Eagles' victory shows key forwards aren't endangered after all

Saturday's epic Grand Final triumph wasn't just a win for the Eagles and the blue-and-gold half of Western Australia.

It was also a win for one of the AFL's endangered species - the key forward.

In 2017, Damien Hardwick's 'small ball' Tigers -- featuring Jack Riewoldt and a bunch of small and medium forwards who placed a huge emphasis on pressure -- demolished an Adelaide team boasting tall targets Taylor Walker, Josh Jenkins, Andy Otten and Tom Lynch.

The season before, it was Luke Beveridge's motley crew of mediums and smalls who inspired a drought-breaking Bulldogs premiership. Their opponents, the Sydney Swans, had big men Lance Franklin, Kurt Tippett and Xavier Richards patrolling their forward line.

Both years, the team with the smaller forward line prevailed.

Saturday's Grand Final between West Coast and Collingwood again featured a clash of strategy and formation. Up one end, powerful Eagles big men Josh Kennedy, Jack Darling and Nathan Vardy lurked. Down the other, American giant Mason Cox was the Pies' only true tall target.

For four quarters, the contrasting clubs showcased their strengths and weaknesses in one of the most absorbing Grand Finals in history.

The Magpies' fleet-footed, swarming collection of non-tall forwards started in scintillating fashion, pressuring the Eagles into mistake after mistake and capitalising with the first five goals. A repeat of 2016 and 2017 was on the cards.

But the Eagles steadied late in the first term and then found a way to claw back into the contest. Their midfield, led by Luke Shuey and Dom Sheed, lifted and Darling, Kennedy and Vardy all grew in stature as the game reached its epic conclusion.

Kennedy was immense, booting three goals from 11 marks and 18 touches; Darling put to bed the ghosts of his 2015 Grand Final shocker with 12 disposals and seven marks (four contested), while Vardy (14 possessions, 14 hitouts and a goal) proved a constant thorn in Collingwood's side.

The big men up forward collectively made a gigantic impact.

The result prevented a third straight premiership win based around speed and pressure over height and marking ability.

A repeat of the last two years on Saturday may have changed the AFL landscape significantly, because as night follows day, rival clubs regularly copy traits of each premiership team for the following season. Three premierships in succession would have been too big a trend to ignore.

But this famous triumph busted any doubts around the value of key forwards. There's a reason Richmond will commit millions to Gold Coast free agent Tom Lynch and Fremantle will again thrown the kitchen sink at Melbourne's Jesse Hogan. It's also a reason promising junior key forwards are always selected at the pointy end of the AFL Draft.

On Saturday evening, after 120 minutes of intense, never-take-a-backward-step battle, West Coast was the team holding up the silverware. And their bravery in sticking to a system that may have been going out of fashion played a large part in the win.