stretcher. Eventually Pyke was taken from the ground, and from the next stoppage, Dean Kemp tackled Trevor Poole high and the Cat calmly slotted the opening goal of the game. The Cats didn’t drop off their physical nature and when Peter Riccardi snapped through a clever goal from deep in the pocket, the Cats had broken to an early 16 point lead.
The Eagles were having their chances, but were unable to capitalise. Langdon missed two quick chances, before Brett Heady and Chris Mainwaring both sprayed set shots. With five behinds to show, Matera eventually got the Eagles on the board, sharking a John Barnes tap from a ball up just outside 50. Neville Bruns and Peter Sumich traded goals, and with only minutes remaining, Brownless restored the Cats three goal advantage when Peter Riccardi evaded both Mainwaring and McIntosh to find the Geelong full forward in the goal square.
Matera had one final shot on goal as the quarter time siren blared, but it sailed wide and the Eagles were 17 points behind at the first change. While Matera was showing early danger signs, Bairstow was getting plenty of the ball himself and many of the other match-ups were working in Geelong’s favour. Garry Hocking enjoyed plenty of freedom with Pyke on the bench and Paul Couch was getting the better of Turley.
Gary Ablett inserted himself into the contest shortly after quarter time when he launched a long bomb for his first. Having taken a clever contested mark opposed to Worsfold, Ablett from 60m out deep near the boundary line never looked like missing and the Cats broke out to a 23 point lead. Moments later Ablett had the ball in the centre square and tried to repeat his previous effort. The ball fell marginally short but landed in the arms of Brownless. His shot went narrow, but leading by 24 points, the Cats were running with all of the momentum.
With his Eagles on the brink of losing touch, Malthouse made critical changes, no more than with Brett Heady. The half-forward had been barely sighted through the first quarter and a half as he was tightly checked by Ken Hinkley, but with Turley unable to contain Couch, Malthouse sent Heady into the middle. Tony Evans went to half forward, as did Peter Wilson off the bench.
The Eagles started to gain control of the ball, but inaccurate kicking continued to plague them. Chris Waterman sent two shots out of bounds, as did Peter Sumich, while Paul Harding missed a gimmy from just beyond the goal square. Eventually it was the star of the game in Peter Matera who settled things for West Coast.
As a scrimmage descended on the 50m line, Matera was able to extract the ball from the pack, break past a couple of Geelong players and screw the ball through for his second goal. Brownless marked and goaled on the run to restore the Cats 23 point lead, but with Heady getting plenty of ball in his new role and Kemp getting the better of a tiring Poole, West Coast were getting control through the middle of the ground.
Tony Evans then bobbed up with two goals inside a minute and when Peter Sumich snapped truly with only 10 seconds remaining in the half, the Eagles were within striking distance.
The Cats had fired their best shot – tactically and physically – and Malthouse knew it. “I could see the looks in their faces. I looked into their eyes last year and there wasn’t much there.”
Ablett kicked his second to open proceedings in the third quarter, but from there on it was all West Coast. Heady was orchestrating the play in the centre, picking up 13 possessions for the quarter and the Eagles were in charge across all aspects on the field. The Cats were breaking down across half-forward, as Guy McKenna and Glen Jakovich continually repelled their forward entries.
Tony Evans had the reply to Ablett with his third goal for the game, before a freakish Peter Wilson goal reduced the margin to under a kick. Wilson with his back to goal, was initially tripped up, before getting back to his feet and kicking a goal ‘like a cork in the ocean’ over his head. At this point, there was nothing the Eagles couldn’t do and from the next centre bounce they had hit the front.
Heady and Kemp once again combined to find Peter Matera running towards goal. As the wingman hit the 50m line, his shot sailed through, putting the Eagles in front for the first time since the opening seconds of the game, and ultimately kicking one of the seminal goals in West Coast history.
Peter Sumich marked on the lead to boot his third major before Matera had a fourth, following another dashing run through the middle of the ground. Matera could have had a fifth before the three quarter time siren, but hit the post, as West Coast overturned a 12 point half-time deficit to take a 17 point lead with one quarter to play.
Matera soon had his fifth when he ran into an open goal after a strong mark to Peter Sumich. Billy Brownless had Geelong’s first major in nearly 30 minutes of play not long after, but Sumich would put the final dagger into the Cats hearts. Sumich kicked three goals in the final term to finish with a match haul of six and West Coast would make AFL history. With West Coast in full control, the last quarter became a celebration.
The 28 point win saw the premiership cup head out of Victoria for the first time and heralded the beginning of a truly national competition. After finishing third in 1990 and second in 1991, the Eagles had reached the pinnacle of the league and for Malthouse the win resembled an important moment in the clubs short history and the lives of all the players.
“There is now a bond between [the players] that cannot be broken, no matter what happens between now and the rest of your lives. It’s something that cant’ be taken away from you – you worked for it, you bled for it and I’m very proud of you.”
While Matera was the unanimous choice for the Norm Smith medal as best on ground, the Eagles had a cavalcade of stars on the day. Heady finished with 28 disposals, 17 of which came in the second half following his move, managing to also shut out Paul Couch. Dean Kemp and Tony Evans were the next best ball-winners tallying 20, with Evans also finishing with three goals.
Ashley McIntosh blanketed Brownless, as did Worsfold on Ablett, while Barry Stoneham was barely sighted after quarter time as Glen Jakovich took the honours. Guy McKenna was dynamic across half-back, while Chris Waterman stepped onto the wing as Chris Mainwaring battled a suspected broken foot. Dwayne Lamb nullified Robert Scott’s influence and Paul Harding did what he had to do against John Barnes, who had dominated against Brownlow medallist Scott Wynd the previous week.
The Cats were well served by captain Bairstow, along with Michael Mansfield and Tim McGrath down back. Ken Hinkley was solid, while Peter Riccardi and Garry Hocking were arguably the Cats’ best midfielders, although like the rest of their teammates, faded through the second half.
This day though belonged to West Coast and the win was just reward for the key decision made just three years earlier. With the club plummeting to 11th in 1989, after a maiden finals appearance the year before, the decision to part ways with John Todd was met with disdain from many in Western Australia. However the club saw that they needed a Victorian influence to have success on the Eastern border and the decision to appoint the hard-nosed Malthouse was proven to be an inspired selection.
Malthouse’s defensive mantra had set the standard within the competition, as West Coast conceded less than 80 points per game. The club had also seen the rise of a number of players who were set to be the core for many years to come. Peter Matera had come of age with three stunning finals, while the likes of Dean Kemp – who would go on to win the clubs best and fairest – Brett Heady, Glen Jakovich and Ashley McIntosh were set to become stars of the competition. Peter Sumich, Chris Mainwaring, Craig Turley and Chris Lewis had already set their markers and the West Coast Eagles had laid the platform for more flags in the coming years.