An understrength West Coast AFLW side took the fight up to Richmond in a valiant eight-point defeat in the penultimate round of the regular season on Sunday.
Faced with a slog at a wet Swinburne Centre, the young Eagles were challenged by the home side’s experience in slippery conditions, but showed their trademark grit and determination in a 5.12 (42) to 5.4 (34) loss.
What was already a huge task without skipper Emma Swanson (suspension) and vice-captain Dana Hooker (foot) became even tougher for the visitors when Irish gun Aisling McCarthy (corked thigh) went down in the opening minutes.
And when Richmond opened up a 20-point lead at half-time it looked like too big an ask on a soggy outfield.
However, led by emerging star Mikayla Bowen (21 disposals, two goals) and Irish product Niamh Kelly (17 disposals), the Eagles soared back into the contest.
A three-goal third term – highlighted by Bowen’s stunning first major – got West Coast back into it and an against the odds victory looked on the cards.
But, despite closing to within a kick early in the last term, the Eagles and coach Daniel Pratt were left to rue a sluggish start as time ran out.
From the opening bounce West Coast’s backline was under siege, with the home side pounding the ball inside 50 (11-2 at quarter-time) and setting up a defensive wall to lock the ball in their forward half.
It was Richmond forward Tayla Stahl who did the damage, getting dangerous from close range and slotting both goals to give her side a handy 13-point buffer at the first break.
While McCarthy went off after an opponent came across her leg as she kicked, ever-improving Irish winger Niamh Kelly stepped up in familiar conditions.
The speedy Eagle has taken her game to another level in recent weeks and her defensive run helped keep the visitors in the contest, along with Kellie Gibson and tough nut Bowen.
But the Tigers’ stronger bodies were telling, and when star Katie Brennan snapped their third major it was going to be difficult to run down a 22-point margin in the second half.
Grace Kelly’s superb finish around her body gave the Eagles some hope early in the third stanza, before Bowen nailed a remarkable finish from the boundary line.
When Imahra Cameron converted a quick-thinking soccer from the goalsquare the margin was back to just two straight kicks.
The Eagles’ frenetic pressure continued into the final term but they were unable to hit the front in a hard-fought contest.
West Coast will return home for the team’s final game of its second season against St Kilda at Mineral Resources Park next Sunday.
Richmond 2.2 3.6 4.9 5.12 (42)
West Coast 0.1 0.2 3.3 5.4 (34)
Richmond: Stahl 2, Brennan 2, Bernardi
West Coast: Bowen 2, G.Kelly, Cameron, Pope
Richmond: Conti, McKenzie, Stahl, Wakefield, Brennan, Hosking
West Coast: Bowen, N.Kelly, Gibson, Ward, Lewis, Pope, Collier
West Coast: McCarthy (thigh), Collier (cheek)