Headache for Demons after win slips away
IT TOOK until the 19-minute mark of the final quarter for West Coast to settle this.
That was when 179cm forward Liam Ryan soared over Melbourne's 208cm ruckman Max Gawn for the mark and the goal that won a thriller.
Gawn, the dominant player on the ground for three quarters in a match the Demons would feel they should have won, was finally bested.
The Demons, who had done the Eagles in contested possession, shots on goal and won the first three quarters, were finally beaten.
The spirits of their opponents broken, West Coast eased clear to win by 16 points.
It was Melbourne's best performance of the season, but coach Simon Goodwin, while proud of his side's effort, rued poor goal-kicking that cost the Dees dearly.
"It was a young group that travelled to Perth and showed a lot of fight and a lot of resilience and played in the right way," Goodwin said.
"We gave ourselves some opportunities with the way we played, but our accuracy hurt us in the end.
"That left the door ajar, and West Coast to their credit were good enough to walk through it.
"We came over here with a fairly young side against a mature side. I thought we really took it up to them.
"That's as close to the brand of footy that we've wanted to play for a number of weeks."
The Demons had three players forced off with concussion - Tim Smith, Christian Salem, and Alex Neal-Bullen - with the trio in doubt for next Sunday's clash with Greater Western Sydney at the MCG.
If the Eagles had Ryan to thank for sending his team to the front after it had been behind most of the night, they had skipper Shannon Hurn, midfielder Elliot Yeo and forward Josh Kennedy to thank over the course of the match.
Hurn had 33 disposals, at 93 per cent efficiency. Yeo laid 16 tackles and had 18 contested possessions. Kennedy kicked four goals when his team was hammered 62-47 in the inside-50 count.
It was a sad irony that it was Gawn who got ridden in the critical moment. He had been the engine driving his brave team for much of the night.
He finished with 56 hit-outs, 15 disposals and seven clearances. He had great support from James Harmes and Clayton Oliver, but the Demons would know they lost this because they missed easy chances and the Eagles took tough ones.
It was the story for most of the night. Melbourne started and finished the first quarter well but didn't finish its work as cleanly as the home side and a three-goal Eagles burst in four minutes threatened to blow the game apart, as West Coast had in last year's preliminary final.
But Christian Petracca and Jayden Hunt kicked steadying goals to give the Dees a narrow lead at the first break.
Hunt owed his goal to the phenomenal work rate of Oliver, who had three handball involvements in a chain of possession starting at half-back.
Tom McDonald also enjoyed a big first term, while Eagles skipper Hurn had nine possessions and was able to hold up several Melbourne attacks.
The Dees still held a four-point lead at half-time after the second quarter was split at two goals apiece, but the Eagles had suffered a blow with Daniel Venables crushed in a marking contest and taken off on a stretcher.
As Gawn was doing a number on the Eagles' ruckmen, Oliver and Harmes were working hard through the middle and, if not for Yeo, the Eagles could have been in bigger trouble.
Melbourne was 19 points clear at the 24-minute mark of the third term, when Jeff Garlett kicked his third goal, and it probably should have been more like 40.
Petracca had played well but squandered at least three chances and Tom McDonald's match was a similar story.
He was goalless despite providing a strong target in attack.
And that came back to bite the visitors.
The Eagles booted the first three goals of the final quarter to take the lead - Luke Shuey from the pocket, Jamie Cripps and Dom Sheed on the snap.
The Dees levelled through a Hunt goal, but when Ryan stood on Gawn's head, it was the heartbreaker for the Demons.