Despite the fact that South Melbourne had relocated to Sydney five years before the West Coast Eagles joined the AFL in 1987, the Eagles can lay claim to being one of the first two purpose-built clubs to take on the might of the Victorians in 1987.
The other club, the Brisbane Bears, survived for ten years before disappearing in a merger maze and reappearing as the Brisbane Lions in 1997 and it is no coincidence that the Eagles boast one-third of all premierships won by the (now eight) non-Victorian clubs. The “tyranny of distance” that separates the golden west from the bulk of the other AFL competitors is considered to have many advantages that have not only lead to a greater unity and sense of cause between the players but have fostered the “them versus us” mentality used so successfully by Collingwood in the old VFL days.
After a quiet trade period in 2019 when Geelong’s Tim Kelly was the sole (admittedly well publicised) trade in or out, 2020 saw Tom Hickey depart for Sydney and Alex Witherden and Zac Langdon arrive from Brisbane and Greater Western Sydney respectively. Enough deletions occurred to clear the decks and one top 100 game-player, Will Schofield, retired six games short of his 200 games and in 27th place on the Eagles all-time top 100 game-players.
The Eagles still boast an impressive 18 current players who are members of the all-time top 100 game-players at the club. Leading this group is Shannon Hurn. Hurn, one of the co-captains when Adam Simpson started his reign as coach of the Eagles in 2014, was captain of the club up until relinquishing the job at the end of 2019. His total of 286 games is only four less than the player who had played more games for the Eagles than any other player, ruckman Dean Cox when he retired in 2014.
Two more games after that would see Hurn make it into the AFL’s top 100 game-players of all time equal with Matthew Boyd (Western Bulldogs) Anthony Stevens (North Melbourne) and Darren Milburn (Geelong) in 99th position and a further eight games would see him become the 92nd member of the AFL’s 300-game club.
Josh Kennedy, who currently sits in equal 12th place on the club’s top 100 with Ben Cousins, would be hoping to have played 12 games by mid-season. If he does, it will mean he has bought up 250 games with West Coast (272 AFL games overall, courtesy of 22 games at Carlton) and is well inside the top-ten game-players at the Eagles.
As well as Hurn and Kennedy, the Eagles have three other players who have played more than 200 games and this underlines the even spread of experience throughout the team. Three other players have played more than 150 games, and two of these in Brad Sheppard (four games) and Nic Naitanui (17) could be expected to reach 200 games during the year.
Another five players have played 100+ games and five more are in the 50-100 games bracket. With three more players capable of making the top 100 list during season 2021, the Eagles are well placed to firstly extend their current streak of consecutive years of finals performances to seven and secondly make another tilt at the flag.
The club’s all-time leading goal scorer, Josh Kennedy, and number four on the list, Jack Darling, lead a list of 14 current players inside the club’s top-100 goalscorers of all time, including one double centurion (Jamie Cripps) and two other centurions (Luke Shuey and Nic Naitanui) so again, the club is well served in this department, a necessary component of a side with finals aspirations.