Austrailan Rules Football: Eagles' victory leaves Victoria in bad humour: David Marsh reports from Melbourne on the plundering of the greatest prize in Australian Rules

THE biggest party in Australia was gatecrashed for the second time in three years on Saturday. Like bad guys riding in from the West, a team of Perth-based Australian Rules footballers arrived at the Melbourne Cricket Ground, roughed up the locals, turned in an astonishing display of sharp-shooting, and disappeared into the sunset with the sport's highest prize: victory in the Grand Final that is the climax to the Australian Football League season.

The final score was West Coast 20.23 (143) Geelong 8.15 (63), but it wasn't supposed to end this way. Victoria is the home of Aussie Rules, with 11 of the country's 15 top-class teams based in and around Melbourne, and it is not amused when its best team, the Geelong Cats, are slaughtered by a club such as West Coast Eagles, who only joined the competition in 1987.

It started well enough. The build-up, which took the concept of overkill into uncharted dimensions, included 23 hours of continuous coverage on one television channel and, inside the ground, a six-hour pre- match entertainment package which included a performance from the Seekers.

'Footy' is, almost literally, a religion in Victoria. It is no surprise that Geelong stars include Gary Ablett, a man known to his fans as 'God', and his more contemplative team- mate Garry Hocking - 'Buddha'. However, little divine inspiration was evident as the clawless and increasingly clueless Cats wilted before a terrifying West Coast onslaught.

To the uninitiated Pom, Aussie Rules resembles two hours of non-stop kick and rush; in this game, you don't pass to someone's feet, but six feet above his head. Fear not: he will catch it. Aussie Rules is played by two 18-strong teams of improbably tall, fast and athletic young men. Policed by three umpires, they cover a vast pitch at great speed and possess skills of handling and kicking to rival those seen in any of the world's football codes.

I have seen few team performances - in any sport - as impressive as that of West Coast, who won by a clear 80 points. Their 20 goals (worth 6 points each) were shared among 10 players; eight goals, at an average of one every three minutes, came in a devastating final quarter.

Geelong's spirit had been broken long before. They had been a point ahead, after the first quarter, while the Eagles were sizing up their prey. When they struck, there was only one team in it: quicker to the ball, more creative in their use of it, and clinical in its dispatch through the goalposts.

While the splendid Dean Kemp deservedly won the Norm Smith man of the match medal, several West Coast colleagues were close behind: among them Chris Lewis, an exciting, unpredictable Aborigine; Glen Jakovich, a defensive rock; and Michael Brennan, who played 'God' right out of the match.

The Geelong fans, making up most of the 94,000 crowd, watched the massacre for the most part in stunned silence; many left well before the end, although others remained to jeer as the out-of-towners collected their medals. That will not have worried the Eagles as they set out across the desert for home. They'll probably be back next year. For the moment though, as the Seekers put it, the carnival is over.

(Photograph omitted)

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