Every elite AFL midfield has one bloke who is equally as talented and influential as his superstar teammates but for whatever reason doesn’t quite receive the same recognition or kudos as his peers – at least from a public perspective.
Nigel Lappin, for example, was as great as Michael Voss, Simon Black and Jason Akermanis at the Brisbane Lions in their dynasty years from 2000 – 2003 despite his slightly underrated profile.
Paul Chapman was as important to the Geelong Cats as anyone, including Gary Ablett, James Bartel, Cameron Ling, Joel Selwood, James Kelly and Joel Corey during the Cats trilogy of flags between 2007 and 2011 despite never truly being, in my opinion, acknowledged accordingly.
And Dayne Beams was as destructive as any of his Collingwood Football Club teammates including Dane Swan, Scott Pendlebury, Dale Thomas and Alan Didak in the Magpies’ premiership year of 2010 and beyond yet was the least identifiable of the lot.
Andrew Embley was a stunning AFL player for the West Coast Eagles, whose importance during their period of dominance and 2006 premiership in particular is grossly underrated and should be acknowledged and celebrated more often.
A super athlete who in many respects had it all – elite talent, unbelievable aerobic capacity, hunger to win the footy, versatility to play practically anywhere and the capacity to go forward when required and kick clutch goals in big games, ‘Embers’ was as important to anyone on the Eagles list, including bonafide legends Chris Judd, Ben Cousins, Daniel Kerr and Dean Cox.
See here’s the thing; I’ll give $1000 to the first person who can rank the fab four Eagles statistically in finals, including Ben Cousins, Daniel Kerr, Chris Judd and Andrew Embley.
Go on, have a crack at it – I did, and failed initially also – so a gorilla is all yours if you can nail their averages and rankings without any research and on first attempt.
Chris Judd – 23 Disposals, 2 Marks, 0.75 Goals
Andrew Embley – 22 Disposals, 5 Marks. 1 Goal
Daniel Kerr – 22 Disposals, 2 Marks, 0.5 Goals
Ben Cousins – 20 Disposals, 3.5 Marks, 0.9 Goals
As an overall package Andrew Embley is ranked one and delivered bigger than the lot.
While numbers and statistics can be misleading and largely irrelevant at times, they are absolutely not in this case, and completely on the money.
Andrew Embley was as important, as influential and as critical to the success of the West Coast as any his higher profile teammates – all three of whom themselves I love as players and blokes and have written stories on accordingly.
But ‘Embers’ was just just a little bit different than the other fab three, and here’s why;
Equally as talented in my view but without the public infatuation – good and bad – of perhaps the others, Andrew Embley was a durable as it comes and simply just got in and got it done over a sparkling one club career that is as remarkable as it is impressive.
250 AFL Games, 216 Goals, AFL Rising Star nominee 2000, West Coast Premiership side 2006, Norm Smith Medal 2006.
So which game of Andrew Embley’s stellar AFL career would he recall as his greatest ever?
Like his superstar Eagle team-mates he had the capacity to accumulate enormous statistical numbers, topping 32 possessions 17 times with career highs of 37 disposals, 24 kicks, 16 marks, 21 handballs and five goals throughout his brilliant one club career.
His point of difference in my view, was the fact that he could play practically anywhere, at any given time, and could find the footy as well as any of his teammates but then could push forward and kick bags of goals – three or more in fact on 15 occasions including clutch goals in big games and when it mattered most.
But it would the the biggest day on the biggest stage between two of the greatest rivalries in modern history in West Coast and Sydney, that Andrew Embley would truly flourish as a genuine superstar in the most memorable individual and collective performance of his entire career.
“I’d have to say the 2006 Grand Final was the greatest game I ever played in,” Embley said.
“Statistically I’d had other games where I had much better numbers but I guess to play my role well in such an important and high pressure game was far more important to me against a superstar Sydney Swans team who got a hold of us the year before in 2005.
“It was ridiculously close all day and I was being tagged by Sean Dempster after quarter time.”
“He (Dempster) had the better of me in past games so it was nice to play well under those circumstances. and to play a number of roles that day.”
In such a high octane game with superlative players and electric midfields, when probed a little further it is fascinating to gain an insight into the collective tactics from the Eagles camp at the final break with the game in the balance on such a monumental occasion.
“It could have gone either way at three-quarter-time,” Embley said.
“Woosh (John Worsfold) came to me at the final change time and told me to start wing at the centre bounce but then drift behind the footy.”
“We knew Dempster would still come with me so the idea was to get another pair in the hole in front of Barry Hall and Nick Davis as the rest of the Sydney forwards were getting high up the ground to create space which our backs would then follow.
“This was a definitive tactic that worked well for us in the last quarter and in many respects won us the premiership in a classic grand final.”
It is an amazing insight from an amazing champion in such an amazing game of football.
Andrew Embley would enjoy an outstanding final series in 2006 a purple patch of form like no other – culminating in a best on ground Norm Smith performance in one of the greatest grand finals ever played.
14 Kicks, 12 Handballs, 26 Possessions, 6 Marks, 10 Contested Possessions, 2 Goals, 2 Medals, an Eagle Flag and a Norm Smith Medal.