Josh Kennedy stars with four goals to lead West Coast Eagles to famous four-point win over Richmond
West Coast’s two oldest players kept their heads to underline their enduring quality in a heart thumping crescendo, as the Eagles climbed off the canvas three times to knock over Richmond on the bell at Optus Stadium last night.
In front of a pulsating Sunday night crowd of more than 50,000, Josh Kennedy’s fourth goal with 36 seconds on the clock put the Eagles in front, having trailed by 22 points mid-way through the final term.
Another 33-year-old, Shannon Hurn, was then on hand in the defensive goal square to mark Dustin Martin’s attempt to win the game and Hurn held the ball in his safe hands until the siren sounded.
It signalled West Coast had completed one of their gutsiest triumphs by four points, 13.7 (85) to 12.9 (81).
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Ecstatic Eagles players charged off the interchange bench as if the team had clinched the premiership amid delirious scenes, with West Coast improving their record to 8-5 and breathing life into their slim top-four hopes.
The Eagles will have a bye and then welcome a host of stars back from injury as they target the fast finish that will be required to secure the double chance.
The eight-placed Tigers, so close to completing the second leg of their Perth mission, now look like they will have to defend their back to-back premierships from outside the top four after slipping to 7-6.
Oscar Allen and Nic Naitanui both had chances to play the hero in front of goal in the last quarter, with Allen twice missing set shots on a night the Eagles had ridden a sublime exhibition of finishing to that point.
West Coast’s only three behinds in the first three quarters were all forced through by the Richmond defence.
As veteran quartet Kennedy, Naitanui, Hurn and Jack Redden led the way, Naitanui soared to drag down a beauty in time-on of the last quarter in scenes reminiscent of his mark to sink North Melbourne at Subiaco Oval in 2013.
Shooting from fractionally further out this time, Naitanui missed but when Allen made amends shortly after by converting a free kick, the home side was within two points.
The Eagles went from end-to-end in the final minute to set up Kennedy’s winner, with Liam Ryan delivering a neat pass to the spearhead in the pocket.
With Jack Darling held scoreless by Nick Vlastuin, Kennedy’s fourth goal capped his best-on-ground outing.
The bearded forward looked to get a little too close to the man on the mark, but wheeled his right foot snap through the opening in characteristic fashion to bring the house down.
West Coast’s first seven scoring shots were goals, buffering them from a mini-storm in the second term when the Tigers first tried to make their move with four consecutive goals.
Richmond star Shai Bolton soared into the Perth sky in attempt to prove his MCG screamer was no fluke in the second term, leaping initially and then getting a boost on the shoulders of Tom Barrass before spilling the mark.
Bolton was a constant threat, but the Eagles’ defiance was symbolised by the gritty Jamie Cripps moments later.
Having come from the ground after his own hard landing earlier in the quarter, Cripps put Bolton in a vice after the WA product tried his own don’t argue.
The first goal of the third term took a tense 14 minutes, as Callum Coleman-Jones kicked his second and when Jason Castagna slipped out the back to follow it up the Tigers were clear by three goals and the alarm bells were ringing.
Ryan provided a crucial lifeline just before three-quarter time, with his set shot - West Coast’s only goal of the third term – coming on the back of some fortune after a hack forward from Naitanui fell into his arms.
A classy left-foot snap from Kennedy dragged the Eagles to within a kick to start the final term.
But when Martin punished a sluggish Luke Foley, who was generally excellent, by sliding home his second and the returning Kane Lambert added his second, it looked like it was over.
Nobody told the Eagles.
MOVES THAT MATTERED
Allen was moved into the forward-ruck role for the first time since round four, but was able to help stretch the Tigers defence when he started in the goal square and attracted Grimes. Allen kicked 2.2 to show he’ll have an influence regardless of his role.
Jackson Nelson often had the job on Martin, excellent with two goals from 23 touches, when he was forward and at times at midfield stoppages, while Nathan Broad went to Ryan and kept the Eagles high-flier grounded for the most part.
Kennedy tried to take opponents Noah Balta and Grimes up the ground to isolate partner Darling, but Vlastuin was up to the task and provided excellent rebound.
Despite a couple of blues, Foley played his best game for the Eagles to show he belongs at AFL level and was trusted to mind the dangerous Bolton at times.
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