PERHAPS no West Coast club theme song had ever been sung with so much relief and exhaustion at the same time.
The Eagles could barely catch their breath as they, somehow, belted out another rendition of ‘We’re Flying High’, minutes after cementing a semi-final against GWS next weekend in the most insane and thrilling circumstances.
The pool of Gatorade in the middle of the rooms had a massive radius. If you didn’t look where you were stepping, an embarrassing slip-up was inevitable.
Jack Darling had just been at the centre of that Gatorade downpour, as Saturday night’s match was his 150th AFL game.
Darling was excellent too, inspiring his side early with three telling first-half goals. A night he – and Eagles fans around the country – will never forget.
Immediately after the song, the 22 players were quickly whisked into a meeting with the senior coach. It was a special and intimate moment for a team that, only three weeks ago, was on the verge of embarrassingly missing out on the 2017 finals series, despite having the most experienced list in the competition.
Players gradually filed out of the meeting one-by-one, led by the three not-yet-dead veterans.
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Matt Priddis, who wound back the clock with a classic, finals-like inside midfielder’s game, was first to emerge, followed by Sam Mitchell and Drew Petrie. You couldn’t wipe the smile off the face of Petrie, who stood up in the last quarter with a towering set-shot goal.
All three of those veterans were magnificent when it mattered most. It was as if they made a pact pre-game that Saturday night wasn’t going to end in a mass farewell.
“Three absolute legends. There’s no way in the world I want them to retire,” star defender Jeremy McGovern told foxfooty.com.au.
“I think the boys dug a bit deeper tonight knowing this could be their last games. But we’ve got them another week.”
“Here he is, the main man,” shouted some Eagles staff members as Luke Shuey, with ice on his left knee, limped towards the first of many post-game interviews.
Minutes earlier, Shuey had kicked the goal that handed the Eagles the most unlikely of victories after the siren of the second extra-time period.
Despite the pressure, McGovern was supremely confident in Shuey’s finishing ability.
“He’d be in the top two or three at the club who I’d want the footy in the hands of for a set-shot after the siren,” McGovern said.
Tucked up in the corner of the room near the entrance was, seemingly, an official AFL party. But in fact, it was an old Hawthorn reunion.
Chatting with a delighted Mitchell was Gold Coast chief executive and former Hawks footy boss Mark Evans, as well as former Hawthorn president turned AFL commissioner Andrew Newbold, with AFL football boss Andrew Dillon also in the circle.
Perhaps they came to the Adelaide Oval on Saturday night thinking it would be the last time they’d see Mitchell on an AFL field. The four-time premiership champ had other ideas.
But arguably the most excited player in the Eagles’ rooms, however, didn’t even take to the Adelaide Oval turf on Saturday night.
Injured ruckman Scott Lycett couldn’t contain his joy. With no fear for his recovering knee, he jumped into the arms of Josh Kennedy, before hijacking nearly every media interview with aggressive embraces and bizarre comments.
“Come on!” he shouted in McGovern’s ear as he spoke to foxfooty.com.au.
McGovern was a tad more reserved than his teammate: “It’s exciting and I’m so proud, but we can’t get too carried away because we’ve got another game to play next week.”
A few hundred metres away in the Port Adelaide rooms, total despair and an awkward devastating silence – as expected.
Upon arrival, you could hear a pin-drop. No one – players, family and staff – could muster the courage to make eye contact with each other.
Jasper Pittard was on the verge of tears as he received a kiss and cuddle from his partner. Charlie Dixon, who was close to the hero of the night, trudged slowly towards a Channel 7 TV crew for a post-game interview – perhaps the most unwanted media opportunity of his life.
“You sit there and you go through that and you work so damn hard and you’re put under so much pressure. You just come up a small, small margin short.
“People don’t realise how much they put into a game of football and into a season of football. People just take it for granted that they just don’t care or it doesn’t mean enough to them. Well, go and watch our players. Go and look at them now and understand the hurt they’re going through.”