West Coast has come under fire for an ‘environment of justice’ that has seen the Eagles lose more than 50 points in 10 of their past 20 games.
Jon Ralph believes there has been “significant fallout” in the wake of Jack Darling’s immediate return to seniors following his personal choice not to be vaccinated during the preseason.
Darling was banned from the club until he finally chose to comply with the health and safety requirements of the AFL on the eve of the season.
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Fox Footy analyst Jonathan Brown said senior Eagles players would have lost respect for Darling after his backflip.
“I would have had empathy as a fellow senior for Darling’s situation. I think everyone has a choice. It’s a personal choice, he takes a stance on the vax,” he said on the bench.
“But when the shadow looms on the eve of the season that you’re going to lose your paycheck and you suddenly get vaccinated, I automatically lose a lot of respect for my fellow senior player.
“When I’m that fellow senior looking at Jack, I’m like, ‘Gee, I’m not sure I want to be in the trenches with you.’ I’ve lost a lot of respect and it’s a long way back.”
“How do you look at that differently? Why wasn’t he standing in front of something all the time?’
Ralph believes the Darling saga, combined with the Covid nightclub ordeal and the club’s roster policy, has created a “divided” playgroup.
“(The Darling ordeal) divided the player group – some players wanted to support him, others were outraged. They felt they had been let down, they thought it was the worst possible time,’ Ralph said.
“I think if you hit your behind and (Darling) come back in round 2 with limited preparation, you’re a young player and he steals your spot or you’re a senior player and he doesn’t shoot… those scenarios make you a very angry player.”
But coach Adam Simpson refuted those claims on Monday night’s AFL360, believing he had a “united” team.
“I really believe the group is united. And I see no breaks within the four walls, no accusations or pointing fingers,” he said.
“We are all in it together. We are currently working as hard as we can to get it out.
“The leadership group I have probably handled this as best they could. I think we are galvanized.”
Ralph said in the days following the Eagles’ only win for 2022 – the round 4 upset away win over Collingwood – some of the younger players were “dirty”.
Veteran players Jamie Cripps, Tim Kelly, Elliot Yeo and skipper Luke Shuey all came back “significantly undervalued” on the wing.
“I think there were some younger players who were dirty, they missed because the players came in,” he said.
Nick Riewoldt described the West Coast’s bleak start to 2022 as the result of a “soup of troubles manifesting” at the club, while Garry Lyon said he was concerned about a sense of entitlement within the squad.
“There was spirit, there were young children who had a crack (in the win over Collingwood),” he praised.
“Suddenly there’s Shuey, Yeo, coming in again. I think that would cause problems.
“Does it speak to an environment of justice? “I can play senior footy as soon as I am available,” and that has been facilitated.
“They have been the kings of this city. Kings of that city from day one.”
West Coast is currently last on the AFL ladder, with just one win in 11 rounds.
They have won just three of their past 20 games – including 10 where the margin was over 50 points, as the club battle injuries and early Covid setbacks.
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