Here is my list of the top 10 players ever to don the great West Coast guernsey. Since the club’s establishment in 1986, a number of the AFL’s best have plied their trade in the west.
Who comes in at number one?
10 Darren Glass
Glass edged out many great Eagles’ defenders to gain this selection. He beat John Worsfold and Ashley McIntosh.
The highlight of Glass’ career, for me, was his 2011 season. The Eagles had finished last in 2010, and in one season they reversed their fortunes to finish fourth on the AFL ladder.
It was an incredible turnaround – one of the best in AFL history, and Glass’ captaincy was no small factor in that success.
The next season his captaincy was rewarded with All-Australian selection as a ruckman.
I think Darren Glass was also Barry Hall’s best foil. I’ve heard Hall describe him as the best player he played against. In some respect, Hall versus Glass mirrored Carey versus Jakovich.
There were so many interesting match-ups in that West Coast-Sydney rivalry, and that was one of them.
9. Daniel Kerr
The jury is still out, for me, on how good Kerr really was. In 2005-2007 you’d have no arguments from me that he was one of the AFL’s best players, and really he was unlucky not to be awarded All-Australian selection more often.
But after 2007, with Cousins leaving the club with drug problems, and Judd leaving for Carlton, Kerr didn’t shine like he once did. Was he the beneficiary of being the Eagles third best midfielder?
Two moments in his career stand out to me. One was a regular season match against Sydney. Barry Hall had the football with only Kerr in front of him. Logic dictates that no matter which way Hall would take him on, with his massive size, he could just shake Kerr off.
Kerr found a way to hold on to Hall’s arm, clinging for dear life, and wriggling his body this way and that – preventing Hall from disposing of the ball. Hall wasn’t brought down, but he was inhibited – and Kerr was given a free kick. I thought he was very gutsy.
A second moment that stands out is against Geeling, before Geelong were a dynasty. Geelong blew a 50-point lead, losing the un-losable. Kerr was the Eagles’ best. One kick, to win the game, was on an impossible angle. Kerr, knowing how the wind blew in Geelong, found a way to nurse the ball, cushioning it in the wind through the sticks.
By the way, the Eagles 2006 season made no sense. They fell behind in so many games and still found a way to win.
8. Chris Mainwaring
Great Eagles sides come with a pair of three great midfielders. In 2005-2007 is was Judd, Cousins, and Kerr. In 1992-1994 it was Peter Matera, Dean Kemp and Mainwaring.
Mainwaring was the best Eagles’ player never to win the Best and Fairest.
However, he does have one unique distinction. Few recall how dominant the Eagles of 1991 were. They fell away in the finals, twice to Hawthorn. But during the season they lost only three games.
They had one of the most successful sides in history that year, and finished on top of the AFL ladder.
Western Australia won the State of Origin that year, easily, and half the Western Australian side were currently playing for the Eagles.
This was a rare peak for Western Australian football.
Who was the chosen captain of the awesome Western Australian side? Chris Mainwaring.
One of those iconic Eagles’ moments was in 1992, when they won their first grand final. After the siren, one of the first images etched in my mind was Mainwaring on crutches, leaping up and down.
7. Dean Kemp
Dean Kemp was the quiet achiever of the great West Coast sides. He didn’t have the blistering pace of Peter Matera or the charisma of Chris Mainwaring, but he was perhaps the Eagles’ most reliable midfielder.
Dean Kemp is one of the best midfielders I’ve seen for delivering the ball into the forward line. He was so precise in his delivery to the Eagles forwards. Jason Akermanis remains the best I’ve ever seen for such delivery, but Kemp wasn’t far behind.
In some respects, he reminded me of Sam Mitchell. Mitchell isn’t a flashy player, but for years he’s been Hawthorn’s most consistent, and yes best, player.
Kemp’s career high-point came in that awesome thrashing of Geelong in 1994, in which he won the Norm Smith Medal.
6. Guy McKenna
The great West Coast side of 2005-2006 was known for its midfield.
The great West Coast side of 1992-1994 was known for its defence – Glen Jackovich, John Worsfold, Michael Brennan, Ashley McIntosh, and Guy McKenna. That’s clearly the best defence of the 1990s.
Guy McKenna gets my nod for being the Eagles most consistent performer – not always their best, but thereabouts. And he maintained that for ever a decade.
It’s a mark of Bluey’s longevity that he was awarded the Club’s Best and Fairest award in 1989 and 1999 – over a decade apart. That speaks to his longevity, and consistency – that and he was selected an All Australian three times.
When I heard he went into coaching, I hoped one day he might coach the Eagles. That never happened. Gold Coast are now benefiting from him.
5. Dean Cox
To me, Dean Cox did for rucking what Adam Gilchrist did for wicket-keeping. Before Gilchrist, it was unheard of for a wicket-keeper to be such a great batsman. Before Cox, it was unheard of for a midfielder to be so complete.
Dean Cox is most definitely the most complete ruckman in the history of the AFL.
He was happy running with the ball, bouncing the ball a few times, throwing a dummy, kicking off the left foot, dribbling along the ground, etc.
People lauded the brilliant West Coast trio of Judd, Cousins, and Kerr – and they were the best midfield of all time – but none of these three would have been the successes they were without Cox’s incredible understanding of where they would be.
People don’t recall how vital Dean Cox was in those famous West Coast-Sydney epics that we all remember.
I recall West Coast taking the lead in the 2005 grand final in the final quarter, and John Worsfold taking Cox off so he would be rested for the last 10 minutes. In those crucial moments when Cox was taken off the field, Sydney regained control of the game.
Cox was brought back on. He threw that ball onto his left foot. But Leo Barry, “You star!” and the rest is history.
After Andrew Embly, who deserved his Norm Smith Medal, I thought Cox was the Eagles best player in the 2006 grand final.
It’s wonderful that the six-time All-Australian became the Eagles’ most capped player ever before he retired.
I really want Cox to be higher on this list – I really do – but the Eagles have had just too many great players.
4. Glen Jakovich
There’s no contest when the greatest West Coast Eagles defender is discussed.
Wayne Carey is the greatest AFL football player of all time.
Yet Jakovich not only often achieved parity with Carey – he sometimes dominated him.
The Jakovich-Carey rivalry often overshadowed what were the matches between the two best sides of the 90s. A bit like Tendulkar versus Warne, people sometimes forgot there were other players to focus on.
Often when Carey tried outrunning Jakovich, he got the better of him. But in the strength battles, Jakovich reigned supreme.
It’s a mark of respect to Glen Jakovich that Carey himself seems to admit Jakovich maybe got the better of him, but only a little.
With Ben Cousins, he’s the only player to win the John Worsfold Medal four times. Also with Ben Cousins, he’s the only player to win the John Worsfold Medal three times in a row (1993-1995).
Moreover, he won his last Best and Fairest in 2000. That speaks to his longevity.
3. Ben Cousins
I hope Ben Cousins’ off-field controversies don’t detract from his incredible football legacy.
There was a period in the early 2000s when Cousins was the Eagles’ only shining light.
He was by far and away their best player, and in fact he was quite unlucky not win the Brownlow Medal in a lacklustre 2003 West Coast Eagles side. I’m glad he won the Brownlow eventually – he could have won one or two more, if you ask me.
He won the Rising Star Award in 1996. He’s a Brownlow Medalist. He’s a six time All Australian, and a four-time best and fairest. Look at his cluster of Best and Fairest’s from 2001-2005 (only one year was interrupted by Judd).
He may have the greatest legacy of any West Coast Eagles player.
2. Peter Matera
There have been two great grand final performances that stick-out in my lifetime. The first was Gary Ablett Sr’s nine-goal haul in 1989. The second was Peter Matera’s five-goal haul in 1992. Matera’s grand final performance deserves to be better remembered than it is. Matera was, after all, a winger. Ablett was a full-forward and should be kicking goals.
Of Matera’s five goals, four of them were scored from outside 50 metres, often running at full speed – which for Matera was faster than anybody in the AFL at the time. A fifth goal was scored from 40 metres out on his non-preferred left boot.
When his awesome speed deteriorated, it didn’t stop him from being an All Australian player on the halfback flank. Matera is a five-time All-Australian, and I regard him with Andrew McLeod, as being one of the unluckiest players never to win the Brownlow Medal.
For me, as an Eagles fan, I will always cherish watching Peter Matera “set sailing for home and spiralling it through!”
1. Chris Judd
Determining whether Chris Judd or Peter Matera is the best West Coast Eagles player ever depends on how much you value peak form over longevity.
I have reservations over placing Judd at the top of my list when he has played half his career at Carlton.
Judd, at his peak, was the best West Coast Eagle I have ever seen. I have no doubt about that. In fact, I have no reservations saying that Chris Judd, in his peak, was the greatest AFL player I have ever seen.
Matera was not far behind, but enjoyed a longer career.
Maybe it’s the biased Eagles supporter in me, but to me, Judd was never the same at Carlton as he was at West Coast. Yes, he won the Best and Fairest at Carlton a few times, along with a Brownlow Medal to boot, but he wasn’t the player he was in the West.
The best I ever saw Judd play was in 2007. I believe that Judd polled 16 Brownlow votes in eight rounds – the only player to poll in eight consecutive rounds in Brownlow history. After that, however, he polled no votes. His season was ruined due to injury.
I can’t explain it, but for me Judd never had the same magic with Carlton. Maybe it was the fact that Judd was playing with the greatest midfield I’d ever seen, with the greatest ruckman I’ve ever seen.
Cox, Cousins, Judd, and Kerr. With a midfield like that, you didn’t need to a great forward line to win a grand final.
We’ll never forget Judd scoring five goals against Brisbane in what Chad Fletcher called, “The best individual game by anybody in my era.” That was the Brisbane Lions of 2003 – the dynasty, the greatest football side I ever saw, being lacerated by Judd.
One almost gets melancholy watching Judd these days. I once thought he’d be remembered as the greatest AFL player of all time. Now Gary Ablett Jn has well and truly overtaken him as the player of his generation.
If there’s one thing I miss about Judd, it’s how he used to break tackles off the mark. You would swear a player had him wrapped up, and with incredible speed away from the pack, or with a swivel of the hips, he’d break tackles that ordinary players would fall under.
I’d never seen that before, and dare I say it, I’ve seldom seen him like that at Carlton.