Is the Eagles’ fortress being demolished before schedule?

Matt Somerford Roar Rookie

By , Matt Somerford is a Roar Rookie

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    At the start of the season, comedian Mick Molloy suggested – with the sort of irreverence that has earned his acclaim – that West Coast coach Adam Simpson was among the most likely coaches to be sacked this season.

    It was a moment of levity befitting of the Friday Front Bar’s gambit as Molloy reassured Simpson was on his chopping block for the reason only that he didn’t really know much about him.

    Cue the laughter.

    For West Coast fans the joke is, however, starting to become a little too close to reality.

    The howls of derision for Simpson among Eagles fans after Sunday’s calamitous 32-point defeat to Port Adelaide became apparent for the first time. Perhaps unfairly.

    It was the Eagles’ second-biggest defeat at Domain Stadium during the home-and-away season under Simpson – only ‘bettered’ by a 38-point defeat to North Melbourne three years ago.

    At this point Eagles fans on the east coast might have fair grounds to suggest such a run is dream like – fairly glowing in endorsement of Simpson’s tenure.

    But if Eagles fans in Perth have been spoiled by home results under the 42-year-old then three defeats in their past four homes games suggests the times are changing.

    Indeed, West Coast’s only two home wins since the Western Derby earlier this season were by eight and 13 points against the Western Bulldogs and Geelong respectively.

    Adam Simpson West Coast Eagles AFL 2017

    (AAP Image/Joe Castro)

    Throw in the home hammering the Doggies dished out in last season’s finals series and the figurative demolition of the Eagles’ Subiaco fortress appears far in advance of any more physical plans scheduled for the end of the season.

    Restoring the Eagles’ proud home record is the minimum standard for Simpson between now and the end of the season if there is any hope Subiaco’s decaying old stage will host a final one last time.

    It is well within his capabilities – the Eagles have been ahead or level in the final quarter of all of those recent home defeats – however there is a growing sense that the best of this Eagles team is behind them. The squad carved callow by a lack of faith in youth.

    The stats suggest such expectations are correct and make for uncomfortable reading if you are a West Coast fan.

    The Eagles have had just two Rising Star nominees – Dom Sheed and Tom Barrass – since Andrew Gaff was handed the award way back in 2011.

    There’s more. This season only two clubs have failed to hand out a single senior game to one of their draftees from last summer. West Coast is one. The other is Hawthorn who virtually didn’t participate in it after their much-debated post-season action left them with a ‘highest’ pick at 74.

    In fact of the nine players drafted by the Eagles across all avenues – National, Rookie and Pre-Rookie selections – last season only one has made his debut for the club this season – and that was a 34-year-old Drew Petrie.

    The Eagles’ draft class of 2015 is hardly much better with only Tom Cole and Kurt Mutimer having tasted first-team action.

    In two years of going to the National Draft the Eagles have just nine games of experience to show for it. It’s hardly the stuff of regeneration.

    Before the opening Western Derby of the season I wrote on this website that the Eagles’ season would be defined by the progression of their young players, should they get the chance.

    At that point no club had handed out fewer AFL debuts than Simpson during his time in charge of the Eagles.

    West Coast Eagles AFL 2017

    (AAP Image/Tony McDonough)

    While the former Kangaroos gun has since repeatedly stated infusing youth into the line-up was a priority, Mutimer’s debut against the Dockers that round remains the only first-game experience he has handed out.

    That is not to say there has not been progression among the youthful Eagles.

    Sheed has been entrusted in key midfield role after rising the challenge from the coaching staff to improve the defensive side of his game while Liam Duggan’s move to half-back has benefitted his straight-line attack at the ball.

    Faith has also been show in Barrass, whose possesses an aerial ability that allows forgiveness for a young man still learning how to use his body in the contest and when the ball hits the ground.

    Cole too has shown composure in the heat of battle – his axing for the Port defeat a frustration among Eagles fans.

    But the cupboard is otherwise bare save for a flash of Malcolm Karpany potential and the hectic run-before-you-think dash off half-back that has become Jackson Nelson’s trademark between hamstring injuries.

    Whether that is the fault of the Eagles’ recruiting staff, or Simpson’s desire to stick with his tried and trusted, is now the most significant question hanging over this Eagles team.

    Either answer is bad news.

    The demotion of the likes of Chris Masten and Josh Hill – Simpson foot-soldiers of the past but with a clear ceiling – have pointed to a focus towards youth.

    The problem is they have been dumped from the team in the midst of a poor run, with finals on the horizon and Simpson with the headache of whether he should trust the young players who don’t quite have enough games in them, or go back to the players who got him to a grand final two years ago.

    His answer against Port Adelaide was to go back to the past.

    It failed. West Coast were cut to ribbons in the midfield after half-time once Port Adelaide realised that bombing the ball back to the Eagles’ army of intercept markers was an exercise in futility.

    That it took them six quarters to figure it out – after falling foul to the same issue in a strange defeat earlier this season – was of little consolation to Eagles fans as they saw Port routinely run and gun past a languid midfield and set the blueprint of how to beat them.

    West Coast Eagles AFL

    (AAP Image/Joe Castro)

    It was encapsulated in one phase of play when Andrew Gaff – a player whose ball-winning ability is increasingly being offset by his treacle motor when running into defence or flailing at a tackle – was caught holding the ball as he was about to kick on goal by Jarman Impey.

    Moments later Impey took on the Eagles’ massed ranks across half-back, racing beyond a midfield that readily surrendered to his speed, before he set up one of Port’s 12 second-half goals.

    In the passing fuss that was Ryan Nyhuis’ dream debut for the Dockers, Ross Lyon will be sure to have spotted a weakness expertly exposed.

    Covering it will be Simpson’s greatest challenge this week.

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