Western Australia will come to a standstill when the West Coast Eagles and Fremantle Dockers lock horns in Western Derby XLIX at Optus Stadium this Saturday night.
The 49th edition of the state’s biggest sporting event will come eight months after what many consider to be the most spiteful derby in recent history, and for very good reason.
It was in the previous meeting between the two sides where one piece of stupidity from Andrew Gaff saw him cop an eight-match suspension from the AFL judiciary, sidelining him from the Eagles’ premiership win in September.
Midway through the third quarter, at which point the Eagles were leading by 50 points, Gaff swung a punch to the face of Freo’s Andrew Brayshaw.
The result? Brayshaw suffered a broken jaw and was not able to eat solid food for at least a month.
It was the most sickening on-field incident off the ball since Barry Hall’s brutal punch to the face of Brent Staker a decade earlier, and worse than the blow to the head Harris Andrews copped from an errant Jeremy Cameron elbow at the Gabba earlier in the 2018 season.
A number of fights ensued after Gaff’s brain fade before the Eagles restored order, winning by 58 points.
It added to a history of spiteful derbies since the fixture’s inception in 1995, including the infamous ‘Demolition Derby’ of 2000 and the Selwood-Headland saga of 2007, in which the former made offensive comments about the latter’s daughter.
Gaff was sent straight to the judiciary the following day, where he copped the longest suspension for any player in a decade. He watched the grand final from the MCG stands, and the missed the first two rounds of this season.
He returned from suspension last week, picking up 35 disposals as the Eagles defeated the Pies in a rematch of last year’s decider at the MCG.
Unsurprisingly, he and Dom Sheed – whose goal from a tight angle with less than two minutes remaining sealed the Eagles’ premiership – were booed loudly by the pro-Collingwood crowd.
But both held their composure, as Sheed nailed a final-quarter goal to again sink the hearts of the Pies fans.
Fremantle, on the other hand, withstood a furious final quarter fightback from St Kilda at home last Sunday, hanging on to win by five points and move to 2-1 for the season.
This followed on from their 82-point thrashing of North Melbourne at home, and their three-point loss to the Gold Coast Suns at Metricon Stadium in Round 1 in which they were run down in the final quarter.
With both sides 2-1 for the season, this Saturday night’s Western Derby will prove to be crucial to their chances of making the finals in 2019.
While the Eagles are expected to again feature at the business end of the season, the Dockers have recruited strongly, landing the likes of Rory Lobb, Jesse Hogan and Travis Colyer in their bid to return to September for the first time since 2015.
Adam Simpson’s side will be the home side for the first of the two derbies in 2019, but it wouldn’t be surprising if Andrew Gaff cops it from the Freo faithful, given the events of Round 20 last season.
Two-time Coleman Medallist Josh Kennedy has pleaded for Eagles fans not to boo Brayshaw, saying that there was no point in doing so after both players moved on from it.
In fact, Gaff and Brayshaw shook hands prior to a pre-season match between the two sides in March, which the Eagles won by ten goals (pre-season matches do not count towards a player’s suspension).
But come Saturday night, any friendships the players may have will be put aside as the two teams go to war in front of 60,000 fans at Optus Stadium.