West Coast's narrow AFL semi-final loss to Collingwood has underlined the importance of finishing the home and away season in the top four, says coach John Worsfold.
The Magpies' 10.13 (73) to 9.6 (60) win at the MCG on Saturday night meant that for the 11th time in the 13 seasons the current finals system has been in place, all four teams that ended the minor rounds in the top four reached the preliminary finals.
Last year, the Eagles were on the other side of the ledger, finishing fourth and scraping past fifth-placed Carlton in a home semi-final.
West Coast had their chances on Saturday night, leading throughout the first half, and after Collingwood pushed ahead in the third term, the Eagles again hit the front early in the last.
But Worsfold said the message he delivered his players post-match was about the season as a whole.
"I've spoken to them and said improve, we've got to get better," Worsfold said.
"We finished fifth, won a final, lost the next one, the top four teams generally get through and that's where we've got to get to.
"It's a pretty strong indicator. The top four most years have been the final four left."
The Eagles' critical moment on Saturday night came after they had kicked the first two goals of the last quarter to regain a two-point lead.
Minutes later, veteran Andrew Embley had the ball in defence under little pressure.
But he stubbed his kick badly and it went only a few metres to Collingwood's Dayne Beams, who found teammate Tyson Goldsack for a simple mark and goal.
It put the Magpies in front and the Eagles did not score again.
"There was a real fine line, a couple of things that happened that went their way, not our way," Worsfold said.
Despite finishing one spot lower on the ladder than last year, Worsfold said the Eagles had improved.
He named Nic Naitanui, Jack Darling, Andrew Gaff, Brad Sheppard, Chris Masten, Luke Shuey, Patrick McGinnity, Eric Mackenzie and Will Schofield as players that had made significant strides, while Josh Hill proved a useful recruit.
"We've still got to get better again and there is no doubt more improvement within the group," he said.
Collingwood will now travel to Sydney to face the Swans at ANZ Stadium on Friday night (5.50pm WA time), while the other preliminary finals will see Hawthorn face Adeladie at the MCG on Saturday (3.15pm WA time).