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  • Writer's pictureJohn Townsend

Wednesday WAFL: Eastland on track for rare ruck Sandover

It took 23 years between George “Staunch” Owens becoming the first ruckman to win a Sandover Medal and Merv McIntosh winning the second.


It remains the longest gap between ruckmen winning the WAFL’s greatest individual honour.


The order is Owens (1925), McIntosh (1948, 53-54), Graham Farmer (1956, 57 and 60), Jack Clarke (1957), Brian Foley (1959), Stephen Michael (1980-81), John Ironmonger (1983), Craig Edwards (1989), Gus Seebeck (1999), Ryan Turnbull (2001) and Lachlan Delahunty (2019).


 The medal might have morphed into a midfielder’s award but don’t be surprised if it is hung around a ruckman’s neck at this year’s Sandover count.


And that man is likely to be Ollie Eastland, the Claremont star who won their fairest and best award last year and has started this season in even better form.


Eastland has been Claremont’s best player in three matches this season – the two-point loss to West Perth, the one-point loss to South Fremantle and the strong win over Subiaco – to suggest he might already be closing in on double-figure votes in the medal.


Totals of 25 and 26 have secured the past two medals.


Eastland’s emergence as one of the league’s best players is based on excellent tap work but even more impact when the ball hits the ground.


He gets 45 hit outs a game but has also won the ball 21 times to go with four tackles and nearly a goal an outing.


When he plays well, his team either wins or gets into a position to win.

Delahunty had the same influence at Subiaco five years ago.


He might have had less influence at ruck contests where he won about 15 a game, and the Lions were content to use him as an extra midfielder, but did more around the ground with 26 disposals and a couple of tackles.


The spirit of East Fremantle premiership ruckman and WA Hall of Famer Percy Johnson, the sometimes cantankerous but always fascinating SportFM football analyst, accompanies Eastland whenever he runs onto the field.


Johnson was Eastland’s mentor in his early days in league ranks and always recalls the advice to “compete, compete, compete”.


Johnson also had a mantra for the numerous young ruckmen he tutored in the craft - make second efforts, follow up the ball, hit packs hard and keep your eyes on the ball.


Johnson always said that ruckmen are more important than “rabbits”, the midfielders who feed off the efforts of their bigger colleague.


If Eastland can continue his golden run long enough to keep the rabbits at bay on Sandover Medal night, there will be a happy ruckman somewhere in footy heaven.


IMAGE: The West Australian

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