||The team that no one backed is one step away from a fairytale Premiership after the Eagles shook off a hesitant start to defeat North Melbourne by 25 points in tonight's Preliminary Final. The Eagles now proceed to next weeks Grand Final - the club's first since raising the 2006 cup - where the opposition will be the Hawks who powered on past Fremantle last night.
It wasn't an easy win by any stretch, despite the Eagles going into the match as red hot favourites. North were determined to put up a fight, and early on dominated the game by continually getting the ball out the back quickly while the Eagles struggled to get the defensive lineups - notably the so called "Weagles Web" - working. With hard tags on key Eagles Shuey and Gaff, Goldstein getting the better of the highly anticipated ruck duel with Naitanui and Matt Priddis struggling to get the ball, the Roos managed to kick three goals to nil in the opening term to somewhat stun the pro-Eagles crowd.
The Eagles finally got on the board early in the second term through a bit of Josh Kennedy magic - after being smashed taking a brilliant contested mark, he managed to bounce up first and play on to run into an open goal. He followe up with another four minutes later to narrow the margin to under ten points. A goal to Taylor Garner stretched the Roos lead back out past two goals, but a goal in the dying minutes to Luke Shuey (along with a slew of behinds each way) saw the Eagles get the deficit back to under a goal - and it could have been a lead had the siren not blown on a high probability forward thrust. The quarter was notable for Priddis getting out of his shell and Kennedy providing a very dangerous forward option. With that, the Eagles started to get the run going that has stood in such great stead this year - though it still wasn't brillant, but it was sufficient to stop North Melbourne's easy transition.
If the Eagles run started to return in the second term, it was back with avengance in the third. Priddis and Mark Hutchings led the runners, with a cameo from Luke Shuey in this term. A bit of individual brilliance from Priddis to gather the ball in a pack and break free for a shot on goal finally got the Eagles a lead (along with more behinds of course), though North regained the lead for the final time with a goal to Shaun Higgins eight minutes in to the term. The Eagles then regained the lead with a rare goal to Sharrod Wellingham (who was brilliant all night), then one from a soft free kick to Jack Darling extended the lead further. It stretches to 17 points when Dom Sheed nails a snap then to 22 when Shuey's cameo results in a goal when he tears away from North and nails one.
The final term opens with the Eagles up by 21, and that's extended to 29 when LeCras kicks his first and only for the night (he wasn't bad, but wouldn't want to be wasteful in front of goals again next week). Of course, there's a bunch of behinds involved all over the place. The game is sealed, signed and delivered when Josh Hill drops a sitter but then recovers brilliantly to snap a goal anyway - that's Hill for you, and the margin's a safe 35 points with about 15 minutes to play. The Roos get a couple of late goals to restore a bit of respectability to the scoreline, but it's a bridge too far, and the Eagles finish up the game with a 25 point lead.
What stood out in this game was the outstanding performances of the defensive lineup. Sharrod Wellingham's past finals experience obviously stood him in good stead as he beat all comers in North's forwards to be a good candidate for BOG honours. Will Schofield kept the talls quiet in a very solid performance, Brad Sheppard recovered from early nerves to be a great contributor and Shannon Hurn just went about his business as did Jeremy McGovern, who still looked a little sore. For a makeshift defensive unit, they've been brilliant this year.
Josh Kennedy led the rest of the team, though only kicking 2.3, he played a brilliant role up the ground, ending up with 20 touches. The Roos put hard tags on Gaff and Shuey, restricting their input, but they couldn't hold back Priddis and Hutchings who put in outstanding efforts, while Elliot Yeo also performed well in the midfield. Nic Naitanui might have lost the ruck duel with Goldstein, but won the battle around the ground. All in all, a tough challenge, but a great result, and the Eagles are off next week to the MCG for a chance a glory.