Jeremy Barnard was a satisfied coach as he stood on the Leederville Oval boundary counting down the last few minutes of East Perth’s stirring win over Claremont on Saturday.
Not only did it mean he would have two reasons to celebrate when he joined his 2002 premiership team-mates upstairs in the clubrooms but, more importantly, it signalled that East Perth had finally found the path they had been seeking since appointing Barnard four years earlier.
And the win, or rather the make-up, profile and attitude of the team that produced the club’s best win of the season and perhaps best of Barnard’s 53-game tenure, should trigger an immediate board response.
Barnard, who was reappointed on a one-year deal late last season, should have his contract extended as soon as possible.
And after quibbling over whether he was the best person for the job, which led to the highly unsatisfactory half-pregnant short extension, East Perth should support their premiership hat-trick captain with a new three-year contract.
When East Perth and West Coast separated after the 2018 season in what was a mostly amicable divorce, president Bronte Howson announced that the club expected to finish the next year in the bottom three on the ladder, the following season in the middle three and the third year in the top three and competing for a premiership.
That seemed overly optimistic at the time and now, in hindsight, simply fanciful. Barnard was judged against that ambitious agenda yet did not have the players capable of delivering it. But things are starting to change within a neat balance of development, recruitment and role adjustment. Debutant Tom Graham, second-gamer Mitch Schofield and fellow rookie Sam van Diemen are all local products and all showed plenty of promise against the Tigers.
And Damon Greaves, a 10-game Hawthorn player after being drafted in 2019, is now starting to find his feet at WAFL level after returning this year. Graham has a rich Royals heritage with his father Richard playing 107 games at the club while his great-grandfather Leo Graham – who is recognised in the Upper Great Southern fairest-and-best medal – was a 1936 premiership player and Narrogin stalwart.
He was one of nine players who stood 191cm or taller in the win over Claremont, a clear advantage to his team with its capacity to set up one-on-one marking contests down the ground. Tom Medhat, Jack Cooley and Kyle Hamersley are thriving at their second WAFL club while Angus Schumacher and Hamish Brayshaw are displaying the class that got them onto AFL lists.
Barnard’s biggest win has been his decision to deploy Stan Wright in defence where the penetrating left-footer has been such a revelation that he could be leading the fairest-and-best count. Barnard has not been noted for his tactical prowess but the Wright move has been a game-changer and provides East Perth with a poised and potent springboard to set up their attacks.
Wright is one of East Perth’s eight country zone players – the most of any WAFL club last round – in a clear indication of the golden harvest provided by the club’s rich south-west region.
Barnard received a rousing reception when he walked into the East Perth bar on Saturday night with the loudest cheers coming from the team-mates he captained to a flag 20 years ago. The board members in the room might get a similar reception if they make the right decision in the next week or so.
Wednesday hero: Troy Yukich has been a journeyman footballer throughout a career that has brought just 34 games in seven seasons at Swan Districts and West Perth. But he could be a premiership player by the end of the season. It has been a slow burn but Yukich’s work in the ruck and around the ground continue to improve to the extent that he is almost a guaranteed selection for the first time in his career. And that would please no one more than his father Graeme, the former West Coast board member, whose one appearance for Swans was in the infamous national league game against Richmond in 1982.
IMAGE: WA Football