Two-time premiership coach Denis Pagan has warned West Coast their flag hopes will go up in smoke if they are already thinking about the grand final.
The eighth-placed Kangaroos are expected to be easy kill when they front up to West Coast in Saturday night’s preliminary final at Domain Stadium.
But Pagan, who coached North Melbourne to the 1996 and 1999 premierships, said the mental battle could prove decisive in the Eagles’ chances of reaching the grand final.
“If you take it on form, you’d say West Coast will win easily against North,” Pagan said.
“But the best side doesn’t win finals games – the best side on the day does.
“AFL football at the pointy end of the year is all played between the ears.
“It’s a terrific challenge for West Coast – are they playing in the present, or are they thinking about grand finals? We’ll find out on Saturday night.”
Pagan knows from first-hand experience that favouritism counts for nothing.
The Kangaroos were an irresistible force in 1998, winning 16 games on the way to the minor premiership.
But the flag slipped through their fingers on grand final day when they booted a wayward 8.22 against the more efficient Crows, who had finished the season in fifth spot and weren’t expected to be much of a threat.
“We were the best side by a country mile in 1998,” Pagan reflected.
“But we’d played nine night games leading up to the grand final.
“Then on grand final day, it was 30 degrees with a big northerly blowing. We were running up and down on the same spot by the finish.
“We kicked 2.18 at one end of the ground and got beaten by Adelaide.”
Then one year later, Essendon’s dominant season came to an abrupt end in the preliminary final when they lost to the unfancied Blues by a single point.
North Melbourne were the major beneficiary of that boilover, with Pagan’s Roos going on to beat Carlton in the grand final.
Pagan said the midfield battle between West Coast and North Melbourne on Saturday night would prove crucial in the final result.
“The Goldstein-Naitanui clash is going to be worth travelling across the country to see,” Pagan said.
“If Josh Kennedy gets enough opportunities from West Coast’s midfield, the game might be all over.”