TO say the wait for the 2020 Optus WAFL Premiership Season was worth it might be one of the great understatements and the drama filled day on Saturday to determine the finals bound teams captured everyone's imagination.
For a while thanks to COVID-19 there was a very real chance we might not have been able to have a WAFL season at all, but given what has ended up eventuating over the past nine weeks that would have been the biggest of shames.
The only thing that we did know for sure coming into Round 9 to close the home and away season was that South Fremantle would finish on top as minor premiers and Peel Thunder would finish with the wooden spoon.
Claremont had the bye and were locked into a finals position, but whether they finished second or third was still to be decided.
The rest was stamped with a massive to be decided label setting the stage for the most dramatic of Saturday afternoon and evenings.
West Perth could have got really unlucky if all the results went against them but they also had a chance to move up into second position while Perth, Subiaco and East Perth were all virtually fighting over the one position in the finals.
The first domino to fall was to see if East Perth was able to put itself in the finals hunt with a big win against Peel Thunder. The Royals did that at Leederville Oval beating the Thunder 15.11 (101) to 4.6 (30).
Then the focus turned to what happened at Joondalup's Provident Financial Oval between West Perth and Subiaco. The Falcons snapped a 10-match losing streak against the Lions with the 12.5 (77) to 8.10 (58) victory.
The 19-point win left West Perth agonisingly short of moving percentage ahead of Claremont into second spot, though, leaving them locked into third and to host the first semi-final next Sunday.
The combination of East Perth's 71-point win and Subiaco's 19-point defeat left the Royals going ahead of the Lions on percentage into fourth spot.
The seasons of East Perth and Perth were then on the line when the Demons hosted the undefeated South Fremantle at Lathlain's Mineral Resources Park in the late starting game on Saturday.
Adding to the whole drama of the situation was that Perth had to give South Fremantle its first loss of 2020 if the Demons were to play finals football for the first time since 1997.
It was never going to be easy and while the nerves were obvious with the way Perth missed opportunity after opportunity in front of goal in the last quarter, they just wouldn’t be denied.
With a big and vocal home crowd desperately willing them on and growing ever more frustrated as the Demons kicked eight behinds in the fourth term, they were completely dominant and the Bulldogs couldn’t get out of their back half.
In the end, Matthew Rogers did kick truly for the only goal of the last quarter, Perth won the game 8.18 (66) to 9.7 (61) and a first finals appearance in 23 years was a reality for the Demons.
Wild scenes then took hold of the old Lathlain Park starting with the Perth players celebrating wildly before being joined of the rest of their playing squad members, and then hundreds of supporters and members.
The only thing to come anything close to it this century was when Swan Districts fans stormed onto Arena Joondalup when they thought they'd won the 2008 preliminary final to break their 18-year Grand Final drought.
The emotion at Lathlain with the result of the Demons ending that finals drought was remarkable and a once in a lifetime experience for anyone present.
The reward now for Perth is to play a West Perth team it hasn't beaten since 2011 next Sunday at Joondalup in the first semi-final.
South Fremantle hosts Claremont with a Grand Final spot up for grabs.
The round then concluded the day after all the emotion of the night before with Swan Districts beating East Fremantle 11.9 (75) to 6.8 (44) at New Choice Homes Park.
There might have been nothing on the line, but it was still an emotional day that ended with East Fremantle captain Jonathon Griffin and Swan Districts wingman, and former East Perth fairest and best winner, being chaired from the ground through guards of honour made up of both teams with the pair having announced their retirements.
OPTUS WAFL PREMIERSHIP SEASON – ROUND 9
EAST PERTH 15.11 (101) defeated PEEL THUNDER 4.6 (30)
East Perth had to shake off the disappointment of the week before and win big against Peel Thunder at Leederville Oval on Saturday to remain any chance of playing finals still in 2020.
East Perth put themselves in prime position to make a run for the finals when leading by 32 points midway through the third quarter against South Fremantle at Fremantle Community Bank Oval the previous Saturday.
A win there for the Royals and then beating the winless Thunder in the final round this Saturday would have been enough to guarantee them a finals position given the way other results turned out.
But as it had, East Perth just had to take care of business against Peel and then hope that other results went their way.
The Royals did come out and start well against the Thunder too kicking the only three goals of the first quarter. East Perth added another two goals to one in the second term and went into the half-time break leading by 42 points.
It was then three goals apiece in the third quarter before East Perth finished strongly knowing the importance of percentage in the finals race. The Royals kicked a massive seven goals to no score from the Thunder in the last term.
That saw East Perth win the game 15.11 (101) to 4.6 (30) and as it turned out with the way the West Perth-Subiaco turned out, it was enough for the Royals to leapfrog the Lions on percentage and sit in fourth position.
All they needed was for the undefeated South Fremantle to beat Perth later in the day, but it wasn’t to be and East Perth just missed out on taking part in finals action in heartbreaking fashion.
Angus Scott finished off his second season in the WAFL for East Perth where he has been outstanding once more on the wing delivering a best on ground performance made up of 26 possessions, 12 marks, four tackles and three goals.
Patrick McGinnity also kicked three goals for East Perth in his last match having announced his retirement with Jayden Magro and Shaquille McKenzie also booting two goals apiece.
There were plenty of other impressive performers for the Royals including Jackson Ramsay who racked up another 35 possessions while Aidan Lynch had 26 disposals, Nick Robertson 25, Rohan Kerr 22, Nathan Blee 21, Kye Willcocks 19, Nathan Eaton 18 and McKenzie 17.
Peel's four lone goals for the afternoon came from Tyrone Thorne, Ben Middleton, Brad Holmes and Jack Sears.
It was a tough year for the Thunder but it wasn’t without some players who impressed and those were again their best performers on Saturday. Michael Randall had 22 possessions, Ben Howlett 19, Matt Bogensperger 18 and Jackson Merrett 16.
WEST PERTH 12.5 (77) defeated SUBIACO 8.10 (58)
Everything was on the line when West Perth hosted Subiaco on Saturday and while the Falcons delivered a brilliant first three quarters, the Lions gave them a late scare to try and keep their finals run alive.
West Perth was back home at Joondalup's Provident Financial Oval and the Falcons knew they just had to win the game to secure a finals spot and if they could win by enough they could even leapfrog Claremont into second spot and earn a finals double chance.
But standing in their way was a Subiaco team coming off playing the last six Grand Finals in-a-row and winning four premierships, and the last two straight as well with two of those flags won in Grand Finals at the expense of West Perth in 2015 and 2018.
Subiaco had also won 10 straight matches against West Perth so that set the stage for quite the fascinating afternoon at Provident Financial Oval in front of a good crowd of 2574 people.
West Perth got off to an impressive start and spearhead Tyler Keitel was at the forefront of that kicking two goals in the first term. Michael Lourey and Keegan Knott chipped in with goals too and the Falcons were on top by 15 points at the first break.
It took 13 minutes for a goal in the second quarter but it when it came it went the way of West Perth with Knott kicking his second.
Greg Clark answered for the Lions but then Falcons debutant Sasha Kernutt got the passions flowing with a big goal to put his team up by 20 points at the main break.
Keitel then opened the second half with his third goal of the day and before long Tyson Moulton added another, Keitel booted his fourth, and then Conal Lynch got in on the fun and Keitel got his fifth.
That saw West Perth open up a match-winning 52-point lead just before three quarter-time and it was still at 46 when Aaron Black kicked truly eight minutes into the fourth quarter to celebrate his 200th appearance for the Falcons.
Subiaco was never going to go down quietly, though, and they did finish with a flurry with goals to Ryan Borchet, Bailey Matera, Max Walters and Rhys Waters, but that only closed the final gap to 19 points.
West Perth went on to win the game 12.5 (77) to 8.10 (58) and secured them in the finals but it was agonisingly short of being enough to see their percentage go above Claremont's leaving the Falcons in third spot.
For Subiaco, the loss saw their percentage fall below that of East Perth and no matter what happened between Perth and South Fremantle, the Lions were out of finals contention for the first time since 2013.
Tyler Keitel stood tall when it mattered most for West Perth by kicking five goals to go with 12 possessions and eight marks while Keegan Knott chipped in with two goals as well.
Shane Nelson produced an impressive performance in the midfield for West Perth in the 200th game of his best mate to finish with 28 possessions while Aaron Black delivered another 26 disposals, seven tackles and a goal.
Connor West gathered 20 disposals as well for West Perth, Laine Rasmussen 18, Mitch Peirce 17 and ruckman Ben Delaporte 12 to go with 34 hit outs and four tackles.
Greg Clark and Ryan Borchet kicked two goals apiece for Subiaco.
Subiaco captain Leigh Kitchin couldn’t have done much more to try and inspire his team and had 23 possessions and 13 tackles while Kyal Horsley delivered 21 disposals, five tackles and five inside 50s, and Max Walters 17 touches, six tackles and a goal.
Reigning Sandover Medallist Lachlan Delahunty finished off with 18 possessions, 36 hit outs, four marks and three inside-50 entries.
PERTH 8.18 (66) defeated SOUTH FREMANTLE 9.7 (61)
More than 2000 fans turned out to Lathlain's Mineral Resources Park on Saturday evening and most of them had their hearts in their mouths for the next four quarters to see if a 23-year wait would be over.
With Perth not having played finals in the WAFL since 1997 and while there have been plenty of wooden spoons and poor seasons along the way, there's also been some close calls and none more so than 12 months ago when they had been in the top five all season long before a late fadeout.
It's been a similar story in this shortened WAFL season too with the Demons coming out on fire winning their first three games, but then having only won one of the last four heading into Saturday evening's clash.
And as luck would have it for Perth, it was an undefeated South Fremantle team standing in their way who while they had secured the minor premiership and a home second semi-final, the Bulldogs weren’t going to take it lightly.
South Fremantle did only have a bye two weeks ago so there'd be no need for the Bulldogs to reset anyone and then add in the fact that the finals start next week and a host of players in the team desperately trying to secure a spot in that final 22 the following weekend.
So nothing would be handed the Demons way out of sentiment and if they wanted to play finals for the first time in 1997, they would have to earn it by outplaying the Bulldogs on the night in front of their patient and loyal home fans.
The game got off to the perfect start for the Demons with teen sensation Logan McDonald kicking the first goal of the game inside five minutes. His day didn’t go to plan from there, but it was at least a good start and it was even better when Brant Colledge ensured Perth got the first two goals.
But South Fremantle steadied starting with a goal from Kade Stewart before Caleb Datson added another and then Mason Shaw kicked his first to keep his Bernie Naylor Medal lead over McDonald with one goal separating the pair coming into the final round.
That saw the Bulldogs lead by six points at quarter-time but it was the Demons who again started strongly in the second quarter with a quick goal to left-footer Matthew Rogers. Marshall Jones then extended the lead to nine points.
Brandon Donaldson and Jack Richardson then traded goals for either side before Stewart kicked a second to close the half for South Fremantle and scores were all tied at the major break only heightening the nerves and tension in the Perth faithful.
Things then took a real turn for the worse for Perth with South Fremantle taking control of the game with the first three goals of the third quarter courtesy of Datson, Dylan Main and Ben Rioli.
Rioli's courage and desperation to run back with the flight of the ball to take a mark and then cop a heavy hit to earn a 50m penalty was inspirational for the Bulldogs.
South Fremantle's lead did grow to 15 points and it was still there when Shaw kicked his second at the 23-minute mark of the third term, but the Demons lifted sensing it was now or never.
Fraser McInnes took a big mark and kicked a goal before Rogers goaled on the siren to have Perth's spirits rise on three quarter-time and having clawed back within nine points.
It was then a remarkable last quarter. You could just sense almost a supernatural force pushing the Demons players on and the ball virtually never left their half of the ground the entire quarter.
It was always going to be a dramatic occasion if the Demons ever broke their finals drought and this couldn’t have been a more frustrating quarter for the Perth fans watching on.
They dominated the final quarter but kept on missing shots on goal, some difficult attempts and some not so, and the groans grew louder and louder with every miss.
Six behinds saw Perth get within three points of South Fremantle with the Bulldogs just completely unable to get the ball out of their back 50.
Perth was eventually rewarded when Rogers kicked the only goal of the last quarter at the top of the goal square and the celebrations were wild, but still there was time on the clock.
South Fremantle still couldn’t get the ball forward and Perth did enough to win the game 8.18 (66) to 9.7 (61).
The celebrations were then understandably emotionally firstly with the players who played, then the extended playing squad and then the Demons fans and supporters spilled onto Lathlain Park to join in and it was hard to not get caught up in the emotion of it all.
There is no more outwardly passionate and emotional Perth player than Matthew Rogers and he was the man who kicked the last two goals to finish with three for the day to go with 13 possessions, eight marks, six tackles and six inside-50 entries.
Jack Richardson, Logan McDonald and Connor McPartland all had their opportunities for the Demons but kicked a combined 2.10.
Andrew Fisher racked up another 26 possessions for Perth, Brant Colledge 22, Brady Grey 18, Matthew Taylor 18, Jacob Coniglio 17 and McPartland 16.
Kade Stewart, Caleb Datson and Mason Shaw kicked two goals each for South Fremantle, and for Shaw that was enough to give him 23 for the season in eight matches to win his first Bernie Naylor Medal.
Jacob Dragovich was tremendous again for the Bulldogs with 27 possessions and seven tackles while Chad Pearson finished with 21 disposals, Kade Stewart 19, Nick Suban 16, Brandon Donaldson 16 and Caleb Datson 16.
Brock Higgins did all he could for the Bulldogs again in the ruck with 11 disposals, 36 hit outs, four tackles and three marks.
EAST FREMANTLE 6.8 (44) lost to SWAN DISTRICTS 11.9 (75)
East Fremantle and Swan Districts might have been out of finals contention, but with champions playing their last games, milestones being celebrated and futures potentially to play for, there was still enough on the line at New Choice Homes Park.
It had been disappointing seasons for both East Fremantle and Swan Districts that promised plenty at different times, but ultimately all they could take out of a win on Sunday was a seventh place finish for the 2020 WAFL season.
There was still reasons to find motivation and that included East Fremantle captain Jonathon Griffin, and Swan Districts wingman, and former East Perth fairest and best winner, Steven Payne playing their last WAFL games.
Matt Riggio was also playing his 200th game for Swan Districts and 201st in the WAFL while there's no doubt a bevy of players on either team needed to show enough to prove they deserved to be persevered with in 2021.
East Fremantle welcomed back tall forward target Luke Strnadica and he started well kicking the first goal of the game. Swan Districts needed to find ways to goal and one attempt at that from Adam Pickering was throwing 200-game dual fairest and best winning star Matt Riggio forward.
It paid immediate dividends when he kicked an early goal and it was a goal apiece at quarter-time with East Fremantle a point up having not taken advantage of the famous East Fremantle Oval breeze.
Swan Districts did have the advantage of that breeze in the second term and immediately Jesse Turner kicked a goal from 60m out on the run to show its impact.
Leigh Kohlmann then added another for Swans but the Sharks did well to kick two in response to hold a narrow lead after the efforts of Milan Murdock and Ryan Lester-Smith.
Swans then wasted some time with the breeze by not getting the ball forward quickly enough and Turner got sick of that and dobbed another goal from outside 50m. In response to that, Riggio took his chance and snapped truly before youngster Lachlan Riley kicked a nice goal.
Riggio then found himself all alone deep in the forward pocket shortly after and he slotted a beauty to give him three impressive first half goals in his 200th game for Swan Districts and 201st in the WAFL.
That helped Swans head into the half-time break leading by 24 points but East Fremantle did come out and get the first goal of the second half through opportunist Tom Monaghan.
That would be East Fremantle's only goal of the third quarter with Swans kicking two goals through Brayden Noble and Sam Fisher into the breeze to be up by 26 points heading into the final term.
The Sharks had peppered the goals in the third term but couldn’t get on target and then it was two goals apiece in the last quarter of the season for both clubs with Swan Districts cruising to the 11.9 (75) to 6.8 (44) victory against East Fremantle.
Matt Riggio and Jesse Turner kicked three goals apiece with Turner also delivering 32 possessions, seven inside-50 entries, six marks and five tackles. Youngster Lachlan Riley also kicked two goals.
Sam Fisher finished with another 28 disposals for Swans, Frank Anderson 25, Josh Cipro 16 and Steven Payne 15 in his farewell appearance.
Corey Gault finished his outstanding season in the ruck for the Black Ducks with 22 possessions and 23 hit outs.
Luke Strnadica was East Fremantle's only multiple goal scorer on the day with two.
Cameron Eardley was far and away East Fremantle's best player on the day with 26 possessions while Blaine Boekhorst also had 26 disposals, Cody Leggett 19, Jarrad Jansen 16 and Tim Bockman 15.