Mitchell Johnson: West Coast Eagles will eventually reap the rewards for resisting urge to sack Adam Simpson

Mitchell Johnson
The Nightly
Adam Simpson, Senior Coach of the Eagles leaves the stage during the 2018 Toyota AFL Grand Final match between the West Coast Eagles and the Collingwood Magpies.
Adam Simpson, Senior Coach of the Eagles leaves the stage during the 2018 Toyota AFL Grand Final match between the West Coast Eagles and the Collingwood Magpies. Credit: Adam Trafford/AFL Media

It is a shame the careers of West Coast champions Luke Shuey, Shannon Hurn and Nic Naitanui ended with a wooden spoon.

All of them can look back and be proud and content with what they achieved in an individual sense.

But the team success and achievements they were part of will be the most satisfying and something they will miss.

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The sense of camaraderie, shared achievement and the backing of members and fans who have supported them through thick and thin is something they will miss.

Especially when pre-season kicks off this summer. Then there will be a sense of emptiness, the feeling of routine missing when they don’t have to join the boys for a gruelling running session.

Their departures remind me of the retirements of Shane Warne, Glenn McGrath and Justin Langer at the end of the 2006/07 Ashes series.

For the younger players left behind, there can be a mix of emotions.

I remember a feeling of how amazing it was to be able to watch these cricketers at their peak and dominating for so long. You wonder if cricket will ever be the same.

At the same time, it’s opportunity. It’s like here we go, a bowling spot has opened up and I need to make the most of it.

I didn’t play a Test through that 2006/07 summer, being 12th man throughout Australia’s 5-0 whitewash. But I learnt so much. I came to understand what I needed to do to play for Australia.

I’m sure it’s a similar case with the West Coast greats retiring.

While their younger teammates would respect their achievements in the game, the game does move forward and the next generation will be ready to step up for more opportunity.

While Hurn and Shuey leave the AFL having achieved the ultimate in a premiership, Naitanui is the odd one out after missing the 2018 flag with injury.

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - SEPTEMBER 29: Adam Simpson, Senior Coach of the Eagles celebrates with injured star Nic Naitanui of the Eagles during the 2018 Toyota AFL Grand Final match between the West Coast Eagles and the Collingwood Magpies at the Melbourne Cricket Ground on September 29, 2018 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Adam Trafford/AFL Media)
MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - SEPTEMBER 29: Adam Simpson, Senior Coach of the Eagles celebrates with injured star Nic Naitanui of the Eagles during the 2018 Toyota AFL Grand Final match between the West Coast Eagles and the Collingwood Magpies at the Melbourne Cricket Ground on September 29, 2018 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Adam Trafford/AFL Media) Credit: Adam Trafford/AFL Media

I can relate to the feeling of not achieving a specific goal. For me it was always to win an Ashes series away from home. While not getting that doesn’t bother me now, it definitely was something that was on my mind when I retired.

While it didn’t consume my every thought, it was something I did wish I had achieved in my career but hey, that’s sport.

I’m sure Naitanui will be proud of his achievements in the game and what he did for the club as a player.

The support he was able to give back to the Eagles when sidelined, including mentoring ruck pair Scott Lycett and Nathan Vardy during the 2018 finals, would have been invaluable. That’s what it’s all about in sport, doing whatever it takes to get the best out of everyone.

It will be interesting to see the paths these ex-players choose after football. With a wealth of knowledge about the game, there are plenty of opportunities in coaching or the media.

Getting away from it all to spend more time with family and friends and start a new phase of life might also hold some appeal.

Someone who will still be at West Coast next year is coach Adam Simpson.

GOLD COAST, AUSTRALIA - JULY 04: Eagles coach Adam Simpson looks on before the round 5 AFL match between the West Coast Eagles and the Sydney Swans at Metricon Stadium on July 04, 2020 in Gold Coast, Australia. (Photo by Chris Hyde/AFL Photos/via Getty Images)
GOLD COAST, AUSTRALIA - JULY 04: Eagles coach Adam Simpson looks on before the round 5 AFL match between the West Coast Eagles and the Sydney Swans at Metricon Stadium on July 04, 2020 in Gold Coast, Australia. (Photo by Chris Hyde/AFL Photos/via Getty Images) Credit: Chris Hyde/AFL Photos/AFL Photos via Getty Images

I can see arguments on both sides of the issue but do have some admiration for the Eagles for being brave enough to go against the trend.

Sacking him is what most clubs would have done and have done in the past.

But is paying out millions of dollars and losing his wealth of experience and knowledge at the beginning of the rebuild phase really a good choice?

I say Simpson was contracted to do a job. While the past two seasons have been tough, let’s not get caught up in what other clubs would have done or what certain commentators have to say.

Let’s also not forget that the coach can only do so much with what he has personnel wise.

Overall, Simpson has been one of West Coast’s most successful coaches. He took the Eagles into the finals in six of his first seven seasons and to a premiership against all odds when key players were injured.

To me it seems Simpson has the players’ support and respect, which is very important moving forward.

The board obviously have a bigger picture plan in mind and I commend them for sticking to that. It’s not very often you see that in sport these days.

Look at the English Premier League. They seem to cycle through team managers like they are going out of fashion. All because of short-term thinking about money and results.

The Eagles have some patience and a deliberate plan. I believe in the long run they will be proven to have taken the right option.

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