The West

Eagles out to gatecrash finals
Chris Masten.

The path to a West Coast finals berth lies through the "gateway" up the corridor at Etihad Stadium in today's season-defining clash with Essendon, according to midfielder Chris Masten.

He revealed quick, direct ball movement was the key to West Coast's stunning revival.

The match against Essendon has become a virtual elimination final, with the winner in the box seat to feature in September.

The Eagles play cellar dwellers Melbourne next round then Gold Coast, who have hit the wall, at Metricon Stadium in the final set of home-and-away fixtures and would be favoured to win both.

A loss today would put them two wins behind at least two and possibly four finals rivals, with just two matches remaining.

Essendon are eighth and face Gold Coast at Etihad Stadium and Carlton at the MCG in the last two rounds.

Masten said West Coast had gone backwards to go forward under rookie coach Adam Simpson, but the work was now paying off. He also spoke of his own development, urging critics to look beyond his tattoos and see a footballer who was working as hard as possible to improve.

"We are moving the ball a lot better - fast and through the gateway, so that is helping our forwards be one on one and kick goals," Masten said.

"It took a little while to get the hang of it and we probably had to go backwards to go forwards until the middle of the season, but it is paying off now."

Masten said the quick approach had helped the team get the ball in the hands of elite kicks Shannon Hurn, Luke Shuey and Andrew Gaff.

"You need the boys who use the ball very well to have it in their hands and Shannon stands out," Masten said.

"Every time he has the ball something happens. We have been able to get them the footy and free other blokes up, but the reason we have been able to get them the footy is that we have moved the ball well and they are never out of the game."

Masten revealed he has had to adapt to a wing/half-forward role under Simpson.

The 25-year-old, the third player picked in the 2007 national draft, said he had arrived in AFL football "a boy" unprepared for a "man's game", but had learnt to work hard to improve.

He was aware of criticism from pundits and some fans because of perceptions arising from his heavily-tattooed arms and legs.

"I am not sure what the perception out there is, but I am doing everything I possibly can to be a core member of the team and to help us win on game day," he said.

"It took me three or four years to realise that you need to work so hard off the field to get the benefits on the field on game day."

The criticism had stung at times.

"I try not to let it get to me, but every now and then you hear some of the stuff," Masten said.

"I have the tatts but I am a footballer first and everything I do at the football club is to be the best footballer I can be.

"I feel like sometimes people don't get to see that side of me.

"Some people take this attitude that 'he has got tatts so he probably doesn't really care'. That couldn't be further from the truth. I work as hard as I possibly can to get better."

The West Australian

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