EAGLE SPIRIT TRIUMPHS
HISTORY repeated in the most extraordinary circumstances as West Coast overcame a week of trauma to record one of the club’s most famous victories at Adelaide Oval yesterday.
In an eerie repeat of last year’s elimination final when Luke Shuey kicked the winning goal after the siren, defender Jeremy McGovern — not noted for his set-shot kicking — was the hero at the same end as the Eagles beat Port Adelaide by four points.
Mark LeCras and McGovern kicked goals inside the final two minutes for the Eagles to steal the lead for the only time in the match.
“I had to kick it. It was pretty simple, mate, just go through your routine, that sort of stuff,” McGovern said of his 45m set-shot winner. “Gotta love your footy, though, don’t you?”
West Coast had been in the news all week for the wrong reasons after Andrew Gaff’s eight-week ban for punching Andrew Brayshaw in the western derby last Sunday.
“It was a good opportunity for us to unite,” McGovern said of the trip to South Australia. “We’ve been a pretty united group.”
The stunning upset goes a long way towards sealing a top-two finish for the Eagles, which would bring a pair of historic finals to Optus Stadium next month. It was a cruel blow for the Power, who lost three players to injury during the third term, including star pair Paddy Ryder and Charlie Dixon.
“It’s been a big a week . . . in a sense we brought it upon ourselves,” Shuey said. “We’ve had a lot of things questioned this week, one of them culture, and I don’t think there is a better way to respond than a performance like that.”
Coach Adam Simpson added: “It has been a big week for everyone, the whole club. Port were down a few men in the last quarter, I think we’ve got to acknowledge that, but to win it like that just shows great spirit amongst the players.”
McGovern’s goal prompted wild on-field celebrations as they prevailed without Gaff and injured pair Nic Naitanui and Josh Kennedy.
Tension in the crowd built throughout in a reminder of the last time these teams met at this venue, when the Eagles prevailed in an epic extratime classic in last season’s elimination final.
There were boos yesterday for Shuey, who shrugged Jared Polec’s tackle around his neck in the dying seconds of that match before kicking his winning goal after the extra-time siren.
The Eagles ran out without Gaff for just the second time since he was a teenager. The industrious left-footer has played 169 games since then.
There was sympathy for Gaff in Adelaide yesterday, where South Australian footy legend Graham Cornes used a controversial column in The Advertiser to argue Gaff was as much the victim as Fremantle youngster Brayshaw.
Cornes said the Dockers should share the blame after Gaff was “impeded, checked or scragged by Brayshaw and other Fremantle players before that final brain explosion”.
“If that speculation about police charges being laid was to progress, Gaff could quite easily claim selfdefence, as he was continuously knocked from pillar to post,” Cornes wrote.
“Over the decades, football had had its share of thugs. We all knew who they were and while they served
their share of suspensions they got away with so much more.
“Andrew Gaff is not one of those football thugs. A punch swung in frustration, connecting where he least expected, will hound and haunt him forever. It should not, however, define him.”
A small but loyal group of West Coast supporters sat behind the goals under the famous old cricket scoreboard yesterday.
They agreed Gaff deserved his eight-match ban, but also had sympathy for the former club champion. They hoped Gaff would remain at West Coast and believed there was a strong chance he would sign a new deal, but had mixed views over whether the Eagles could win the premiership this season without him.
Craig Chatfield, a former Esperance local who now calls Port Lincoln home, made the seven-hour drive to be at the game. He said Gaff was the last player he would have picked to be involved in on-field violence.
“I couldn’t believe anyone would do it actually. And unfortunately, I reckon with taggers in the game, I think it will happen again,” Mr Chatfield said. “They just get frustrated with stuff off the ball. I just think the taggers are responsible for a lot of it.
“But for people to turn around and say he (Gaff) deliberately did it — I don’t believe that for one second. He retaliated when he shouldn’t have. I think everyone believes that he was aiming for his chest.”
Adelaide-based brothers Brian and Aaron Worthington share a bloodline but when it comes to footy they were on opposite sides of the fence yesterday. West Coast fan Brian described Gaff’s punch as a “pretty bad hit” but believed it was “totally out of character”.
Eagles fan Craig Binder, who played for West Perth and Norwood in the 1980s, said the incident didn’t need explaining to his two teenage sons because the vision spoke for itself. “I thought the decision on his suspension was fair,” he said. “When something that serious happens, the punishment fits the crime.”
It was a good opportunity for us to unite . . . we’ve been a pretty united group. Jeremy McGovern
Solidarity: West Coast players take the field. Family ties: Brothers Brian and Aaron Worthington. Oh baby: Holly and Craig Chatfield with baby Campbell. Go Eagles: Jubilant West Coast fans celebrate another goal. Pictures: Brenton Edwards Victory dance: West Coast players swarm over Jeremy McGovern after his match-winning goal. Picture: Getty Images