Though size mat­ters, the Ea­gles have no fear of play­ing on hal­lowed turf

The Sunday Times - - Year Of The Eagle - BRADEN QUARTERMAINE

ADAM Simp­son ini­tially hoped Perth’s new sta­dium would go close to repli­cat­ing the unique, long and skinny di­men­sions of Su­bi­aco Oval, where the Ea­gles had a 68 per cent win record through­out their his­tory.

That was ruled out be­cause of the need to play cricket at the multi-pur­pose venue. But as the side’s away form im­proved this sea­son, the West Coast coach came to be­lieve hav­ing a more nor­mal-sized home ground had bet­ter pre­pared the Ea­gles for play­ing away.

West Coast fin­ished the reg­u­lar sea­son with an ex­cel­lent 7-3 road record, their best in­ter­state re­turn since they went 8-2 in their last pre­mier­ship year in 2006. It was a marked im­prove­ment on last sea­son when the Ea­gles had a 3-7 away record.

At 165m long and 130m wide, Op­tus Sta­dium is 10m shorter and 8m wider than Su­bi­aco Oval, and is closer in di­men­sion to most other grounds, in­clud­ing the MCG.

It is even closer to Eti­had Sta­dium, which mea­sures 160m by 129m.

From four vis­its to the two Mel­bourne venues this sea­son, the Ea­gles boast a per­fect record.

West Coast have been no­mads this sea­son, with cir­cum­stances forc­ing the team to train at three dif­fer­ent venues.

Their new Lath­lain home in­cludes two ovals, one the size of Op­tus Sta­dium and a sec­ond the size of the MCG.

Be­cause the area is still a con­struc­tion site and lacks a gym or re­hab fa­cil­i­ties, the play­ers also still train at their old Su­bi­aco Oval base.

Su­bi­aco has been re­con­fig­ured to near Op­tus Sta­dium di­men­sions, with the goal­posts brought in at each end and the bound­ary line pushed up close to the fence on the wings to cre­ate a shorter, fat­ter ground.

West Coast’s third train­ing venue is the new sta­dium it­self, which they aim to get on at least once in the lead-up to all home games.

Simp­son said play­ing reg­u­larly at Op­tus Sta­dium had helped the team get used to play­ing on wider grounds, while the Lath­lain de­vel­op­ment was a smart in­vest­ment.

“To have the fore­sight to look into the fu­ture sev­eral years ago and de­velop the land that we’ve got and have the two ovals, it’s helped us,” he said. “We trained there pre-sea­son, we feel more com­fort­able on the big­ger ovals. As much as I’ve never claimed that the size of an oval af­fects the way you play, it hasn’t hurt this year to have those ovals avail­able.

“Play­ing at home (at Su­bi­aco) had so many ad­van­tages of a skinny, long ground that you couldn’t help but flip into that mode a lit­tle bit. Even train­ing for a big­ger ground in the west was dif­fi­cult. We couldn’t find any. We’d train at Subi and train across the ground. All that sort of stuff is gone now.”

July 15 was the piv­otal day of West Coast’s cam­paign.

The clash with Colling­wood was a chance to prove — to them­selves as much as the footy world — they could knock off good op­po­si­tion at the MCG.

While bit­ter­sweet, the Ea­gles passed that test with fly­ing colours af­ter de­feat­ing the Mag­pies by 35 points, de­spite los­ing star ruck­man Nic Nai­tanui to another knee in­jury be­fore half-time.

De­fender Lewis Jetta, who was part of Syd­ney’s tri­umph over Hawthorn in 2012, is the only Ea­gle to have ex­pe­ri­enced win­ning an AFL pre­mier­ship. It was the day he and Cyril Ri­oli sprinted along the MCG wing and into footy folk­lore.

For­ward Liam Ryan has never played at the MCG, Daniel Ven­ables just once and Wil­lie Ri­oli and Tom Cole just twice each. While the quar­tet lack ex­pe­ri­ence at the home of foot­ball, they have also never lost a game there.

In con­trast, West Coast’s se­nior play­ers all have los­ing MCG records across their ca­reers.

The Ea­gles have a 5-6 record at the MCG un­der Simp­son, but have not won a fi­nal there since the thrilling 2006 de­cider against Syd­ney.

Since then, West Coast have played four MCG fi­nals for four losses.

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