Eagles overcome countless setbacks to become kings of the AFL

MELBOURNE, Australia -- West Coast has come from 29 points down to stun Collingwood at the Melbourne Cricket Ground in one of the greatest Grand Finals of the modern era.

In front of 100,022 fans, the Magpies burst out of the blocks to kick the opening five goals of the game before the Eagles started to wrestle control and chip away at the margin. By three-quarter time they were level but the game was once again in the balance.

However, with 120 seconds remaining and Collingwood's lead reduced to just two points, Dom Sheed become an unlikely match-winner when he marked 40m out on the boundary line, kicking truly to give the Eagles a five-point win.

West Coast midfielder Luke Shuey was a class above all afternoon and a deserved winner of the Norm Smith Medal for best afield. He finished the game with 34 possessions, nine clearances, eight tackles and a goal in what was one of the great Grand Final performances.

Here's three things we learnt from the Grand Final...

West Coast's resilience should be marveled at

After finishing the 2017 home and away season in eighth place and waving goodbye to Brownlow medallists Matt Priddis and Sam Mitchell, few would have expected the premiership flag to be heading west to the Eagles in 2018.

West Coast has endured a number of roadblocks this year, particularly in the second half of the season, but Adam Simpson's side showed tremendous resilience to emerge as the undisputed kings of the AFL, prevailing in one of the most thrilling Grand Finals we've ever witnessed.

The setbacks began in Round 17, ironically against the Magpies, when star ruckman Nic Naitanui went down with a season-ending ACL injury. Three weeks later midfielder Andrew Gaff saw his season also come to an end after copping an eight-week suspension for a sickening off-the-ball hit on Fremantle youngster Andrew Brayshaw.

The Eagles were on the canvas and beginning to lose touch with season pacesetters Richmond, but dug deep with some crucial late wins to finish the home and away season second on the ladder. A qualifying final win over the Magpies catapulted them into the preliminary finals but it came at another cost as defender Brad Sheppard went down with a hamstring injury that ruled him out of of any further 2018 action.

Melbourne may not have posed much of a threat to the Eagles last weekend but heading into Grand Final week there were serious questions marks over the fitness of Jeremy McGovern, while the media storm surrounding Liam Ryan's off-field drink-driving indiscretion certainly had the club feeling the heat.

So when Collingwood burst out of the blocks to kick the opening five goals, there was a real sense that it could turn out to be a monumental blowout. But in remarkable fashion, Adam Simpson's side turned the tables from a shocking first term. They dominated the inside 50 count, dictated the pace of the game and ultimately kicked 11 of the last 17 goals to run out five-point winners.

Take a bow, West Coast, take a bow.

Key forwards still have a place in the AFL

You only need to watch the previous two Grand Finals to get the feeling that the once loved and admired power forward was on the way out.

Pressure and intensity had become the name of the game in recent times, and a crop of speedy, small forwards appeared to be the way to premiership success. But West Coast's 2018 triumph has busted the myth around the necessity of key forwards -- who most definitely still have a place in the game.

Eagles spearhead Josh Kennedy was the dominant forward on the ground all afternoon. He racked up 18 possessions, clunked 11 marks, laid four tackles and most importantly booted three goals in a performance that was surprising to see him fall so short in Norm Smith Medal voting.

Forward line partner Jack Darling may have looked like a fish out of water in the opening half but he emerged from the half time break as a different player. Darling clunked four contested marks in the third term and slotted an important goal, stamping himself on the game and providing much-needed support to Kennedy.

Meanwhile, at the other end of the ground, Mason Cox threatened to be the late hero for Collingwood. Like Darling he had almost no impact in the first half but three towering marks -- similar to what he produced a week ago against the Tigers -- and two second half goals very nearly got the Magpies over the line.

The game might be evolving, and evolving for the better, but make no mistake; key forwards are here to stay.

The pressure bar has been raised again

We marveled at the Western Bulldogs' pressure in 2016 and we watched in awe as Richmond ratcheted it up a notch last year, but as the 2018 season came to a close we can safely say the pressure bar has risen once again.

Collingwood may have ultimately fallen short but they played four quarters of fast-paced, frantic football on Saturday afternoon which was very nearly the catalyst in landing a 16th premiership.

Nathan Buckley's troops put on a tackling masterclass and by halftime they had laid a staggering 57 compared to West Coast's 33. By fulltime that number had grown to an almost unheard-of 104 tackles.

The Magpies had been averaging 66 tackles per game this season before upping it in last week's stunning preliminary final win over Richmond. The won the count that night (72-61) but their Grand Final effort was simply on another level.

Their ability to hunt the football and move it at breakneck speed, most notably in the first and final terms, was also eye catching. Disappointment may be the overriding emotion for Buckley, the players and Collingwood fans but it's clear that this type of play will hold them in good stead in years to come, because if we've learned anything in the past three seasons it is that pressure wins games of football. The other 17 clubs have just seen the standard for 2019.