Eagles top four hopes still alive
Eagles' top four hopes still alive

West Coast's top-four hopes are alive - just.

Geelong's are probably dead, but only after a mighty fight at Patersons Stadium last night in which the Cats defied injury, including the loss of powerhouse forward Tom Hawkins, before succumbing 16.6 (102) to 15.7 (97).

It took the expertise of champion big man Dean Cox and ground-level offsider Daniel Kerr to get the Eagles home.

It was a great match that could have done without the interference of overzealous umpires Matt Stevic, Justin Schmitt and Troy Pannell, who paid what must have been a record nine deliberate out-of-bounds frees, including two in the tense dying minutes as the undermanned Cats desperately tried to bridge the gap.

In the end, they came up just short. Cox reigned supreme in the ruck and drifted forward to kick three goals. His combination with Nic Naitanui in the ruck eventually told on Geelong big men Orren Stephenson and Josh Walker.

Kerr overcame the early midfield dominance of Steve Johnson to be the best midfielder on the ground, with 29 possessions, seconding late support from Andrew Gaff, Luke Shuey and Matt Priddis.

In the 37 dramatic minutes that made up this game's first quarter, Geelong looked in danger of running out of players but the Eagles still looked like a team that might have run out of form.

The Eagles got the first two goals of the game - one a goal square job for Cox after the normally reliable Corey Enright had muffed a handball and the second a straight- forward lead, mark and goal for Quinten Lynch.

It was a promising start, but then the ghosts of the last few weeks started swirling around the Eagles again as Hawkins exerted one-on-one dominance on Eric Mackenzie and the Cats eased their way out to an early lead.

Hawkins goaled from a free kick after out-muscling Mackenzie in a marking duel, Allen Christensen goaled after a Tom Swift high tackle and James Podsiadly got a third goal with a brilliant around the corner set shot after Eagles skipper Darren Glass had wandered out of bounds deliberately.

But at the 22-minute mark, Hawkins crashed a pack, then crashed to the ground head first.

Mathew Stokes goaled from the spillage, but Hawkins was gone from the game - indeed gone from the conscious world for a couple of minutes and the match seemed primed to turn.

Minutes later, Christensen was clutching at his left arm and when you added the losses of James Kelly, Paul Chapman, Billie Smedts and Josh Hunt before the game, the Cats were in crisis.

Adam Selwood tried to make the crisis worse, lining brother, Geelong captain, Joel up on the boundary line, but came off second best in the bump and then had insult added to his injury with his younger brother taking issue with him as he was in pain on the ground.

Adam recovered but the Eagles could not seem to translate the obvious edge in manpower onto the scoreboard.

With Johnson playing like a man possessed all over the ground, the Cats found ways to score and keep their noses in front all of the way to the half-time break. Johnson had amassed an extraordinary 10 clearances, 14 contested possessions and 19 touches by the main break.

Geelong's four second-quarter goals were a mix of ingenuity, talent and luck.

Taylor Hunt and Steven Motlop goaled on the run after fast breaks, Stokes curled one round the corner after Mackenzie was pinged for deliberate out of bounds and youngster Jordan Murdoch launched a 55m bomb.

At the other end, the Eagles were relying on their ruckmen to keep them in touch. Cox went to the main break with three goals, Naitanui with two.

Each of the ruckmen had kicked one of their goals from great juggling marks, but they were the nearest thing the Eagles had to attacking targets.

Lynch was the only permanent forward to have hit the scoreboard.

Depending on how you viewed it, this was either a massive concern or represented massive room for improvement.

In the third quarter, it looked like it was the improvement that would apply. Kerr had been good in the first half, but lifted another notch in the third.

As Johnson faded, the Eagles champ became the dominant midfield influence in the match.

Kerr had seven possessions in the third term, six of them in contests, one of them was a goal.

The loss of tall target Hawkins in Geelong's attacking 50 started to tell. Both the Cats goals for the term were kicked by James Podsiadly, but if he didn't mark the ball inside forward 50 no one did.

Meanwhile the Eagles ruckmen weren't getting any shorter.

Naitanui and Cox didn't kick a goal for the term, but Naitanui was a constant threat in attack and forced the spillage that resulted in a Shuey goal while Cox's influence was big all over the ground.

West Coast outscored the Cats four goals to two in the third term to close up to a single point at three-quarter time and when Lynch took a strong mark and goaled inside a minute of the last quarter, the Eagles led for the first time since the 18-minute mark of the first term.

Geelong rallied and briefly grabbed back the lead through a Jonathan Simpkin goal, but the momentum was with the Eagles.

A hat-trick of goals to Chris Masten, Gaff and Lynch put the issue beyond doubt - just.

Walker and Johnson kicked late goals to drag the Cats within a kick but when Naitanui pinched the ball from the last centre bounce of the game with eight seconds on the clock, the Cats, brave as can be, had finally run out of lives.

The West Australian

Popular videos

Compare & Save

Our Picks

Compare & Save

More from The West