West Coast have come under fire for an “environment of entitlement” that has seen the Eagles suffer 50-plus point losses in 10 of their past 20 games.
Jon Ralph believes there has been “considerable fall out” in the wake of Jack Darling’s immediate return to the senior side after his personal choice to be unvaccinated over the pre-season.
Darling was banned from the club until he eventually opted to meet the AFL’s health and safety requirements 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 player for the Darling situation. I think everyone’s got a choice. It’s a personal choice, he takes a stance on the vax,” he said On the Couch.
“But when the shadow looms up on you on the eve of the season that you’re going to lose your pay check and all of a sudden you get vaccinated, automatically I’m losing a lot of respect for my fellow senior player.
“If I’m that fellow senior player looking towards Jack, I’m going ‘Geez, I’m not sure I want to be in the trenches with ya. I’ve lost a fair of respect and it’s a long way back.
“How else do you look at that? Why didn’t he just stand for something all the way through?”
Ralph believes the Darling saga, combined with the Covid nightclub ordeal and the club’s selection policy, has created a “divided” playing group.
“(The Darling ordeal) divided the playing group – some players wanted to support him, others were furious. They felt that they were abandoned, they thought it was the worst possible time,” Ralph said.
“I think if you’ve busted your butt and (Darling) comes back in Round 2 off limited prep, you’re a young player and he steals your spot or you’re a senior player and he’s not firing … I think either of those scenarios make you a very angry player.”
But coach Adam Simpson refuted those claims on AFL360 on Monday night, believing he had a “united” team.
“I truly believe the group is united. And I’m not seeing any fractures within the four walls, any accusations or fingers pointing,” he said.
“We’re all in it together. We’re working as hard as we can get out of it at the moment.
“The leadership group I’ve got has probably dealt with this as best I can hope for. I think we’re galvanized.”
Ralph said in the days following the Eagles only victory for 2022 – the Round 4 upset away win over Collingwood – some of the younger players were left “dirty”.
Experienced players Jamie Cripps, Tim Kelly, Elliot Yeo and skipper Luke Shuey all came back into the side “significantly underdone”.
“I think there were some younger players there who were dirty they missed out as a result of the players coming in,” he said.
Nick Riewoldt described West Coast’s dismal start to 2022 as the result of a “soup of issues manifesting” at the club, while Garry Lyon said he had concerns about the sense of entitlement within the playing group.
“There was spirit, there was young kids in there having a crack (in the win over Collingwood),” he praised.
“All of a sudden there’s Shuey, Yeo coming back in. I think that would cause some issues.
“Does it speak to an environment of entitlement? ‘I’m entitled to play senior footy as soon as I am available’, and that has been facilitated.
“They’ve been the kings of this town. Kings of that city since day dot.”
West Coast are currently sitting last on the AFL ladder, with just one win in 11 rounds.
They’ve won just three of their past 20 games – including 10 games where the margin was more than 50 points, as the club battles injury and early Covid setbacks.