Five talking points from Port Adelaide vs West Coast Eagles first elimination final

Josh Elliott Editor

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    The West Coast Eagles are through to the semi-finals after a dramatic affair that will surely be in contention for the title of Game of the Year. Here’s my five talking points from the match.

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    Free kick the wrong call, but the focus must go elsewhere
    There’s no doubt that Saturday night’s match featured one of the most thrilling finishes we’ve ever seen in the history of the game.

    For a sudden-death elimination final to not only go to extra time but then also come down to a shot on goal after the siren is about as close a call as is possible in the AFL.

    The only thing that marred the drama is that the shot on goal came from a free kick rather than a mark – regardless of what you think of the free kick itself, it’s just not quite the same.

    If you ask a Port Adelaide fan their thoughts on the game you are sure to hear some unsavoury things said about the umpiring in general and that free kick.

    And not unreasonably so – by the letter of the law it should not be one, but it is the sort of motion that is so difficult to spot in the heat of the moment and so regularly slips through.

    The truth is it took a slow-mo replay for meto work out that it shouldn’t be a free kick and I’d say most fans watching were the same. The umpires don’t get that option.

    While it’s natural to feel a bit aggrieved about it when a decision like that plays a major role in how the game ends, you have to focus on the things you can control.

    The umpires may have made one or two errors that hurt the Power’s chances, but Port Adelaide made far more themselves.

    Charlie Dixon in some ways dominated the game but was only able to kick 3.6. He ought to be celebrating a match-winning bag this morning. Port had eight more scoring shots than West Coast but still lost the game.

    Fans will no doubt feel bitter about the free kick, but the club itself can’t get stuck on it, they must keep looking for ways to improve their own performance – and they’re a professional outfit, so surely will.

    Charlie Dixon Port Adelaide Power AFL 2017

    (Photo by Daniel Kalisz/Getty Images)

    The big Dish justifies the pick
    Plenty of people raised their eyebrows when the West Coast Eagles picked up a 300-game veteran in Drew Petrie at last year’s rookie draft.

    However it’s fair to say now that he has proven himself a valuable addition to the team, revitalised by a new role as a ruck-forward.

    The opportunity to play as a third tall behind the likes of Josh J Kennedy and Jack Darling, rather than be the No.1 man at North Melbourne, has made it easier for him to kick goals.

    His impact in the ruck has been remarkable for a guy who hasn’t played there in five years – last night he and Nathan Vardy took on the All Australian ruckman in Paddy Ryder, and while Ryder won the hit-out count, it was the two big Eagles who took a decisive victory in their performance around the ground.

    There’s no doubt Petrie has justified every cent of the rookie contract paid to him – the Eagles would likely not have made finals, or won this one, without him in the side.

    Mackenzie’s incredible manoeuvre
    It was one of those classic moments that will live forever in finals history, an incredible play that kept West Coast in the game even though it won’t show up on Eric Mackenzie’s stat sheet.

    With scores level and just seconds left to play, Port Adelaide were pushing hard knowing that even a scrambled behind would probably be enough to win the game.

    Things seemed about to go that way as the ball hurtled towards the sticks after a long bomb by Jasper Pittard – enter Eric Mackenzie.

    In a split-second play he had the presence of mind to scoop the ball out of the path of the scoring line and instead put it out of the bounds as he himself collided with the behind post.

    It would’ve been so easy to give in to muscle memory and just rush it across for a minor score as every defender has done a thousand times before.

    Instead Mackenzie put his body on the line and give West Coast a chance to win, a chance that they ultimately took.

    Darling and Kennedy silence doubters
    Jack Darling has become something of a whipping boy at West Coast ever since his disastrous dropped mark in the 2015 grand final.

    Josh Kennedy doesn’t get the same level of disdain, but as I mentioned in the match preview for this one, there are always questions about his level of impact against top quality opponents.

    They answered some critics on Saturday night though with three goals each. Darling got two early to get the Eagles up and running, Kennedy got two in extra time – when the Eagles needed them most – to keep them just barely in the match.

    Who knows, perhaps this can be a turnning point for the pairing.

    If the Eagles can get consistent performances out of them going forward – in big games, not just those against the minnows of the league – they will be a far more fearsome prospect to play against.

    Jack Darling West Coast Eagles AFL 2017 tall

    (Photo by Daniel Kalisz/Getty Images)

    Not a wasted year for Port
    The disappointment in Port Adelaide’s rooms after the game was palpable, even from hundred of kilometres away watching the match on telly.

    As a neutral fan the match was an incredible one to watch, as a Port Adelaide person it would be hard to find any kind of solace in what a great game it was.

    Possibly the only person who could have enjoyed it less would be a Dees fan, knowing that this could very easily have been them.

    They are quite right to be disappointed because it is a match they really ought to have won – they controlled it for long periods but just didn’t take their opportunities.

    However, in a year where they were widely expected to drop down the ladder, they should not discount all the good things that happened.

    A return to finals was a huge achievement, the improved form of many players impressive, and the beginning of Sam Powell-Pepper’s career heartening.

    I look forward to seeing how they respond in 2018.

    Josh Elliott
    Josh Elliott

    Josh Elliott may be The Roar's Weekend Editor, but at heart he's just a rusted-on North Melbourne tragic with a penchant for pun headlines - and also abnormal alliteration, assuredly; assuming achievability. He once finished third in a hot chilli pie eating contest. You can follow him on Twitter @JoshElliott_29 and listen to him on The Roar's AFL Podcast.