Real Footy finals: Collingwood v West Coast
The second week of footy finals has arrived and Michael Gleeson, Robert Walls and Emma Quayle talk over the line-up for Saturday night's game.PT0M0S 620 349
LIKE a tasty pizza, the Daniel Kerr highlights reel screened to West Coast players before his 200th game in July would have had the lot.
There was the classic knees-on-shoulders mark he took in 2003; it springs immediately and cheerfully to his mind because it was over Collingwood's Scott Burns, now his midfield coach. There was his diagonal five-bounce run to goal from the half-back flank in the derby of 2003, a goal he thinks would be impossible to re-create now because he would dash himself against someone's damned press.
There was his match-saving lunge tackle from behind on Jarrad McVeigh in Sydney in 2008, after which he could scarcely take his kick because of cramp. This also he thinks is unlikely to recur because the way the game has changed; the ball carrier's threat mostly comes from in front, rarely from behind.
Celebrating the Eagles' 2006 premiership victory. Photo: Vince Caligiuri
Since all Kerr's football has been played in that drop zone where even fools fear to tread, and since his instinct to go at the ball as a dog goes at a car tyre has never dulled, there have been any number of hits. These include a spear tackle from Port Adelaide's Peter Burgoyne in 2003; Burgoyne was suspended, but Kerr says the tackle didn't hurt him.
The biggest was a fair cop from Essendon's Nathan Lovett-Murray last year that he says fractured vertebrae; he still feels them when he gets up every morning.
There were hits of his own, including a succession of headbutts; one prompted Tony Shaw to say that Kerr had ''lost the plot''. Kerr says poor form and West Coast's slide to mediocrity had driven him to ''lash out in ways that I shouldn't''. Precisely, these are low- rather than highlights, but they all helped to shape the consummate Kerr.
But none of these moments, nor any accolade or decoration, tells as much about Kerr as the span of the last five years. His career peaked from 2005 to 2007, when he played in two grand finals and won one, was twice runner-up in the Brownlow and third in between, trailing teammate Ben Cousins in 2005, but beating close friend Chris Judd every time.
He only ever saw himself as third musketeer to, and disciple of, Judd and Cousins. ''I just had two superstars alongside me. No matter how hard I tried, they were going to be better.''
But by the end of 2007, some believed he had surpassed both. Then West Coast went to hell in a handbasket. For diametrically different reasons, neither Cousins nor Judd played for the club again. Kerr said he was only grateful that Judd had stayed with the Eagles as long as he did.
West Coast slid dramatically, and Kerr suddenly was beset by injury, including a chronic hamstring strain that restricted him to just four games in a 21-month stretch, and 26 in three years, and led him briefly to think that he might be finished.
''Even last year, I felt as if I was playing with a torn hamstring all the time,'' he said. ''It was hard to work out when it was actually torn and when it was fine.''
While he was laid up, the game changed. ''It took me most of my year back to get used to grabbing the footy and [having] someone in your face, and having to make different decisions,'' he said. ''All the pressure is frontal; you don't really have to worry too much about pressure from behind.'' Shane Crawford, among many, thought the game had gone by Kerr.
They hadn't reckoned on several factors. One was Kerr's unique genes, in which are fused the skills of his half-Indian father, Roger, who played and coached in the WAFL, and the tunnel vision of his mother's family, the Regans, mystical Fremantle hard men. They make for a metabolism that sometimes led him into strife off the field, but still makes every contest a matter of life and death on it. They did not know that, while injured, Kerr spent more time at the club, not less, and had fallen in love with it again. They could not have anticipated the way the Eagles' new generation would revitalise him. ''I can't remember for a while a player coming into the competition and having as much of the footy as Andrew Gaff,'' he said.
The awe is mutual. ''His speed and clean hands around the ball is unbelievable,'' said Gaff. ''And his work rate to get rid of taggers is something a lot of us can learn from.'' Playing Gold Coast this year, Kerr revelled in a chance to freewheel untagged on a wing while Gaff chiselled away at the coalface. ''Gaffy had 25 touches playing my position, and I had 15 playing his,'' he said. For the next match, Kerr's 200th, he pulled rank.
Kerr is 29, has played every game this season and has just signed on for two more years. In Perth, the consensus is that he is playing as well as he ever has. Blessed to be able to choose, most Eagles faithful say Kerr lacks the glossy polish of Cousins and Judd, but always was harder at the ball than both. He pulls up sore every week, he says, but now it is because of the match-long buffeting of taggers, not anything chronic.
Nor is it often any more the ache of defeat. As Kerr has recovered his powers, so has West Coast; it is cause and effect. Once, he was lulled into thinking that the Eagles would play finals every year of his career. Now he knows that it is always later than a footballer thinks. The 200-game highlights package acted as a gentle reminder; what Kerr recalls from it more than anything else is ''some pretty bad haircuts''.