West Coast's Nic Naitanui handballs away from Darren Minchington (left) and Lenny Hayes at Etihad Stadium on Sunday. Photo: Getty Images
WEST COAST 3.2 8.6 12.10 15.13 (103) ST KILDA 4.3 6.5 8.7 10.10 (70)
Goals: West Coast: J Darling 3 J McGovern 3 S Lycett 2 A Gaff J Kennedy L Shuey M Brown M Hutchings M LeCras M Priddis. St Kilda: J Billings 3 C Jones 2 D Minchington L Hayes N Riewoldt T Lee T Simpkin.
BEST West Coast: Priddis, Rosa, Shuey, LeCras, Hutchings, Gaff. St Kilda: Steven, Billings, Hayes, Newnes, Savage, Weller.
Injuries: St Kilda: L Montagna (ill) replaced in selected side by C Jones.
Umpires: Mathew Nicholls, David Harris, Andrew Stephens.
Crowd: 17,317 at Etihad Stadium.
Luke Shuey ran into the open goal, reached for the loose ball, scooped it up, placed it on his boot and kicked a goal he could not possibly have missed. In the same motion, the West Coast midfielder nudged the St Kilda player beside him away without too much effort.
The moment, early in the third quarter, summed up where the Saints were at. There, where they were meant to be, in the right place, doing their best. There, trying for almost long enough.
|View Match Statistics|
|Players||Billings (3.0), Jones (2.0), Lee (1.1), Minchington (1.1), Riewoldt (1.1), Hayes (1.0), Simpkin (1.0), Weller (0.4), Milera (0.2)||Scorers||Darling (3.1), McGovern (3.0), Lycett (2.1), Kennedy (1.4), LeCras (1.3), Gaff (1.1), Brown (1.0), Hutchings (1.0), Priddis (1.0), Shuey (1.0)|
There were things for the Saints to be happy about in the lead-up to that point. They made the Eagles spend a fair part of the first half catching them. They moved the ball quickly when they were able to get it out into space.
Jack Billings was brilliant, not once but three times in the first quarter, kicking the goals that made sure his side made the sharper start. When Jimmy Webster took off with the ball, either good things happened or he was at least able to get the players around him out of position and unsettle play.
Jack Newnes was as diligent as ever, and Darren Minchington was third on the stats sheet at the end of the first quarter. All four should only get better.
The worry for the Saints was, first of all, West Coast. It took the Eagles a while to sort things out in the middle, and find someone other than Matthew Priddis to dig the ball out of trouble for them.
Once they did, they looked the much more organised side and had multiple ways towards goal: Andrew Gaff, Chris Masten, Luke Shuey, Matt Rosa Mark Le Cras and Mark Hutchings, a one-time St Kilda rookie.
With St Kilda veteran Leigh Montagna unwell and absent, Lenny Hayes, David Armitage and Jack Steven didn’t have the same, consistent amount of back-up.
The Eagles had strength of numbers and players able to take marks when the ball was pushed forward. It’s something they have struggled to do all season, but on this day Jack Darling was difficult to budge, and the improving Jeremy McGovern another concern.
Then there was Josh Kennedy, who didn’t need to play too huge a part but still needed to be worried about as much or more than the other two, just in case. When West Coast scored it seemed to score a little more easily than the Saints could. When the Eagles got in front, they never really looked like they were going to be panicked into giving up their lead.
St Kilda’s other concerns were more familiar ones. Nick Riewoldt couldn’t kick goals and be the player kicking it in so that others could take the shot. Tom Lee knows how to find his way to the front and take marks, but is still learning how to do both those things reliably, let alone kick the accompanying goals.
No matter how the Saints set their back line up, one of Darling, McGovern and Scott Lycett always seemed able to either get free or outmuscle an undersized or out-of-position opponent and take a mark close to goal. That Eric Mackenzie did such a trustworthy job on Riewoldt, on day one of life after Darren Glass, meant there were were no such issues at the other end.
The Saints hung in there during the third term, scoring two goals in a row but then letting West Coast kick two goals in the last few minutes. They kicked two of the first three goals in the final term, in inventive ways, with Lee marking, playing on and (wisely) resisting the urge to handball before Minchington roved a ball closer to goal.
They tackled and ran and tried to do things. They got plenty of the ball but were up against a more experienced, more organised and more predictable team that had a better idea of what was about to happen and how to control it.