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Saturday, October 6, 2018

Finals mantra ticked all the boxes for Eagles

On a cool and wet Wednesday night at the end of August, West Coast started ticking the boxes of premiership glory.
Gathered at the Camfield Hotel, just a good Shannon Hurn drop punt from the new ground that fired a remarkable season, Eagles players and staff gathered privately over a few drinks to reset for what would become arguably the club’s greatest finals campaign.
It was there that coach Adam Simpson presented the humble “Friends, family, flags” theme that had already been the players’ brand for the season. A similar graphic would sit in the club’s football department during the finals, accompanied by the decreasing number of wins required for the premiership as the weeks passed.
Just 31 days after the Camfield event, West Coast won a fourth AFL grand final — a feat considered highly unlikely even within the club’s four walls at the start of the season. Captain Hurn marked the moment, on the invitation of Simpson in the MCG rooms after the grand final, by placing a tick in the third box of the team’s theme.
“We got together and had a couple of drinks with all the families, with their partners and kids,” Simpson told The Weekend West. “I got up at the end of it and put that graphic up because it is the players’ trademark. It was theirs, it was original and all from them, nothing to do with coaches or the football club. It was what they wanted to stand for.
“We got some boxes and ticked two of them. I just said, ‘Here’s our theme guys, just tick this last box’. It was three wins, then two wins, then one win, then Bung (Hurn) ticked the box.”
As emotional chaos reigned in the coaches’ box on the siren, a comparatively more subdued Simpson’s face was etched with a mix of understated relief and joy.
Vision of a pensive Simpson sitting by himself in the coaches’ room at the MCG had previously emerged after West Coast lost the 2015 grand final against Hawthorn. He said he managed another few moments again last Saturday, but was mindful of the broadcast cameras in the room and did not let the time linger.
“It was very brief, only about 10 or 15 seconds, and I started to well up a little bit,” he said.
“I do get emotional sometimes and it’s mainly with the players. I think all of the staff are just proud of what the players have done and that’s been the main wave of emotion.
“I’m pretty pragmatic and I’m not a deep thinker and I don’t plan in the sense of what I’m going to feel like after it.”
Simpson said the club had been mindful of the challenge of accommodating the interstate assault in grand final week, while also giving the players the right space to do their job.
They booked out a separate hotel for staff and family members and meticulously co-ordinated tickets to the game and passes into the rooms post-match. But it had all been worth it to see the mess of post-match celebration in the Eagles rooms packed solid with celebrating friends and family members, including kids of many ages.
“It’s hard to recapture what it was like in the ’90s, but it’s what it’s about,” Simpson said.
“You see everyone so content, or relieved or excited and every player has a different story. Dan Venables has had his first little season and he has a different view from Mark LeCras, but the common goal is definitely there.
“What was probably the next-level stuff we’ve achieved this year is that the players have gone to the next level of commitment to each other. They will never forget it and they obviously appreciate all the hard work their friends and families have done for them.”
Simpson joins West Coast legend John Worsfold as a premiership coach who has also won two flags as a player. While it was an achievement to savour with his family after their move from Melbourne to Perth, football’s ultimate success was not pivotal to happiness in their lives.
The Simpsons, who have four children, are building a home and endured living in an apartment with the family dog during the season.
“I’m sure they enjoy it, but we’re not really built that way and we don’t hang on every bit of success that we get,” he said.
“I don’t think we’d be any different today if we’d not made the finals. I’ve got a great job, but we’re just normal people and they’re not obsessed by hanging on every win or loss.
“ I’ve been with my wife since I was 24 and the kids have lived through all the stuff at North and Hawthorn.
“I don’t bring home work and they don’t particularly ask me about it either. One thing that has been a big commitment for the family was coming over here and we made a real effort to embrace wherever we live. We don’t care where we live, as long as we’re together.”
West Coast came under public fire several times during the season, particularly when Andrew Gaff struck Fremantle’s Andy Brayshaw in the round 20 western derby and when integrity officer Peter Staples pushed a Channel 7 cameraman after ruckman Nic Naitanui hurt his knee in the round 17 win over Collingwood.
But Simpson was proud of the way the club refused to bow to distraction and “white noise”.
“People tell you that to win a flag everything has got to go right on and off the field and you really need to hit that sweet spot,” he said. “We hit some adversity, but what I think we did get right was some of the off-field stuff. You never know if you get it right and sometimes you get it right and you still don’t win.
“We did a lot of stuff pre-season with our set up of our coaches and our program and I think we got that as good as we could have this year. So when we got tested with our personnel, we had some pretty clear ways of going about it. When I reflect on all the adversity we hit with selection and criticism outside the club, we were pretty consistent from Monday to Friday.”
Simpson said he was driven to enjoy the spoils of victory this week by his playing and coaching past. It is 19 years since he won his second of two premierships as a North Melbourne player and six years since he was part of the Hawthorn coaching team that orchestrated a grand final victory over Fremantle in 2013.
A day after that game, Simpson was on a plane to Perth to have the meeting with West Coast that would define a new life for him and his family.
“The best week of any AFL player or coach’s career is the week between the grand final win and the best-and-fairest,” he said.
“I was fortunate enough to play and win a couple of grannies at North ... but I didn’t really get the sense of what we’d achieved at the Hawks. You get to enjoy and celebrate for a week and when you wake up Saturday morning you’re on to the next season.
“This is the week of grace.”