The Eagles were looking to go back to back last year, after their incredible grand final win in 2018. Things were looking promising until a surprising resounding loss to Hawthorn in the final game of the season which cost them their double chance. Whilst they won their first game against Essendon, they lost in the Semi Final against the Cats in another lackluster performance.

It’s a finals series that should burn as they could have set themselves for a shot at history, yet were finished mid-September when things looked like they should be so much better. Since then, they have gained Tim Kelly finally in a trade, Nic Nat and Josh Kennedy have both completed full preseasons and the hunger will have returned.

Can they get back to the big dance?

In: Tim Kelly (Geelong Cats), Callum Jamieson, Ben Johnson (Draft), Anthony Treacy, Mitch O’Neill (Rookie Draft)

Out: Chris Masten (delisted), Fraser McInnes (delisted), Brodie Riach (delisted), Patrick Bines (delisted), Kurt Mutimer (delisted), Matthew Allen (delisted), Keegan Brooksby (delisted), Josh Smith (delisted)

It’s a tricky draw for the Eagles as they commence a season that they would be hoping to get back to the big dance. They get an improved Demons team (home), then the Saints (Marvel), Cats (Home), Port (Adelaide) before they cop the Tigers at home in what looms as the grand final preview, then they get to travel to Tassie to take on the Hawks, in what would be the longest trip in footy. It’s a tricky start and they would want to be at their best to get through this strongly.

They finish with the month of footy where they only travel once and have home games against Adelaide, Fremantle and Port Adelaide which should allow them to head in to finals on a winning streak. Of course, this all assume that we are playing a 22-game season, which I doubt, so it could be just a 17 round season or even less (who the hell knows).

1: Tim Kelly, will he prove worth the effort?
They chased him over two trade periods, and finally got their man. It cost them picks 14, 24 & 37, as well as this years 1st pick in 2020. It’s a huge haul to give so he’ll have to produce. However, produce he has so far in his short career to date and he’s clearly a class footballer. He was one of the Brownlow fancies midway through last year, and has established himself as one of the games bets midfielders, and he’s entering one of the games already strong midfields. I have no doubt the Eagles will be a better side for his arrival, and he’ll justify the outlay.

2: Can Josh Kennedy hold off Jack Darling as the Eagles premier forward?
Having been the No.1 forward at the Eagles for much of the past decade, having won 7 leading goal-kicking awards in the period between 2010 to 2017, losing out only in 2011 when he was injured… Jack Darling. Since then he’s lost out twice to Darling in 2018 & 2019 and having completed his first full preseason for some time, he’ll be keen to get back his mantled of the king of the Eagles forwards, but we all know that Darling won’t go away. It’s going to be a cracking contest at club that is likely to feature in the later part of September (or October….or November….or whenever)

3: Can Nic Nat deliver when it counts?
He’s talked up as one of the best ruckman in the comp, he takes few marks (though the ones he does are worth remembering), he’s not a huge possession winner but his tap-work is superb. He had a shocking 2015 grand final, but has been generally sound across his finals in his career, but a lot will fall on his shoulders this year. They have added Tim Kelly to a quality midfield but they need to get good service, which is where Nic Nat is needed most. He needs to produce when it counts this time if the Eagles are to go deep again.

4: How do they replace Liam Ryan?
In only 2 years, Ryan has become one of the Eagles most important players. He’s superb kicking into the Forward 50, he’s an electric player around goals and has been a good consistent forward in his time so far. In a lot of ways, the failed drug test at the end of last season possibly derailed their premiership march as it was a distraction that they didn’t need.
Willie Rioli is the obvious one, though he has been a strong contributor already, Jack Petruccelle showed a lot last year, bursting on to the scene whilst Jamie Cripps is a consistent performer. If they can all step up to fill the gap, then it will help, by Ryan’s position will be hard to replace.

5: Can Elliott Yeo win the Brownlow?
He’s one of the most versatile players in the game, he’s got a strong defensive side to his game, being one of the games best tacklers, he can run with the best players in the game, whilst he’s shown he can win his own footy. He’s one of the games premier midfields and with the arrival of Tim Kelly, he could get off the chain and become even more damaging. I reckon he’s a smokey for the Brownlow this year and can certainly win it.

B: Liam Duggan, Tom Barrass, Brad Shephard
HB: Shannon Hurn, Jeremy McGovern, Lewis Jetta
C: Dom Sheed, Elliott Yeo, Andrew Gaff
HF: Jamie Cripps, Jack Darling, Jack Petruccelle
F: Oscar Allen, Josh Kennedy, Willie Rioli
Foll: Nic Natanui, Luke Shuey, Tim Kelly
Int: Tom Hickey, Jack Redden, Jack Nelson, Mark Hutchings

The Eagles are one of the premier sides in the comp, and I have no doubt they will be there when the whips are cracking at seasons end. They are well balanced across the field, they have the experience in winning the competition and have brought in key players to improve on that flag side, in Kelly and Natanui.

In defence, they have the premier intercepting defender in Jeremy McGovern, they have another strong key back in Barrass to help take the big forwards whilst in Hurn they have one of the great leaders in the game as well one of the best kicks. They also have one of the games most underrated players in Brad Shepherd, who’s a superb small defender.

Their midfield is superb, and they have just acquired Tim Kelly. In Luke Shuey they have one of the games best burst mids, he’s damaging around the field and hits the scoreboard. Redden is a superb in and under player and can stop the oppositions best midfielder, whilst Gaff and Sheed offer outside run. It’s a midfield which will cause opposition teams trouble, and they get superb service of Nic Nat, who’s tap work and clearance ability is super.

Up forward, Kennedy will again push for the Coleman and looks really fit going into the season, Darling is a superb mobile tall who’s taken the leading goal-kicker off Kennedy the last two years, whilst Rioli, Petruccelle and Cripps off the small man brigade.

Overall, it’s a strong team and with one of the best home ground advantages in the game, they will again be hard to knock out of the finals race. They’ll likely win at least 11 of the 12 games they play in Perth and have been good on the road overall. They will feature in finals and are one of my tips for the Grand Final.