The West

Tyson Stenglein, right , at training with Ben Cousins
Tyson Stenglein, <i>right</i>, at training with Ben Cousins

West Coast's charge up the ladder is just reward for coach John Worsfold after the criticism levelled at him during the 2007 drug furore, according to former midfield star Tyson Stenglein.

As the Eagles prepare to play their final home-and-away match against Adelaide at Patersons Stadium tomorrow night, Stenglein - a 100-game player at both clubs before retiring in 2009 - gave a rare insight into the emotional rollercoaster inside the club following the 2006 flag.

Stenglein hit back hard at critics who still claim the premiership was tainted by the drug problems which led to the sacking of Ben Cousins.

He said the dramatic one-point win over Sydney was the result of gruelling hard work that was essentially fuelled by the narrow loss to the Swans in the previous year's decider.

Now a Melbourne director for photographic design company spacebetween, Stenglein said only hindsight could have helped avoid the off-field issues which engulfed the club and prompted critics to claim Worsfold did not deserve to keep his job because of his alleged inaction during the saga.

"Obviously the people who say it was tainted weren't at training or watching how hard we trained," Stenglein said.

"It was an easy thing to say and a bit of a pot shot. To say that about John Worsfold, who had built it from the ground up, gone to training every day to train the guys and who had a vision was just a pot shot.

"At the Eagles, we had a really strong shared vision and I know we trained and deserved every- thing we got out of that grand final. I know the pre-seasons we put in and I know when we won it in 2006, it was a nice reward for effort because there was a lot of sacrifices made."

Stenglein admitted that being part of the leadership group which was charged with rebuilding the club's shattered culture and reputation, so soon after achieving the ultimate success, was as challenging as anything he had experienced.

With Cousins and premiership captain Chris Judd heading the exodus of key players and the AFL clamping down hard with the threat of significant sanctions, it was a massive task to set the club back in the right direction.

"You look back at your whole career and how it unfolded and looking back at that, those times were pretty wild times," he said.

"There were (media) cameras at the club every day and always something happening. Juddy calls it the wild west back in those times and he was right.

"To have that success and then be a senior player in a side that wasn't going well was quite challenging. I learnt a lot about leadership over that time and a whole different set of skills rather than just on the field like I'd seen before.

"You can play footy and build towards a flag, but when you're actually sitting in a boardroom with five other players and talking about other players missing training or drinking or whatever, it just takes your focus on what you're there for.

"At the end of the day, you're footy players and not there to solve the world. From my perspective, it was dealing with issues as they were coming up and there seemed to be a lot coming up so you were learning as you went.

"It was your own reality of what was happening around you. It was the situation we were in, so you weren't worrying about what was being said about you at the time.

Tyson Stenglein leads off the Eagles in 2009, his final season

"The media was talking about it because it was happening, so we had to deal with it and try and move forward. To decline and not have the success we'd had and to be part of the leadership trying to show the young guys the way was definitely a challenge.

"With hindsight, you could look back in terms of being a leader and acting on situations and say you could have tried to do some things differently. But in looking back on my footy career, I definitely don't have any regrets."

Despite having a year to run on his contract, Stenglein retired at 29 after Worsfold and football operations general manager Neale Daniher were clear his playing time would be limited as the club committed to blooding a host of new players.

He initially asked to be traded from Adelaide to West Coast because he was homesick.

Playing alongside childhood friend, Newborough Primary School classmate and former Subiaco and Karrinyup junior teammate Chad Fletcher was another key motivator.

But in his final two seasons, the Eagles recruited Chris Masten, Brad Ebert, Josh Kennedy, Scott Selwood, Patrick McGinnity, Luke Shuey, Tom Swift and Nic Naitanui to form the nucleus of the team Worsfold would use to unlock his next premiership window.

"I started getting a game with the Crows when we were going quite poorly, but felt like I was part of something from the ground building," he said.

"Then when I moved to the Eagles, we went from eighth to the (2005) grand final and playing in successful sides and winning football games is an awesome feeling. Looking back on the premiership is something you really savour and cherish and you can look back with a lot of satisfaction and be really proud of what you've achieved.

"But there comes the time when players know their club has a bigger picture in mind. I had a lot to do with those younger guys coming into the club and it's been nice watching their development."

Life after football was confronting in different ways for all players, even if they had worked to map out a career path.

Stenglein took an 11-month sabbatical, finding the world's best surfing breaks and learning Spanish before returning home last year to power up space- between with his sister Jennifer, a photographer of 10 years experience, and her partner Dave Clark, a graphic designer.

"It (retirement) came around pretty quick because I still had a year to run on my contract," he said.

"It came not so much verbally, but more as an understanding that they were going forward and didn't really see me in their next premiership window, and I understood that.

"It was definitely a transition period and as a senior player you're either in that next nucleus they see going forward … I don't think I was quite in that.

"I don't know if you're ever completely prepared for life after footy. You go from a team environment and being a professional athlete around motivated people in a team environment every day, to having your own life when you're only used to having that for a small period of time.

"A lot of the things I got from footy I still have now. I have a lot of structure and my own training program, a lot of things from the lifestyle I had for 12 years.

"The decision to invest some time into getting away from football and moving outside the bubble was a good one for me."

The West Australian

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