IT WAS the season reflected in Liam Ryan's afternoon for West Coast on Sunday.
There was the brilliance, as Ryan's scintillating four-goal performance – featuring superb feats both in the air and in attack – inspired the club to a desperately required 22-point victory over Carlton at the SCG.
BLUES v EAGLES Full match coverage and stats
But there was also the tinge of concern, as Ryan felt at his hamstring late in a 14.11 (95) to 10.13 (73) victory that he helped mastermind. Any lingering worries could add to an extended Eagles injury list, which had made this win all the more special.
West Coast, still reeling from last week's upset home loss to Essendon, was missing a host of key players for what had suddenly emerged as a must-win contest. But encouraged by Ryan's excellence, it controlled Sunday's clash.
Ryan kicked four goals from 17 disposals and nine marks in a terrific display, flourishing in a forward line that was without champion goalkicker Josh Kennedy (soreness) and exciting youngster Oscar Allen (concussion).
Without star duo Tim Kelly (knee) and Luke Shuey (hamstring), it was left to Dom Sheed and Andrew Gaff to set things up from the midfield. The former had 32 disposals and eight clearances, while the latter finished with 30 touches and a goal.
TEAGUE 'FRUSTRATED' Coach laments poor execution of basics
Typical of West Coast's gutsy win, that pair held firm when All-Australian defender Brad Sheppard suffered a concussion to add to the loss of Jeremy McGovern (knee) and Alex Witherden (groin) down back.
They had also produced when Carlton won long periods of territorial dominance within the contest, with gun midfielder Sam Walsh (30 disposals, 11 marks, one goal) giving his side every chance.
But the Blues were wasteful when it counted and lost Coleman Medal leader Harry McKay to concussion, forcing promising youngster Tom De Koning (seven disposals, two goals) to play a lone hand in the forward line.
Defeat leaves Carlton's finals chances in tatters, while victory for West Coast – done so on the road and with important troops both hobbled and unavailable – could give its hopes for season 2021 a thrilling injection of belief.
The Eagles are bruised, but not beaten.
Head knocks mar lively clash
There was plenty of misfortune for either side in the early stages of Sunday's game, with both Harry McKay and Brad Sheppard forced from the contest due to concussion. McKay, the Coleman Medal leader, had his head bounce against the SCG turf after falling in a marking contest with Harry Edwards. That had preceded Sheppard's head knock, with the reigning All-Australian defender coming off worse-for-wear following a bruising collision with Adam Saad. Both players went down the race at quarter-time and weren't seen for the remainder of the game, with medical substitutes Jack Newnes and Jamaine Jones both activated. Blues defender Nic Newman was also forced from the field with concussion in the third term, having flipped in a marking contest before landing on his head.
Flyin' Ryan puts Eagles on his back
The third term looked more like a Liam Ryan highlights compilation package, as the clever West Coast forward helped his side gain a crucial buffer with some thrilling moments. Ryan was the beneficiary of Andrew Gaff's goal-line smother on Nic Newman, after the Carlton defender elected to try a risky kick out of the backline, quickly gobbling up the ball and snapping for his third. His trademark leap then got a workout, as Ryan jumped clean over Liam Stocker to pull down a beautiful grab. Not done with yet, a couple of fine baulks around some Carlton defenders and a calm finish on the run led to his fourth of the afternoon and helped West Coast into a 16-point lead at the final change.
Eagles break SCG hoodoo
A 20-year-old Ben Cousins won three Brownlow votes and Scott Cummings kicked five goals on his way to the Coleman Medal when West Coast last won at the SCG in May 1999. Nine losses and 22 years later, the Eagles finally have a reason to savour travelling across to New South Wales. In a game moved to neutral territory due to Victoria's recent COVID-19 outbreak and subsequent indefinite lockdown, there would have been a handful of West Coast players on Sunday not even alive to relive that last win at the SCG. But now they'll have fond memories of the ground, playing their part in a victory that keeps the Eagles' flag chances well and truly alive.
CARLTON 3.6 6.9 9.10 10.13 (73)
WEST COAST 4.1 8.5 12.8 14.11 (95)
Carlton: De Koning 2, Owies 2, Betts 2, Setterfield, Walsh, Cottrell, Williams
West Coast: Ryan 4, Jones 2, Darling, Sheed, Gaff, Redden, Langdon, Foley, Cripps, O'Neill
Carlton: Walsh, Williams, Saad, Dow, Newman
West Coast: Ryan, Gaff, Sheed, Langdon, Yeo, Hurn
Carlton: McKay (concussion), Newman (concussion)
West Coast: Sheppard (concussion)
Carlton: Newnes (replaced McKay)
West Coast: Jones (replaced Sheppard)
Crowd: TBC at the SCG