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West Coast Eagles

Self-belief helps West Coast defy the doubters

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - SEPTEMBER 29: Adam Simpson, coach of the Eagles embraces Mark LeCras, West Coast Eagles after the win during the 2018 Toyota AFL Grand Final match between the West Coast Eagles and the Collingwood Magpies at the Melbourne Cricket Ground on September 29, 2018 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Daniel Carson/AFL Media)
Adam Simpson embraces Mark LeCras after West Coast's Grand Final win

Before the season started, nobody gave West Coast hope of contending for the premiership.

That is, nobody except those inside the club.

Even through a campaign full of adversity, the Eagles never lost belief that they were building something special.

From senior coach Adam Simpson down, West Coast didn't ride the rollercoaster, refusing to get caught up in the hype after a stunning 10-1 start, or once a top-two spot had been locked in.

A sense of calmness and business as usual remained during the hyped build-up to the Grand Final, and even after the Eagles were steamrolled early by Collingwood in the decider. Norm Smith medallist Luke Shuey has no doubt who fostered that stability.

"A lot of it stems from the coach," Shuey told AFL.com.au.

"Simmo keeps it very level for us.

"He's been around success his whole career as a player, captain, assistant coach at Hawthorn and now here.

"He describes his time at North Melbourne, what won them their premierships is a tight playing group.

"He's stressed that since day one. He has amazing values and what he stands for as a man.

"When you play footy, as a coach, you want your players to want to play for you and every single bloke on the list and all the assistant coaches want to do it for Simmo."


2018 premiership coach Adam Simpson, and premiership captain Shannon Hurn

When CEO Trevor Nisbett predicted West Coast would play finals at the season launch, it was seen by many as an act of defiance in the face of expectations that the Eagles would tumble off the cliff this year.

Brownlow medallists Matt Priddis and Sam Mitchell headlined a host of departures as the AFL's oldest team reshaped with youth, and there was uncertainty about how long it would take for the Eagles to jell.

But what was overlooked was the senior core of A-graders who still remained, desperate to atone for their 2015 Grand Final shocker against Hawthorn.

"People have been writing us off for so long; since '15 people have been writing us off every week," Shuey said.

"Things go wrong, people try to bring us down, we have our culture questioned, but that's when the unity and the spirit of the playing group kicks in.

"We did (believe we could win the flag). 2015 is not that long ago. We've still got plenty of experienced players on the list who can play footy at a high level.

"Throw into that our young kids this year, who have performed in big games all season, we knew we were going to be around the mark.

"We just had to get everything else together and the unity and spirit of this club and the brotherhood is so special.

"You can't describe it, people won't understand on the outside.

"We love each other. We knew what we were capable of and we've finally done it."


Norm Smith medallist Luke Shuey after his career-defining performance

At last year's John Worsfold Medal presentation, Simpson spoke about a feeling that something special was brewing amongst the playing group.

The spirit shown in a round 23 farewell to Subiaco Oval, which clinched a finals berth, and then in an epic elimination final victory over Port Adelaide – when big-game player Shuey stood up again – gave the coach confidence few others shared.

Simpson revealed that a chat from Justin Langer – the champion former cricketer who is an Eagles board member and now Australian cricket coach – before last year's finals series had been the catalyst for West Coast's resolve during some turbulent times in 2018.

"We've faced a lot of adversity this year," he said.

"Resilience, five years in together, I feel like it's been about the squad this year. I feel like it's been about the collective.

"You could see it with the Bulldogs, you could see it with Richmond. There's a trend here (with premiership teams).

"The way this industry is there's so much pressure on our players, so trying to find that balance between the old-school coaching and identifying and having a bit of empathy for the modern-day player is really important.

"I'm just really proud of our players."

Star onballer Elliot Yeo has defended the Eagles' midfield from critics all year, going in to bat for the likes of Dom Sheed and Jack Redden, who both played key roles in the Eagles' premiership.

Sheed was dropped three times during the season, but was outstanding during finals after replacing Gaff, and was the Grand Final hero with an ice-cold set shot in the dying minutes.

"For Dom to kick that goal under pressure like that – I'll be buying him free beers until the end of his whole career, life, whatever, it's on me," Yeo told AFL.com.au.


Chris Masten, Elliot Yeo and Dom Sheed show off their premiership medallions

The Eagles were written off by many once Gaff joined Naitanui on the sidelines, but Yeo insisted they always believed in their squad's depth.

Now West Coast's fourth premiership cup is heading back across the Nullarbor, with critics like Robert Walls – who infamously tipped the Eagles to win the wooden spoon – silenced.

"Obviously Gaffy and Nic are really good players, and Sheppy (Brad Sheppard) as well, but we knew we had players who could come in and fulfill roles," Yeo said.

"We did that and that's why we're standing here with medals around our neck.

"Internally, it hasn't been a rollercoaster; externally a lot of people wrote us off and a lot of people wrote negative articles on certain individuals.

"I'm not going to name names but at the start of the year there's nothing better than proving people wrong and we did it, we proved everyone wrong.  

"What an experience."