Apathy, when practised with sufficient shamelessness, can begin to look almost magical.
On Sunday at Etihad Stadium, the Eagles were magnificent in their brazen, unrelenting disinterest. A dreadful, unremarkable game transformed into the most remarkable game of the weekend with its dreadfulness reaching levels of transcendence.
It was, backwardly, a breathtaking spectacle. An uninspiring canvas of two middling teams was made beautiful by West Coast choosing to paint with such impassioned indifference. Their final quarter was a bedazzling guidebook to how football must not be played.
The Eagles didn’t just ‘not care’ – they aggressively did not give a single fuck about winning the game. They stood by and let the loss happen, earphones in while the wayward executioner walked towards them.
At stoppages, Adam Treloar and Taylor Adams attacked the tap on the run and crashed their bodies into other bodies at maximum force if they didn’t win the ball. Dom Sheed, Luke Shuey, Andrew Gaff and Matt Priddis remained stationary, waiting for everything to be done for them, almost like someone wanting the Uber driver to knock on their door, get them dressed, and carry them to the vehicle before taking them to their destination.
Those four, and eight other Eagles, failed to register a single contested possession in the final quarter – either the most damning or comical stat of the season.
While Magpie players, two down on rotations and with nothing tangible to play for beyond pride, attacked the ball with fury, the Eagles hovered listlessly around it, as though the contest were a burning rock, and just being in its vicinity would be good enough to stay warm. They only went to apply pressure when it would have been too glaringly embarrassing not to. Even then, they were one-effort, token gestures.
The 20-second passage that unfolded with 13:51 remaining in the fourth quarter was perhaps the season’s most disgraceful sequence. There were, conservatively, 12 opportunities for West Coast players to lay tackles. Zero stuck, and Magpies navigated the congestion with ease, inches of space made to feel like acres, as Eagles waited for teammates to do something, actors going through the motions of performing what tackling pressure is supposed to look like.
It was fitting too, that the forward thrust that led to Jamie Elliott’s goal to give Collingwood the lead was set up by a farcical absence of intensity. Tom Langdon found the ball deep in defence and then, as is his nature, waltzed a little too coolly inside defensive 50. Mark LeCras, Jamie Cripps and Josh Kennedy were all near him, but none moved towards him. They just waited for him to kick the ball.
Langdon ran straight past Kennedy, with an unsophisticated move that wasn’t exactly a Kyrie Irving crossover (it was more the old ‘I’m going to start running to my right, now’ move), Kennedy flailed his arm hopelessly, and Cripps, the ultimate ‘aw, shucks’ footballer, briefly, oh so briefly, gestured to run, as if to say ‘yeah, fuck, I really should have done something there instead of nothing’.
We can talk about what this means in the broader scheme of this season, and this club, fresh off an underwhelming 2016 and a 2015 that ended with one of the more reprehensible Grand Final showings in recent AFL history. We can talk about how the Frenchman Mark LeCras is probably now more suited to playing at France’s highest level of Aussie Rules than Australia’s, or how Nic Naitanui has papered over the cracks of a below-average midfield (and, it turns out, when he’s gone, all that’s left is ‘cracks’). We can talk about how the Eagles have lost the contested possession count in seven of their eight road games this year, five times by 19+.
For now though, let’s just delight in the debacle, and relish the fact that a team that had premiership aspirations before the season is now left in a place where it could learn a thing or two from Jarryd Blair.