It was an all too familiar tale for the Tigers. Their third consecutive elimination final brought hope and optimism to the supporters. Surely it would be their time: they could take the next step and win their first final.
And it seemed like this year would be different. The Tigers came into the finals series in fifth place with a win-loss ratio of 15-7. They had also looked menacing at times throughout the season, defeating flag contenders Fremantle in the west, Sydney at the SCG and reigning premiers Hawthorn.
The team looked stronger, tougher and more competitive. There were even calls for them to be considered strong premiership contenders. But that thought was dashed on Sunday afternoon.
Despite the Tigers’ 13-point lead at the main break, a nine-goal to five second half gave the Kangaroos a 30-point turnaround. The Roos finished the game victors by 17 points. It was heartbreaking for the Tigers faithful. It was their third elimination final loss in a row and their fourth finals defeat since 2001.
The Tigers showed once again they are not mentally strong enough for the big stage. There’s no two ways about it: they choked.
First place to look is captain Trent Cotchin. He went missing on Sunday afternoon against North’s tagger Ben Jacobs. Cotchin’s nine-disposal match was the equal-lowest he has ever recorded.
Admirably, Cotchin didn’t shy away from confronting his ineffective performance. “As a captain you want to impact the game as best you can,” hesaid. “Credit to Jacobs, he didn’t give me an inch all day, and he also got plenty of help from his teammates.
“We let ourselves down. We just lost too many contests.”
Coach Damien Hardwick was also critical of the lack of effort around the ball. “In contested ball we got absolutely poleaxed,” he said. “You can sit there and look at everything, but what it comes down to is we didn’t win the ball and we didn’t hunt the ball hard enough.
“We speak about the intensity, the attitude and the work rate to get across to contests and unfortunately we didn’t bring it today.”
The Tigers have every right to be disappointed. Yes, the losing margin wasn’t as big as last year’s against Port, but the fans and the club itself deserved better. It was time to break that barrier and add a final’s win to the list of achievements.
But don’t throw your memberships in the microwave just yet Tiger fans. Have a think about this: West Coast Eagles lost three elimination finals in a row between 2002 and 2004. They then made the grand final in 2005 and 2006, winning a premiership in ’06 season.
So don’t lose hope just yet. Maybe 2016 will be the year of the Tiger.
What we learnt from the first week of finals
– Inaccuracy proves costly
Sydney and the Western Bulldogs kicked themselves out of their matches last weekend. The Swans had six more scoring shots than Freo while the Dogs had three more than the Crows: it doesn’t seem like much, but when the margin is under 10 points, accuracy would have made all the difference.
– West Coast finally recognised as the real deal
It took a qualifying final win against the Hawks, but the media and public are finally acknowledging the Eagles as premiership favourites. They were outstanding against the reigning premiers, leaving the Hawks completely shell-shocked.
– Games for the ages
It’s not always the case in the first week of finals but there were great matches galore last weekend. While the Eagles demolition of Hawthorn was a bit anti-climactic, the tight Fremantle vs. Sydney contest, the Dogs vs. Crows shootout and Richmond’s heartbreak against North will all be remembered as classic finals.
What we can expect from the second week of finals
– Hawthorn to bounce back
Adelaide will not be an easy feat but the Hawks are mighty confident they won’t go out in straight sets. They’ll have to bring back their usual fighting spirit to make it to that prelim.
– North to make up for last year’s finals loss
A seriously under-manned Swan’s outfit will be struggling against the confident Kangas. Last year’s loss to Sydney in the preliminary final will add a bit of extra spark for North Melbourne.