Eagles rise to the challenge ahead

Local football star Stephen Hill gets a kick away for the Dockers. Pictures: Dan White West Coast midfielder Luke Shuey is tackled by Fremantle’s Matt de Boer.
Local football star Stephen Hill gets a kick away for the Dockers. Pictures: Dan White West Coast midfielder Luke Shuey is tackled by Fremantle’s Matt de Boer.

In terms of promoting AFL football outside of Subiaco Oval, the match was a sunny success.

The awkward Tuesday afternoon scheduling of the game had raised some doubt.

But the doubts were dashed as 10,737 fans filled the banks of the Arena to produce one of the pre-season’s biggest crowds’.

It was, perhaps, little consolation for Dockers fans, however.

Fremantle midfielder and local product Stephen Hill (23 possessions) said West Coast simply went harder in its 2.20.10 (148) to 0.10.4 (64) demolition.

‘They won the ground balls and gave themselves more of a chance,’ he told the Weekender.

‘We couldn’t get our hands on it and in the end they were just better than us today.’

Keeping a lid on the win, West Coast debutant Xavier Ellis told Fox Footy his new side had been training a month longer than the 2013 grand finalists.

There’s no doubt that was a factor in the ease with which the lively Eagles disposed of the sluggish Dockers. But at its core, the game came down to West Coast having more to prove in this dead rubber than Ross Lyon’s men.

How solidly had the Eagles been working to recover from a disappointing season last year?

Fresh West Coast coach Adam Simpson needed to make an early impact and he did.

Hungry to make a point, the Eagles went about producing 14 individual goal scorers.

The first two majors came from booming super goals to backmen Shannon Hurn and Mitch Brown.

For Eagles fans, early signs of an attacking Simpson game plan were promising.

Much interest surrounded the role local product Jack Darling might play.

While the former Hawthorn assistant had insisted Darling’s main role would be up forward, the power player took to the centre square at the opening bounce, going head to head with Fremantle star Nat Fyfe.

Sharing his time between the midfield and forward line, Darling produced a goal and 17 disposals, including nine contested ” the Eagles’ third highest for the stat. Fyfe was the Dockers’ best, producing an athletic performance to lead the side in disposals (26), kicks (16) and marks (5).

Ellis, with his career on the line this season, proved an exciting prospect for West Coast.

The 2008 premiership player was tough when contests were tight and found plenty of the ball to return 21 possessions.

Ellis’ debut was in stark contrast to that of Fremantle recruit Colin Sylvia.

Having finished the 2013 season earlier than most of his teammates, the experienced former Melbourne midfielder should have been one of the Dockers’ sharpest.

Instead, he had little impact to amass five possessions while being on the ground for 73 per cent of the game.

Win or lose, the Dockers wouldn’t have read much into the clash, but to the Eagles, it was a meaningful triumph in their quest for resurgence in 2014.