AFL Heroes & Villains, Round 17: Don't write off the Eagles just yet

With the battle for AFL finals spots heating up, some players and teams rose to the challenge, but others fell by the wayside.

Here are Round 17's Heroes & Villains.


Eagles leaders: They were understrength and undermanned but West Coast somehow found a way to overcome St Kilda on Thursday night, and with it, lock up a finals berth.

Missing Luke Shuey, Elliott Yeo, Jack Redden and Jamie Cripps, among others, the Eagles faced an in-form Saints side desperate to keep their place inside the top eight.

Brett Ratten's team raced out to an early lead and the Eagles looked in serious trouble when star defender Jeremy McGovern went down with a hamstring injury. Trailing by eight points in the final term, West Coast needed its stars to lift and they delivered.

Josh Kennedy struck the Eagles' first goal of the final term to close the gap, before Tim Kelly put them in front minutes later. The former Cat starred with 30 disposals, nine clearances and 513 metres gained, perhaps his best outing in gold and blue.

Nic Naitanui also switched gears in the second half, bullying Paddy Ryder in the ruck to finish with 33 hitouts and nine clearances of his own.

And then there was Andrew Gaff, who responded from a disappointing outing against the Bulldogs to record 33 disposals, a goal and goal assist from a staggering 100 percent game time.

Don't write off the Eagles as a premiership threat just yet.

Bryce Gibbs' farewell: In his 268th and final match -- 37 at Adelaide following 231 at the Blues -- Gibbs produced his best game for the season, with 27 possessions as Adelaide shocked the Blues with their third win in a row.

It was a victory which sunk Carlton's slim finals hopes and possibly may help the embattled club avoid the wooden spoon (more on that later).

Considering the 31-year-old's history at both clubs, his farewell was fitting. Perhaps the only thing missing was a goal late in the last term, when his set shot in the final minute would have been the perfect finale.

As the final siren sounded, the silky-skilled utility was mobbed by his former teammates, with Kade Simpson handing him the match ball after the game. Simpson, along with Marc Murphy, chaired Gibbs off the ground post-game.

"They're my best mates, some of these guys were in my wedding party," Gibbs said.

"The bonds and the friendships I created with these guys are going to last for a lifetime. To share the last game was pretty special."

There were heavy shades of Blue in Gibbs' final game, but he also paid tribute to the Crows, wishing the club a speedy rebuild under Matthew Nicks.

Often maligned -- often unfairly -- Gibbs etched out a career most players would only be able to dream about upon getting drafted at No. 1 in 2006.

Jarryd Lyons: It was yet another performance that reinforced the stupidity of Gold Coast letting Lyons walk to the Lions for free in late 2018.

With Ryan Clarke making life extremely difficult for Brownlow Medal favourite Lachie Neale during Sunday night's Swans-Lions clash, and Dayne Zorko, Hugh McCluggage and Mitch Robinson all quieter than usual, Lyons stepped up to be possibly the most influential midfielder on the ground.

He collected 20 disposals (14 contested), five clearances, three tackles, 481m gained and booted an important goal as the Lions held off the Swans.

Lyons is now ranked fourth in total score involvements, ninth for contested possessions, 10th for clearances, and sixth for kicks across the league this year, proving Brisbane's midfield has several weapons ahead of its finals campaign. And also proving, again, the Suns made a monumental error letting join their Queensland rivals for free.


John Worsfold: It wasn't so much another woeful Essendon performance -- although the loss to Port was insipid in itself -- but Worsfold's post-match comments would have riled anyone associated with the black and red.

Speaking after the 50-point defeat to the Power on Saturday, Worsfold appeared to distance himself from the club he coaches. Yes, he will officially hand over to Ben Rutton after next weekend's finale against Melbourne, but to hear a coach so obviously voice a disconnect between himself and his club was jarring to say the least.

He said "Essendon people" shouldn't expect to see success faster than any other team, simply because the Bombers were considered a "big club"

"If Essendon stick to what they're working on and what they believe in together and pull it all together, we'll see where they're at. But we haven't had the opportunity to see that, I don't think, all year," Worsfold said

"I understand that Essendon people think that Essendon should be better, but they've also got to understand that the competition challenges clubs now to work to the same rules - the draft and the salary cap. No one team has any more right to be successful quicker than any other team, just because they're a big-name club."

There are issues everywhere at Bomberland, on and off the field, but if Worsfold is already not considering himself an Essendon person, maybe he should have stepped aside earlier and let Rutton officially take the reins.

Geelong's forward line: When the highest-scoring team in the league kicks one goal in about three-and-a-half quarters, you know something's up.

That's what happened to Geelong in their so-called heavyweight bout against Richmond on Friday night. Almost from start to finish, the Cats had no answers up forward against the water-tight Tigers' defence.

The Cats could manage a paltry four goals for the night -- three coming in a burst midway through the fourth quarter when the Tigers' rotations were down to two -- despite winning more disposals (305-273) and clearances (32-16) and almost breaking even in inside-50s (40-42).

With Tom Hawkins well held by emerging key defender Noah Balta, Geelong's attack was impotent and without any system.

It was a complete domination from Richmond, who surely will lick their lips at the prospect of playing Geelong in the finals, should their paths cross again.

Wooden spoon heading (to) North?:

The Roos' struggles in 2020 have been well-documented but Saturday's shocker against the Dockers was particularly grim, and may result in North Melbourne freefalling all the way to last by the end of the year.

At times, Fremantle looked to be enjoying a training drill on Saturday as they romped to a 64-point victory, as the Roos conceded their biggest total of the season (99) and managed a paltry five goals themselves.

We get it - the Roos have been decimated by injuries this season, but you don't need talent to compete ferociously, something made apparent by the fact 12 Roos could manage one tackle or less.

Under-pressure coach Rhyce Shaw perhaps summed it up best: The AFL's an elite competition and ad the moment, we're not up to standard."

It was their 13th loss from their past 14 games. Incredibly, North may end up finishing last due to their late-season slump and Adelaide's resurgence. Both teams are locked on three wins apiece, although the Roos do have a 5.5 percent gap on the Crows.

North take on the Eagles on Thursday night, while the Crows host Richmond.