THEY will be a little older, but a lot wiser.
And on Saturday, the survivors from West Coast’s 2015 Grand Final will have the chance to atone for their 46-point horror show against Hawthorn.
If, as expected, the Eagles remain unchanged after a preliminary final demolition of Melbourne, 12 players will step back onto the biggest stage to face Collingwood.
But this time there won’t be the same wide-eyed wonder for many of Adam Simpson’s side.
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“It’s a few years ago now, but I took a lot of great learnings away from it in terms of how to deal with it throughout the week and what you need to do to best prepare yourself to play in a big final,” midfielder Dom Sheed told AFL.com.au.
There was a sense the Eagles were just happy to be there in 2015, when 19 Eagles had their first taste of a season decider.
This time around there is steely resolve and calmness flowing through a settled line-up.
Just nine players – Tom Barrass, Tom Cole, Liam Duggan, Scott Lycett, Jack Redden, Willie Rioli, Liam Ryan, Nathan Vardy and Daniel Venables – are set for their first experience in front of 100,000 spectators.
Watching on will be three key Eagles – talismanic ruckman Nic Naitanui (knee), onballer Andrew Gaff (suspension) and reliable defender Brad Sheppard (hamstring) – suffering Grand Final heartache.
Gaff, who picked up 34 touches, and Sheppard were among the few who stood tall on a dark day three years ago, and Simpson felt for the sidelined stars after watching his side destroy the Demons.
“My experience tells me over the journey you’ve really got to rely on your squad,” the West Coast coach said post-match.
“It’s a squad mentality, but when you get players who are potentially in our top 10 – or definitely top 18 – that if they were available they’d probably play, your first thought is you feel for them a little bit.
“Whilst everyone’s celebrating, there would be a little part inside them that’s hurting, so we just acknowledge that.”
Andrew Gaff and Nic Naitanui in the rooms after the Eagles reached the Grand Final. Picture: Getty Images
But Naitanui, Gaff and Sheppard won’t be the only Eagles, past and present, experiencing mixed emotions this week.
Eric Mackenzie missed out in 2015 due to a knee reconstruction, and persistent toe issues have forced the club champion full-back to hang up the boots without playing a game this season.
Brownlow medallist Matt Priddis, who was contracted for this year but read the play and called time at the end of 2017, might also wonder ‘what if?’.
Priddis was part of an exodus of senior Eagles last year as the club hit the refresh button.
The sole remaining 2006 premiership player, injury-plagued Sam Butler, rode off into the sunset and ex-Pies flag-winner Sharrod Wellingham wasn’t offered a new deal.
Small forward Josh Hill, Xavier Ellis, Callum Sinclair – now at the Swans – and Matt Rosa round out the West Coast 22 which wilted in the MCG cauldron in the hottest VFL/AFL Grand Final on record three years ago.
Gun midfielder Elliot Yeo is among those haunted by his performance, with the then 21-year-old only touching the ball five times.
Only Naitanui and back-up ruckman Sinclair (four) had fewer disposals.
Dual Coleman medallist Josh Kennedy was held scoreless by James Frawley, while Jack Darling’s dropped chest mark when the Eagles were coming in the third quarter has come to symbolise the nightmare at the ‘G.
Inevitably, the build-up to this year’s decider will be dominated by talk of West Coast’s capitulation last time, but for at least one Eagle, wingman Chris Masten, the team’s poor performance no longer burns.
“Not really. Early on, yeah, and it gives you a bit of motivation and then as I get a little bit older I’ve got to worry about other things now, I can’t be worrying what happened three years ago,” Masten told AFL.com.au.
“There’s that desire that you’ve always had and you know what it takes to get there and how hard it is to get there now.
“But other than that, I’m not spending too much time on it.”
West Coast’s 2015 Grand Final team
B: Sharrod Wellingham, Will Schofield, Shannon Hurn
HB: Sam Butler, Jeremy McGovern, Brad Sheppard
C: Chris Masten, Matt Priddis, Elliot Yeo
HF: Andrew Gaff, Jack Darling, Jamie Cripps
F: Mark LeCras, Josh Kennedy, Josh Hill
R: Nic Naitanui, Mark Hutchings, Luke Shuey
INT: Dom Sheed, Xavier Ellis, Callum Sinclair
Sub: Matt Rosa
West Coast’s 2018 preliminary final team
B: Shannon Hurn, Tom Barrass, Will Schofield
HB: Liam Duggan, Jeremy McGovern, Lewis Jetta
C: Mark Hutchings, Luke Shuey, Chris Masten
HF: Mark LeCras, Jack Darling, Liam Ryan
F: Willie Rioli, Josh Kennedy, Jamie Cripps
R: Scott Lycett, Elliot Yeo, Jack Redden
INT: Dom Sheed, Daniel Venables, Nathan Vardy, Tom Cole
2015 Grand Final teams compared
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West Coast’s selected 22 v Melb
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* supplied by Champion Data
Source: AFL FOOTBALL NEWS