As the cut-throat pressure of finals football begins, Eagles may be forced to pull a selection surprise


Updated September 02, 2019 14:38:56

Ask any football person and they will tell you finals football is different to regular season football.

It is faster, there is more pressure, every decision could impact the outcome of the match and it is sudden death — if it all goes wrong there is no “next week”.

That is the case for West Coast, with a fifth-placed finish leaving the defending premiers without the valuable double-chance and home finals combo that comes with a top-four finish.

In the do-or-die environment that awaits them, the Eagles could be tempted to return to the proven combinations of last year’s successful campaign — and that could see veterans play an integral role in September.

Two players who fit into that category are Chris Masten and Will Schofield.

The pair have played just 25 games this year between them, as injury and a selection squeeze saw them unable to cement spots in the best 22.

But in the pressure cooker of finals football, they would bring ample AFL experience and, in particular, finals nous, which could be the difference between winning and losing.

Finals rookies versus experience

Four members of the Eagles side that lost to Hawthorn in round 23 have not played a single final ahead of Thursday’s cut-throat clash with Essendon at Perth Stadium.

Oscar Allen is a second-year player, as are Jake Waterman and Jack Petrucelle, while Jackson Nelson has never experienced a finals game since arriving on the scene in 2015.

The four have a combined 125 career AFL games.

In contrast Schofield has 188 to his name alone, while Masten has 213.

The counter to that is a passing glance at last year’s qualifying final team, which also had four players without finals experience, including two players in just their first year of AFL football in Willie Rioli and Liam Ryan.

Those two, along with Tom Cole and Dan Venables, went on to play in the cliffhanger grand final win over Collingwood.

Leaky defence may swing the balance

In the final three rounds of this season, the Eagles conceded scores of 80 points or more each time, while the round 23 loss to Hawthorn 16.9 (105) to 9.13 (67) yielded the side’s second-highest conceded score for the season.

Usually secure and reliable players, such as key back Tom Barrass, endured matches they would rather forget.

“Unfortunately when you play in the last line, you save the day six or seven times, which [Barrass] does every week, and then you miss a couple of predictable moments and the spotlight comes on,” Eagles coach Adam Simpson said.

“We think that’s a little unfair when we look at what we value.”

There is no question Barrass will hold his spot in the team for the elimination final against the Bombers, along with Jeremy McGovern and captain Shannon Hurn, unless injury strikes.

But Simpson could be tempted to compliment those tall defenders with Schofield.

He was lauded for his role in the four-point win over the Magpies to take last year’s premiership and has featured in two grand finals. He would also be the perfect fit to dampen the impact of Jake Stringer or Shaun McKernan.

It means a player who has played just 34 of a possible 71 games could return for the finals at the expense of a younger emerging talent.

It is a headache for the Eagles selectors, but with everything on the line now is the time for tough decisions.

Topics: australian-football-league, sport, perth-6000, wa

First posted September 02, 2019 14:37:30

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