AFL grand final-bound: Liam Ryan helps West Coast Eagles into GF against Collingwood with salute to cousin  

Liam Ryan celebrates his goal in the West Coast Eagles' big preliminary final win over Melbourne. Picture: Paul Kane, Getty Images
Liam Ryan celebrates his goal in the West Coast Eagles' big preliminary final win over Melbourne. Picture: Paul Kane, Getty Images

LIAM Ryan had more than winning on his mind in the West Coast Eagles’ crushing preliminary final win over Melbourne at Optus Stadium this afternoon.

The same time last weekend he was at a memorial service on the banks of Perth’s Swan River for 17-year-old mates Trisjack Simpson and Chris Drage who drowned nearby the previous Monday after running from police.

Trisjack was his “little cousin”, he shared with Community News at the emotion-filled service.

Ryan, who wore a black armband for today’s clash with the Demons, was both mourner and comforter to family and friends at the memorial by the river in Maylands.

A section of the crowd at last Saturday’s memorial for Trisjack Simpson and Chris Drage at Maylands. Picture: J Bianchini

The 2017 Bernie Naylor Medalist finished the preliminary final with one goal and 18 disposals and had fans and commentators raving after an electric run in the third term.

North Melbourne premiership player and Fremantle board member Peter Bell reminded his Channel 7 audience of Ryan’s 73-goal season haul with Subiaco before being drafted.

“He is an extraordinarily, athletically gifted player as you’ve seen this afternoon,” Bell said.

“I look forward to seeing him on the biggest stage of all,” former Western Bulldogs ruckman Luke Darcy said of Ryan at the MCG in next week’s grand final.

Commentator James Brayshaw said Ryan and his fellow Indigenous team-mate Willie Rioli, the nephew of South Fremantle and Richmond champion Maurice Rioli, had an opportunity over the next few years to write their own chapter in the history of Aboriginal players to grace the game.

After naming two-time Sandover medalist “the great Stephen Michael” of South Fremantle as his favourite WA  Aboriginal footballer, Brayshaw listed other greats including “superstar” Peter Matera, Jim and Phil Krakouer and Graham ‘Polly’ Farmer.

Ryan is one of eight new Eagles to make their debut this season.

The team travelling to Melbourne for the grand final includes 12 players from the losing 2015 grand final against Hawthorn.