A little older and much wiser, the West Coast Eagles learned from their experiences of 1991 as they prepared to play a familiar foe during the 1992 finals series.
Twelve months earlier the club hosted the first final outside of Melbourne, made a few errors both on and off-field, banked the knowledge and put it into practice for this match.
Under a complex final six structure, the Eagles finished fourth and played fifth-placed Hawthorn at Subiaco. To complicate that situation further, a curve ball was delivered on the eve of that game in the west.
A premiership is never won on a single day. Rarely is merely a reward for a year’s work either. It takes time, years of toil, meticulous planning and smart implementation of those ideas before it all comes to its remarkable climax.
So many things have to go right. Pieces of a massive jigsaw have to fall into place at that utopic moment.
In 1992, when the West Coast Eagles claimed Australian football’s grand prize for the first time, the first significant breakthrough was delivered on the eve of the first elimination final.
A final six was in operation in that year in a 15-team competition with the top two (Geelong and Footscray) earning the right to a double chance and the other four clubs in the September action facing sudden death in week one.
The opening match threw the series upside down when St Kilda, placed sixth at the conclusion of the qualifying rounds, beat the third-placed Collingwood in the first elimination final. Under that system, the Saints advanced, Collingwood packed it in and the winner of the other elimination final would get a bonus lifeline.
What that meant was that after the first batch of finals, rankings were revised and the winner of the West Coast-Hawthorn clash would, after facing elimination initially, have the luxury of a double chance by qualifying for the second semi-final in week two.
So, on September 6, 1992 the outcome could hardly have been more contrasting. Lose and the campaign was over, win and the reward would be a gold-plated opportunity.
With both clubs aware of that situation going into the game there was a tense edge to the showdown.
Hawthorn continued a trend of clashes between the two clubs when they kicked the first four goals of the game. It had happened in the grand final a year earlier, repeated itself in a qualifying match in 1992 and then re-occurred in this fixture.
One could only hope another trend would prevail, with the team exploding out of the blocks then running out of juice and slipping to defeat.
The Hawks dominated the first 15 minutes with wingman Andrew Gowers in brilliant touch, while Darren Jarman also gave a clinical display of his immense skill and Anthony Condon was a telling force through the middle.
Jarman, Gowers, champion forward Jason Dunstall and the immaculately skilled Paul Hudson all hit the scoreboard early in an ominous start.
West Coast coach Mick Malthouse knew something had to change, so he shifted Chris Waterman from half-back onto the wing to stand Gowers and Chris Mainwaring pushed forward. Slowly, but surely the balance of play began to shift.
Just before quarter-time, Karl Langdon converted the Eagles first goal from the paint of 50 and minutes later star Hawthorn defender Chris Mew was forced from the ground with a game-ending groin injury.
The Hawks had enjoyed the benefit of the wind advantage in the first half hour and led 4.6 to 1.3 at quarter-time. If the Eagles were going to work their way back into the game it had to happen in the second term and so many of its stars, who enjoyed minimal impact in the opening term, needed to do their best work.
And so it transpired. Champion forward Peter Sumich inspired his teammates and kicked four goals for the term – two of them absolute gems. The first was a right foot snap over his left shoulder from near the boundary line while the third was vintage Sumich, a left foot snap, again near the boundary, but this time from outside 50.
With Sumich setting the game alight, ruckman Paul Harding excelling in the ruck, skipper John Worsfold having an impact at half-back and the class of Dean Kemp and Peter Matera rising to the top, the Eagles began to surge.
At the same time, Hawthorn’s woes deepened when skipper Gary Ayres, who had played forward because of an Achilles injury, was forced from the field having barely touched the ball, to join Mew in the dugout.
Dunstall and star rover John Platten ensured the Hawks still held a tenuous three-point advantage at the half, but there was little doubt the Eagles were well and truly in the game.
With their last use of the breeze, albeit a moderate south-westerly in the third term, Hawthorn needed to create some breathing space and wasted three early opportunities before Dunstall, who was receiving first-class delivery from the likes of Tony Hall, Jarman and Darrin Pritchard, finally converted.
That was his third and there was nothing Michael Brennan could have done about any of them as each was the result of taking a pass in front of his eyes and never needing to prop or break stride.
Mid-quarter, with consecutive goals to Don Pyke and Kemp, the Eagles drew level, but from that moment forward it was goal for goal. A telling moment came when Worsfold opted to put himself in the ‘hole’ in front of Dunstall and wore the brunt of the rampaging Hawk ace, only to pick himself ruefully off the ground to witness his immediate opponent, Hudson, kick his second for the match.
Worsfold would leave the ground as a result of that collision and while he returned late in the game, his influence on the result was complete.
It was in this term that Matera truly began to have a say in proceedings, working his way on top of arch rival Prichard and a magical moment came deep into the term when Mainwaring, who was also coming into the game at half-forward, charged at a ball just outside the attacking 50. Rather than taking possession, Mainwaring flicked it over his shoulder into the path of Matera who pounced and converted from about 40 metres.
It was an intriguing battle between two quality teams, neither prepared to concede an advantage. Hawthorn led by five points at the final change and retained belief, having won 13 of 14 matches in the season, when turning in front.
But when Brett Heady, well held by Ray Jencke for most the day, soccered the opening goal of the last term, West Coast hit the front for the first time since scoring a behind to begin proceedings. The Eagles were never again headed, but that did not mean a dull conclusion to the contest.
After Kemp read the ball brilliantly off hands forward of centre and spotted up Matera, who converted from 35 metres, it returned to a goal-for-goal shoot out. The defining moment, though, was a brilliant defensive play.
Guy McKenna, in his 100th game, pounced on Hall in the goal square and produced a text book tackle with just three minutes on the clock when the Hawk star looked poised to waltz into the open goal. That was to be the Hawks last opportunity as the Eagles completed a memorable 13-point triumph.
The club took advantage of the opportunities created by the victory, eclipsing Geelong by 38 points in the second semi-final and then claiming the first premiership by a non-Victorian club a fortnight later, again defeating the Cats in the grand final.
1992 Elimination Final
West Coast Eagles
GOALS – West Coast: Sumich 4; Peter Matera 3; Pyke, Langdon 2; Heady, Kemp, Lewis 1. Hawthorn: Dunstall 6; Hudson 2; Anderson, Jarman, Gowers, Platten 1.
BEST – West Coast: Kemp, Matera, Waterman, Pyke, Harding, Worsfold. Hawthorn: Gowers, Dunstall, Platten, Jarman, Taylor, Allan.