Thrilling matches, tense finals, huge marks and a series of unforgettable storylines made the 2019 AFL season one to remember.
The evenness of the AFL’s top bracket of sides was shown by the fact just one win separated Geelong, who finished first, and the fifth-placed West Coast, while Greater Western Sydney went from sixth to reach the grand final after a stunning September run.
It was Richmond who would ultimately win the premiership, their second in three years, Damien Hardwick’s side finishing the season full of momentum.
A new campaign brings fresh hope for all 18 clubs, though, and our 2019 season reviews take a look at what went right, what went wrong, each side’s best players and how every club can improve.
The next team in the spotlight is West Coast.
- Ladder position: Fifth
- Eventual finish: Semi-finalists
- Home and away win-loss ratio: 15-7
- Home and away percentage: 112.5
West Coast Eagles AFL 2019 Season Performance Review
The reigning premiers lost three of their first six games and doubts were raised over West Coast’s ability to go back to back. Adam Simpson’s men did find their rhythm, though, and 12 wins from 14 had the Eagles back on track. Like Brisbane, West Coast faded at the wrong time of the year, with a six-point loss to Richmond followed by a Round 23 home clash against a Hawthorn side who missed the finals. Victory would have put the Eagles in the top four, but they were comfortably beaten, and although West Coast was far too good for Essendon in an elimination final, the club’s lack of a double chance proved costly after a 20-point loss to Geelong in an MCG semi-final.
Few things mean more to Eagles fans than wins over the Fremantle Dockers and they absolutely thrashed their fierce rivals in a one-sided Round 16 Western Derby. A 10-goal-to-one first half set up the rout but the Eagles refused to ease up and ended up posting a 91-point victory to delight their supporters. Fremantle kicked just two goals for the game as West Coast, through the likes of Andrew Gaff, Luke Shuey and Dom Sheed, controlled the game in the midfield. Jack Darling, Jamie Cripps and Jarrod Cameron all booted four goals in the victory. A 55-point win over the Bombers in the club’s first final was another high.
While the loss to Hawthorn was critical in West Coast’s season falling apart, the Eagles still believed they were good enough to win the grand final from outside the top four. To do that meant they needed four successive wins and after a big win over Essendon, hopes were high ahead of a trip to Melbourne to face a Geelong side with a patchy finals record. The Eagles were shell-shocked in the first quarter and went to quarter time trailing by 25 points, leaving them with plenty to do. West Coast was good enough to string a run of goals together and take the lead at the final change but was poor when it mattered as Geelong ran over the top of them to end West Coast’s season.
The best and fairest
New West Coast captain Luke Shuey edged Elliot Yeo for the John Worsfold Medal, the former winning the award for a second time. Yeo was aiming for a hat-trick of best and fairest awards at West Coast but Shuey – the 2018 Norm Smith Medallist – proved too strong in what was a terrific individual season. Shuey averaged just shy of 27 disposals per game in 2019. Defender Brad Sheppard was rewarded for his consistency with a third-place finish with prolific ball-winner Andrew Gaff fourth.
As expected, it was a battle between Shuey and Yeo for the most votes in the Brownlow Medal, with the umpires preferring Yeo’s body of work in 2019. Yeo finished equal 13th with 17 votes, while Shuey was two adrift with 15. Gaff polled 13 votes and 2018 Grand Final hero Dom Sheed won 12.
Four Eagles made the 22-man All-Australian team, with Jeremy McGovern and Shannon Hurn both featuring on the half-back line. The experienced pair are so crucial to West Coast’s rebound from the defence, a key feature of their gameplay under Adam Simpson. Jack Darling was named in a forward pocket after a strong season in front of goal and Yeo made the bench, meaning there was no place for Shuey. Shuey, Sheppard and Gaff were all named in the initial 40-man squad, though.
The goal kickers
Darling kicked the fourth-most goals in 2019, booting a very accurate 59.18 from 24 matches. Darling had only cracked the 50-goal barrier once previously, way back in 2012. He thrived last season, though, while Josh Kennedy was typically consistent adding a further 49. The two key forwards give the Eagles great focal points and they both provide plenty of opportunities for small forwards when they bring the ball to the ground. Liam Ryan and Cripps both kicked 30 goals in 2019, while youngster Jack Petruccelle added 21.
The reason to be hopeful
While West Coast finished fifth, they were just one win and percentage off top spot. The Eagles are traditionally hard to beat at their Perth Stadium base and still have a list brimming with talent on every line. Throw in the acquisition of star midfielder Tim Kelly from Geelong and there is no reason why the Eagles cannot return to premiership glory in 2020. Missing out in the finals is only likely to fuel them further, and a midfield containing Kelly, Shuey, Yeo, Gaff and Sheed should ensure West Coast return to the top four.