I admit it: I haven’t always had a purple heart. Years ago, before I had the sense to barrack for the Dockers, I went for the Eagles. It was only because some fellow Eagle-supporting mates and I wanted to go to the footy and the Eagles had sold out of Subiaco Oval memberships, that we had no choice but to buy Dockers’ ones.
The transition started off slowly. Initially, I found myself in the untenable position of supporting both teams. Then, as the metamorphosis took hold, I became one of those people who supported the Dockers, but as a West Australian, still wanted the Eagles to do well, being ‘the other team from WA’.
But when the Eagles won the flag in 2006, I snapped. An easygoing balance between blue/gold and purple/white – or purple, white, green and red as it unfortunately was in those days – became distorted in a haze of hatred. Or perhaps, upon reflection, it was jealously. Whatever it was, things would never be the same.
Although my disdain for the West Coast Eagles is based on real feelings, I don’t for a minute bemoan their success. They have thoroughly deserved their vast achievements, built on the one thing they’ve had which up until recently the Fremantle Football Club has completely lacked: competent people. The Eagles have an enviable track record in bringing successful people to the club, from administrators, to coaching staff, to recruiters and, of course, players.
So it was with great joy that I watched the Eagles falter through the 2013 season. Their pre-season billing as one of the favourites made their 13th place finish even sweeter, and to top it off, the Dockers made the grand final. Life was good.
But, I hate to say it: 2013 appears to be an aberration. Injuries, age and John Worsfold all combined to derail the Eagles season, and unfortunately, the lightning is pretty unlikely to strike twice.
Firstly, the injuries. Star players Nic Naitinui, Beau Waters, Scott Selwood, Sharrod Wellingham, Shannon Hurn and Mark Le Cras all missed large chunks of the season. Perhaps their lack of depth was shown up, but I’m willing to show some leniency, even to the Eagles.
Injury and age also caught up with club stalwarts Daniel Kerr, Adam Selwood, Mark Nicoski and Andrew Embley, who all had interrupted seasons and were retired by season’s end.
But the major factor in the Eagles poor showing in 2013 was the coach. Premiership captain and coach John Worsfold is arguably the Eagles’ greatest son. He has a room named after him at Subiaco Oval, complete with portraits of him on the walls staring down at you like he’s King John I. But it was evident early on in the season that he’d lost the passion, and his players knew it. When Worsfold handed in his resignation after the 86-point thrashing from Adelaide in round 23, a collective sigh of relief could be heard, Eagles fans thankful the club’s Board wouldn’t have to sack him.
This year, things look to be the polar opposite for the Eagles compared to 2013. They’re predominantly healthy – besides the perennially injured Beau Waters, and Shannon Hurn after the weekend. They have some more-than-handy recruits from other clubs in Xavier Ellis and Elliot Yeo. And they have a new coach in Adam Simpson, fresh out of an assistant role at Hawthorn, and by all accounts yet another very capable person to be employed by the Eagles.
They have the easiest draw possible to start the season. Having already thrashed the Western Bulldogs and Melbourne, they’ll belt St Kilda next before facing a real team in Geelong.
The Eagles’ prospects for 2014 are very good, although it’s fair to say they haven’t been tested yet. In fact, they haven’t actually played a decent team for premiership points since that Adelaide thrashing last year.
What this means is that there is hope. Hope that last year wasn’t an aberration, and for all their hyped-up pre-season form and 93-point demolitions of wooden spoon favourites, there is still a chance the Eagles will continue to experience a prolonged period of failure rarely seen in their short but successful history.
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