WEST Coast has been hit hard on the player availability front this year but one player the Eagles have arguably missed more than any is key defender Jeremy McGovern, who is set to return on Friday night against Richmond.

Before McGovern's two-game absence through the AFL's health and safety protocols, Eagles coach Adam Simpson said the 30-year-old was in "career-best form". That's quite the claim to make about a premiership-winning, four-time AFL All-Australian (2016-19).

West Coast had battled manfully throughout the first few rounds, even shocking Collingwood in round four but, in McGovern's absence, lost by 63 points to Sydney and 84 points to Port Adelaide. The big defender's presence alone wouldn't have reversed those results, but the statistics show he would have made a big difference.

02:45 Mins
Published on

Match Previews R7: West Coast v Richmond

Sportsbet's Nathan Brown and Matthew Richardson preview the game between the Eagles and Tigers at Optus Stadium.

Published on

Across the first four rounds of the 2022 season, McGovern had the best AFL Player Ratings average of any defender, with his 18.7 rating well clear of the next-best backman, Bailey Dale (15.4).

Remarkably, McGovern's Player Ratings average ranked fourth overall in the competition after four rounds, behind only Isaac Heeney, Lachie Neale and Taylor Walker (who'd played one game). Unsurprisingly, his 2022 Player Ratings average is elite for a defender.

Jeremy McGovern flies for a mark in West Coast's loss to Fremantle in round three, 2022. Picture: Getty Images

Some may have thought McGovern's best was behind him after 2020 and 2021 campaigns that coincided with the Eagles' slide out of premiership contention, but 2022 has seen a form resurgence.

Of course, four games is a relatively small sample size, but two of McGovern's 2022 games rank among the six best of his career. His round three performance against Fremantle came in at 22.8 points, followed closely by a score of 21.9 against North Melbourne in round two.

Jeremy McGovern's best AFL Player Ratings games

Match

Rating

Rd 5, 2016

27.6

Rd 1, 2015

25.6

Rd 3, 2022

22.8

Rd 10. 2017

22.4

Rd 14, 2014

22.1

Rd 2, 2022

21.9

Again, the sample size is small but comparing McGovern's start to 2022 to all four of his All-Australian seasons from 2016 to 2019, his averages for Player Ratings, metres gained, intercept marks, intercept possessions and spoils are all at career-high levels. 

The most recognisable feature of McGovern's game is his intercept marking and despite missing the past two games, he still sits third overall for intercept marks in the AFL this season, behind Gold Coast's Sam Collins (27) and Brisbane's Marcus Adams (25) with 23. McGovern (5.8) is the clear leader for average intercept marks per game, ahead of Collins (4.5) and Adams (4.2).

McGovern is fifth in the AFL for average marks per game (8.8), topped by Richmond's Nick Vlastuin (10.5), while he's sixth for spoils per game (7.8), which is led by St Kilda's Dougal Howard (11.2), and seventh for one percenters per game (9), with Howard (12.6) also top of that list.

How Jeremy McGovern's 2022 compares

 

2016 avg.

2017 avg.

2018 avg.

2019 avg.

2022 avg.

AFL Player Ratings

13.0

13.9

13.4

12.8

18.7

Metres gained

291.5

257.2

234.5

237.2

375.9

Intercept marks

3.5

3.8

3.7

3.3

5.8

Intercept poss.

8.2

7.6

8.6

8.7

11.3

Spoils

5.2

4.5

4.9

5.7

7.8

"He's in career-best form, Gov, and that's on and off the field," Simpson said a fortnight ago, referring to McGovern stepping in as captain in Luke Shuey's absence and amid a tough period for the club.

"His ability to stand up from a leadership point of view, I think he's gone to another level. Sometimes being a good leader, it's hard to play well at the same time. I think he's grown so much in that role… He's been really good. He's in All-Australian form absolutely."

Jeremy McGovern and coach Adam Simpson after West Coast's win over Collingwood in round four on April 9, 2022. Picture: AFL Photos

Fellow key defender Tom Barrass, who arguably has the best seat in the house to watch McGovern do his thing, said his teammate had "relished the responsibility of being a leader down in the backline."

"I think it's been built off the way he has approached the pre-season. I've got to give a lot of credit to Gov, he's really doing us proud in the way he's leading and playing down back," Barrass said.

McGovern's return will be a welcome boost this Friday night for the 1-5 Eagles, who desperately need to correct their form with their aspirations for the year slipping away.