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Micale call to disband West Coast reserves comes from deep knowledge

John Townsend

Tony Micale was the South Fremantle coach in 1999 when the Bulldogs became the first WAFL team to align with Fremantle.

A year later, and after losing the grand final in his sole season at the port, Micale switched to East Perth when the Royals replaced Claremont as West Coast’s alignment team. Aided by a handful of West Coast imports, East Perth won the next two flags before completing the hat-trick the following season despite the alignment being abandoned at the start of that year.

If anyone knows what makes an alignment work, it is the four-time WAFL premiership coach and veteran AFL assistant. So, when Micale says West Coast should disband their reserves team, it is an opinion founded in deep knowledge and well worth considering.

Speaking on SportFM’s Before the Footy last Saturday, Micale was adamant that West Coast’s current model was not fit for purpose and should end sooner rather than later. And sooner should be next month. The timing would be at the halfway point of the home-and-away season to ensure that every WAFL team had played the Eagles once.

“Once it gets to round 10 when they have all played each other, the Eagles should send their players back to their respective clubs,” Micale said.

His comments came before that afternoon’s debacle when West Coast were forced to borrow two players from East Fremantle simply to field a full team.

It made little difference because the Sharks won by 123 points and became the first team in WAFL history to jump five places on the ladder that deep into a season. East Fremantle also picked up 45 percentage points, the third greatest haul in more than a century, with a windfall that could eventually determine whether they play finals, host a final or even finish on top of the ladder.

In a season when the average winning margin had been 20 points, that 20-goal result could have a massive impact on the final standings. The standalone reserves team is the sixth model West Coast have employed to house their spare players. It is the club’s most vexed issue.

None of the models has been perfect but some are significantly worse than others. Based on results, and the inability to select a critical mass of Eagles players due to Covid and the club’s extraordinary injury plight, the reserves team is now the worst of all options.

West Coast won three flags and played in two other grand finals during the period that they distributed their players across the league. The benefits of that model were obvious – players were in a competitive environment where they had to play with intensity and purpose rather than go through glorified training drills with team-mates who were often well below league standard.

But West Coast are adamant that they prefer their players to remain together, even if their development is compromised by the circumstances of the time.

The alignments have been troubled – Claremont and East Perth (twice) have been eager to end their arrangements – though that did not stop further discussions with the Royals and Perth leading into this season.

Perth, whose greatest issue is getting enough talent every season to even consider a rare finals appearance, are equally adamant that they will not accept West Coast’s spare talent.

East Perth’s alignment ended in divorce, Perth and the other clubs don’t want one, and West Coast’s reserves team is a disaster doing considerable harm to the club and league. They might not want to accept it but Micale’s suggestion might be the best option for West Coast. What have they got to lose?

Wednesday hero: Dillon O’Reilly was the first WAFL player born in the 21st century which, if nothing else, should make him a quiz night staple for years to come. The big forward is now in the sixth season of a football journey that has taken him on and off the Fremantle list, through a series of significant injuries and onto a key role at East Fremantle. O’Reilly’s maiden five-goal haul came in the West Coast slaughter last week but it has taken him to a share of the lead in the Bernie Naylor Medal race and underlined his arrival as a solid league player.

IMAGE: The West Australian


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