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Monday, July 2, 2018

A strangely crippling injury list and quarter-long lapses are leaving West Coast on the brink

A week used to be a long time in football. Make that 20 minutes these days.
That is how long it took for Adelaide to turn a lost season into one with hope and how long it took West Coast to go from a team contending for top position to one increasingly aware of its vulnerability in the top four.
The Eagles are third. Only one win and percentage separates them from ladder leaders Richmond, but only percentage separates them from fifth-placed Port Adelaide.
Sixth are Greater Western Sydney, who the Eagles host on Sunday. Away games against Collingwood (second), Port Adelaide (fifth) and North Melbourne (ninth) and a home match against Melbourne (seventh) sit between West Coast and the home-and-away finish line.
Much is still possible this season, but the obstacles get bigger with every injury and every loss and they have now lost three in a row.
Their season has swung south off the back of four injuries, two wonky quarters and youngsters hitting the wall.
There was the first term against Essendon when they ran out half-asleep and turned six goals down.
On Saturday at Adelaide Oval, they led by 27 points late in the third term, were still 20 points in front at the last change, but were outscored six goals to two to lose by 10 points.
There are few, if any, gimme games for the Eagles until at least one of Josh Kennedy or Jack Darling returns. Mark LeCras would be handy too. Ditto Tom Barrass at the back.
West Coast have a strange injury list at the moment. It is not long, but it is crippling, each absentee strategically important.
Against the Crows, Adam Simpson pursued what would best be described in layman’s terms as a swings and roundabouts strategy to cover the holes. He hoped to win more on the swinging of Jeremy McGovern forward than he lost by shifting his intercept marker from defence and the rotation of gun midfielder Elliott Yeo back to defence.
It had merit and for three quarters it looked set to reap a surprise dividend, but once Taylor Walker turned the heat up on Yeo and Will Schofield in the third term, the game slid quickly away from the Eagles.
Walker had 13 of his 22 disposals and kicked all of his three goals after half-time.
McGovern, who had kicked two as his side skipped clear in the third, had to go back to cover Walker.
West Coast’s midfield, minus Yeo, copped a 163-134 hammering in contested possession, a 44-34 beating in clearances and a 66-34 belting in the inside-50 count.
Simpson had one more hole to fill than he had experienced bodies to fill it.
He will need a better effort from his team at the contest against GWS. The Giants walloped the Hawks by 55 in contested possession and 51-28 at stoppages in an 11-point win at Spotless Stadium on Saturday night.
Their five top possession gatherers were Callan Ward (32 and two goals), Stephen Coniglio (30 and one goal), Josh Kelly (29), Dylan Shiel (28 and a goal) and Lachie Whitfield (25 and a goal).
You give that lot that much ball on a fast track like Optus Stadium and the presence of Kennedy, Darling, LeCras and Barrass and even the absence of Jeremy Cameron won’t matter. The Giants pushed into the eight with the victory and remain one of the AFL’s most intriguing and frustrating teams, best summed up by two incidents from their win over the Hawks. There was the last-quarter brilliance of Whitfield, weaving left and slotting a 35m goal on his non-preferred side to give his team breathing space when the Hawks were charging.
But there was also the second-quarter incident when the Giants were enjoying first-half dominance and nursing a 26-point lead when a careless handball from the experienced Phil Davis was intercepted by Harry Morrison.
That enabled the Hawks to kick the last two goals of the first half and breathe life back into the game.
There is extreme talent at the Giants, but despite increased experience and bitter disappointment in two preliminary finals, they continue to give opponents oxygen in matches by flirting with their skills instead of exploiting them.
But there is no denying their hunger for the contest at present is better than it has been for some time.