In defence of the Eagles, a masterful mix ‘n’ match

West Coast Eagles player Xavier Ellis (left) marks against the North Melbourne Kangaroos during the second preliminary final of the AFL at Domain Stadium in Perth, Saturday, Sept. 26, 2015. (AAP Image/Julian Smith) NO ARCHIVING, EDITORIAL USE ONLY
West Coast Eagles player Xavier Ellis (left) marks against the North Melbourne Kangaroos during the second preliminary final of the AFL at Domain Stadium in Perth, Saturday, Sept. 26, 2015. (AAP Image/Julian Smith) NO ARCHIVING, EDITORIAL USE ONLY JULIAN SMITH

WEST Coast is like a patchwork quilt - one that has had the best attacks, such as Hawthorn's, well covered at times in season 2015.

It is one that coach Adam Simpson has brought together out of necessity and need, but has been an incredible success story.

The absence of key defenders, Eric Mackenzie and Mitch Brown, with knee injuries for the entire season has been well documented.

But, it has allowed the revelation that has been Jeremy McGovern to step up at centre half-back and become the No.1 intercept marker in the competition.

Two years ago he was a yet-to-be-used rookie who had piled on the weight after end-of-season surgery, and sent packing from the club by new coach Simpson until he dropped the kilos.

It was a similar story for Xavier Ellis, the ex-Hawk who had been close to best on ground in their surprise 2008 grand final win over Geelong when playing midfield but had battled injuries ever since.

Simpson, a former Hawthorn assistant coach, had brought him over from Melbourne as a free agent when he arrived in late 2013, and the No.3 draft pick from 2005 admitted he was as fat as a house after battling an ongoing calf complaint.

He's played 31 games with the Eagles in two seasons after notching 16 in the previous three years at Hawthorn, helping setting up with his good ball use across halfback, alongside the equally skilled Sharrod Wellingham.

A 2010 premiership player with Collingwood, Wellingham looked to be at the crossroads last season after struggling to hold his place in the Eagles' line-up after switching from the Magpies, dropped three times and playing just 13 games after 10 the year before.

A move to defence for the former wingman has rejuvenated the 27-year-old's career, playing 23 games and arguably enjoying his best in the preliminary final win over North Melbourne (with 27 disposals).

For a No.7 draft pick from 2009, Brad Sheppard had too failed to get the best out of himself in five previous seasons, playing no more than 14 games in a year for a total of just 45, until a frank discussion with Simpson.

The cousin of Australian cricketers Shaun and Mitch Marsh now probably has a better defence than that pair as he's played every game in 2015.

Victorian Will Schofield and South Australian Shannon Hurn have been mainstays of the Eagles' defence, but have been forced to step up in their own ways.

Schofield, for so long the 'third tall' down back, now takes the biggest jobs, while Hurn has not only had to marshal the backline, but also the entire team after becoming captain.

- TERRY MALLINDER


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