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Questions remain over Eagles as Dees throw season away

WEST Coast got out of jail. Melbourne blew it.

It was hard to escape those conclusions after Friday night’s remarkable rematch between last year’s preliminary final combatants at Optus Stadium.

When the dust settles from the Eagles’ barnstorming comeback, they will realise there are still some serious questions hanging over their premiership defence.

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For the Demons, the flight back to Melbourne will be a long four hours to contemplate how their season slipped away.

Up by 19 points in time-on of the third quarter and with All Australian ruckman Max Gawn (56 hitouts, seven clearances) firing up a combative midfield, a rousing upset was on the cards for Simon Goodwin’s decimated outfit.

Heading to the final change, Melbourne led all the key indicators – inside 50s (48-30), clearances (27-23) and contested possessions (112-102) – and had been the better side.

Dees talkin’ team work.#AFLEaglesDees

— AFL (@AFL) May 17, 2019

But at their ground of nightmares, the Demons must have felt like they were stuck in a bad dream as the Eagles clicked into top gear in a thrilling six-goal final term to win by 16.

From 3-6, only four of 43 teams since the turn of the century have recovered to reach the finals.

INJURIES MOUNTING But Dees on the improve

Despite the improved signs over the past month, particularly defensively, it’s almost impossible to envisage a run that salvages Melbourne’s campaign from here.

After a brave performance in the west, defeat will be a bitter pill to swallow.

The oval ball strikes again!

Dees extend the lead to 12. #AFLEaglesDees

— AFL (@AFL) May 17, 2019

For the Eagles, at 6-3, their top four dream and the flag defence remains well-and-truly alive.

If you are a glass half-full person, there is plenty to like about the fact Adam Simpson’s men are banking wins despite struggling to string four quarters together.

Since round four, the Eagles have done enough in tight games over Fremantle, Gold Coast, St Kilda and Melbourne, and been hammered by Port Adelaide and Geelong.

During that time, they have won only seven of 24 quarters.

Against the Dockers, a five-goal headstart was enough. The Eagles only managed five more for the game.

Their five-goal second term gave West Coast enough breathing space over the Suns, and a six-goal third quarter was too much for the Saints to bridge last round.

On Friday night, Melbourne won the first three quarters, albeit narrowly, before West Coast – like a good team does – found a way to win.

‘REALLY, REALLY PROUD’ Simmo happy to bank the four points

It was a victory for madness over method.

After an uninspiring three quarters, when West Coast tried to control the football and tempo and only kicked seven majors, plan A was thrown out the window.

There was only one option – to take the game on – and the frantic final 30 minutes was the type of football fans have been desperate to see all season.

Shuey from the boundary! #AFLEaglesDees

— AFL (@AFL) May 17, 2019

Luke Shuey’s controversial goal, which appeared to have been touched on the line, in the opening minute was the firestarter and Jamie Cripps’ follow-up from a tight angle was sublime.

But it was Liam Ryan’s gobsmacking mark and major that brought the crowd to their feet and ended Melbourne’s resistance.

FLYIN’ RYAN!! #AFLEaglesDees

— AFL (@AFL) May 17, 2019

Not often have the Eagles clicked into top gear this season but, when challenged, they at least know it can be found when they need it most.

There is no doubt the Eagles are missing Nic Naitanui, whose sheer presence simply makes his teammates walk taller.

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But with the talismanic ruckman out until after the round 13 bye, the Eagles just have to keep finding a way to win.

“I think we’re still a little bit inconsistent, we haven’t quite hit a four-quarter performance, but we’re winning. That’s the pleasing part,” Simpson said post-match.

“We’re 6-3 and hopefully setting up a really good platform for the second half of the season.

“But no, we’re not playing at our best.”