The Giants in recent times have been close enough to unbeatable at their ACT home away from home, recording victories in their past seven matches at the venue. Additionally, the belief generated from one of their best ever wins last week at Geelong had them short-priced favourites to maintain their top of the table standing.
The Dockers, meanwhile would’ve been buoyed by their meritorious loss to the premiers in the derby, a game in which they had their chances to win, and while facing a tough assignment against a surging Giants, would be noticeably boosted by the return of their rampaging skipper, Nat Fyfe, as the home side lost their own, in Callan Ward.
Conditions in the nation’s capital are not often conducive to good football, but the perfect mid-April weather provided a perfect setting for players on both sides to showcase their skills. Some key match-ups for the start of the game included De Boer tagging Brad Hill, a feather in the cap of the Freo speedster, perhaps a nod to the intimate knowledge of his strategic importance by former assistant coach, Leon Cameron.
As expected, in-form key position players, Jeremy Cameron and Alex Pearce, and rucks Shane Mumford and Rory Lobb lined up beside each other in mouth-watering duels that would go a long way towards determining the result.
The match commenced at a frenetic pace as the Giants scored three behinds from their first 3 inside 50 entries, the Dockers responded with behinds of their own, firstly from a beautifully weighted pass from Hogan to a lively Taberner and then through livewire Michael Walters who looked too quick for Sam Reid.
GWS gained the first ascendency as their precision passing through the midfield executed by Haynes and Whitfield opened up the defensive structures of Freo and set up Daniels for the opening goal. The Dockers held firm though and hit the scoreboard through a wonderful passage of play started by Hamling in defence who left his man, attacking the ball before starting a chain that ended with a glorious pass from Walters again to Hogan.
The set-up of both teams was evenly matched with tall mobile options up forward, guarded by defenders with similar attributes, and the fearsome thuds heard clearly through the effects mike whenever contact was made showed both teams were primed for the contest. As the quarter progressed, Hogan was proving too mobile for Taylor, judging marks better as the ball dropped short and capitalised on the scoreboard. Brandon Matera, meanwhile goaled from a brave mark and was conspicuous with his clean hands and pace around the stoppages.
The Giants overall looked more efficient with ball in hand, the stark contrast between Hogan’s earlier pass to Taberner and several attempted by Reece Conca would certainly have had the Freo brains trust furiously writing notes on the whiteboard. Hit out numbers were relatively even early, but the advantage gained by Mumford several times in clearing congestion to free up his players for forward attacks was a first quarter highlight.
The imposing Matt Taberner continued to be involved early in the second, finishing off a good piece of work by the quiet Hill and Switkowski, then completely ruining his good work with a horror snap from the top of the square after a contested mark that sailed through the behinds. This was just the opening Giants craved, and a slick handball from Hopper released a surging Whitfield who laced out Finlayson for the quick response.
The wasteful Dockers would be ruing their inaccuracy as first a sensational handball from Himmelberg freed up Cameron to run in for his first, and then a brutal one-on-one victory to Tomlinson over Mundy saw Cameron mismatched with Cerra, and easily able to mark and convert for his second in a matter of minutes.
Freo’s Hughes started to lay his body on the line and importantly repelled several dangerous attacks, one such ended in a magnificent crumbing goal from Matera after Davis mistakenly punched the ball back in front of goals. Taberner missed another opportunity after a powerful contested mark over Davis, but a poor umpiring decision to award a mark to Walters in the shadows of half-time ensured the away side took a narrow lead into the long break.
The Dockers were most effective moving forward with short pinpoint kicks inside 50, and so it began the second half with Walters slotting his second, they would eventually record 20 marks inside forward 50 to the Giants five, a large reason for their tremendous performance. Matt Buntine temporarily stemmed the flow as he created a goal out of nothing with a fierce tackle to earn a free kick.
The match started to become even more free-flowing as bodies tired in the autumn heat, one man seemingly oblivious to the heat, talent-laden opposition, and close checking was the Dockers skipper, more monster than man, Nat Fyfe. He was simply stunning from about the midway point of the first quarter and while Dustin Martin produced one of the most dominant seasons of all time in 2017, if a school yard pick occurred with all AFL players lined up the Docker number 7 would surely be a popular first pick for most coaches.
His influence on the clearance count in particular is unparalleled, winning the count comfortably in the first three games while their talisman was prowling the contests, they lost by 11 last week in his absence, today against a seemingly unending supply of clearance beasts, Fyfe dragged his team ahead 36-34 after being swamped early. He is a footballing prodigy and one player who can literally lift the game out of its current mire with his incredible talent.
A goal of the year contender from Matera again, elicited an immediate response from Finlayson whose aerial threat is matched by his ground mobility in a very exciting package. The Dockers almost self-destructed at this point as firstly a majestic Walters centre clearance, landed with the improving Brayshaw who cleverly hurried the ball in a loose Taberner’s direction, but the bounce clean bowled him and the ball hit the post. Next another Conca turnover where he missed three open options was swiftly swept down the other end by Williams who found Cameron for his third.
A four-point advantage to the home side at three-quarter time looked ominous as their star power looked to have gained the ascendency and others such as Zac Williams who was utilising his line breaking and long kicking abilities to devastating effect. It was however the Giants defensive structures that began to diminish in the heat as the Dockers held firm, and Brad Hill pounced, his elite inside 50 disposal setting up two early goals, the second from another towering Taberner mark in the goal square.
Sensing an opportunity, the Dockers really pushed their foot on the accelerator Matera booting his fourth from a clumsy head high tackle, Fyfe bursting clear of his hapless opponents to set up Hogan with another precision pass inside forward 50, and Rory Lobb finally wearing down Mumford after battling manfully all game kicked the sealer.
Another result to confound the tipsters, and a kiss of death to anyone foolhardy enough to predict what might occur 5 months from now. Credit to the Dockers however who are still unable to bring their best every week, but coming off nine wins last campaign and with the addition of several seasoned bodies and the continued improvement of a highly talented youth brigade look to be tracking in the right direction. Maybe Ross can rebuild?
As for the vanquished, let’s chalk it up to a letdown after last week’s breakthrough, but this type of performance would not be tolerated again. This writer has held very serious concerns over the capacity of the coach to formulate a game plan that will withstand the rest of the competition when you can shut down the immense talent at his disposal, today does nothing to dispel that nagging thought.
To personalise this article, I will present a top 5 list for each sides supporters to take away, sometimes it’ll be top 5 players, occasionally top 5 moments, but always a top 5.
Why the list, you ask? Well, as an impressionable sports fan growing up with an insatiable mind for facts and figures the writing of Nick Hornby spoke to me deeply. ‘Fever Pitch’ illustrated that it is always ‘more than a game’, while ‘High Fidelity’ resonated on a number of levels, none the least the line: “I should have forgotten about it ages ago, but forgetting isn’t something I’m very good at”. Which perfectly encapsulates my lifelong affair with random trivia and stats.
TOP 5 – FREMANTLE FAN TAKE AWAYS
Ross Lyon, or as I like to refer to him, ‘The BossTM’ is great for football, like him or loathe him, there can be no doubt he’s a character, something we are sadly lacking in this heavily censored and sanitised day and age. He has yet to taste the ultimate success, but you don’t take two different clubs to the last day in September four times without a whole lot of talent and trust from the playing group.
Michael Walters is an elite centre clearance player. Almost any time he was at a centre bounce he was able to find time and space, and even more importantly when he got hands to the ball, he was clean and creative. He is a helluva player, superb today and just misses votes due to the four-quarter performances of three teammates.
Fremantle can play finals in 2019. Hear me out, 11 home matches at a foreboding coliseum, the best player in the game, a very well balanced list, and a new-found (albeit inconsistent) ability to score heavily. There are players missing from the line up who will make them better, Blakely and Hill and others who could do a job or force the incumbents to the next level, that’s an exciting proposition.
Alex Pearce, Luke Ryan and Joel Hamling are a premiership quality tall backline. Pearce would be in the conversation for the AA position and performed his role admirably today despite 4 goals from his direct opponent, Jeremy Cameron. Hamling has already tasted success at the Dogs and will only improve as he grows with this young team. Ryan has similar marking attributes to the best in the business Jeremy McGovern, without the working-class flair. Together they are a powerful weapon at The Boss’sTM disposal.
Freo’s forward press to keep the ball in the opposition backline is looming as a key strategic advantage over their rivals. Fast and committed smalls, proficient in tackling backed with powerful marking midfielders give them plenty of chances to score. The tall forward line won’t work every week, but the mobility of McCarthy, Hogan and Taberner should find a way.
TOP 5 – GWS FAN TAKE AWAYS
Lachie Whitfield is as smooth as caramel. The stats might say that Coniglio, Kelly and Williams had more disposals, but Whitfield is currently playing on a different level, each of his touches were dripping in class and he more than any other player in orange and charcoal kept them in the fight today. If I were Wayne Campbell, sheeyeah right, I’d put an offer to him quick smart!
Jackson Hately equipped himself brilliantly on debut and if this performance is any indication then the Giants have found themselves another quality operator to run through the middle of the ground.
Zac Williams could be in the top 5 most important players for his club. His line breaking abilities and creative vision were sadly missing last year when the whips were cracking but looking to have regained full fitness is a key to the Giants march to September in 2019.
Hopper and Taranto have seamlessly stepped into the positions vacated by alumni Shiel, Treloar, WHE and Adams in recent years, but niggling doubts still abound over their ability to perform week in and week out at the level required of a premiership contender. There is a long season to go and their less than satisfactory performances this game were more than countered by their output last week so no alarm bells just yet.
Phil Davis might be the second Giants captain to be forced onto the sidelines in the last fortnight after what appeared to be a relatively serious ankle injury. His leadership will be sorely missed especially if he is hampered for any more than a couple of games. The Giants have a very winnable month of football coming up, they’ll want to re-establish themselves and can’t afford to lose another inspirational and cool headed player.
Like what you’re getting? Want more? We have additional content weekly on our Patreon Service. Become a Mongrel Patron, and you can get more of this kind of… stuff
And hey… if you’d like to support us, you could head over to our Mongrel Shop and purchase one of our hideously overpriced hoodies or notebooks. We even have a place for donations now. ORRRRRR, get one of the more moderately priced stubby holders or bumper stickers. Keep The Mongrel thriving.