Ah Queensland… beautiful one day, and then you get this in the evening.

Oh well… at least it’s still better than being in Victoria at the moment.

I don’t know if others feel the same, but have Fremantle played a large amount of games in the wet this season? Every time I cover them it seems to be in poor conditions, and it means I have probably not got to see what Freo are truly capable of with a dry footy.

On this occasion, maybe that was a good thing, with the Dockers playing the more direct footy in trying conditions in Cairns to effectively end the Demons’ season and demonstrate to their supporters that there is a lot to like about this team going forward.

Freo’s young stars were on show again in this one, both burrowing in and winning the hard footy, as well as running hard to space and to find themselves as vital links in chains of possession. Adam Cerra starred, whilst the Dockers’ two big recruits this off-season stepped right up to give them a lift when required.

For the Dees, they had the usual suspects – Viney, Oliver and Petracca all picking up 25+ disposals, but with Viney’s 56% efficiency the best of the three, you can tell that they did not handle the wet conditions as well as they should have.

It was Freo’s sixth win of the season, and they will lament the start that saw them lose their first four games, despite being in each and every one of the contests. Then there is the last-second loss to Carlton, which is still hotly debated by supporters to this day. But for a couple of small things, this win could have propelled Fremantle into the eight.

But before I start sounding like a Damien Barrett column, I should probably stop dealing in “ifs” and “buts” and start focusing on realities, and the reality of this game was that Fremantle wanted it and the Dees wanted it to happen for them.

Again.

Here are the big questions from the excellent win for the Dockers.

 

IF YOU HAD TO PICK ONE OF THE YOUNG THREE FREO MIDFIELD STARS, WHO DO YOU TAKE?

Oh man… who’s asking these questions?

We’ve seen some great things from Caleb Serong this season and he was excellent again this evening. His 18 touches don’t do his game justice at all, as he worked hard at the coalface to get the footy to his teammates. I love his defensive pressure, and his leadership qualities can be seen when there is a stoppage- he is pointing at players to cover, ensuring people have the right assignment and making sure the team is structured well.

He is wise beyond his years.

But would I take him right now?

Nope.

Adam Cerra had a blinder tonight. They say the cream rises to the top in the wet weather games. Either a player steps up his game, or he falls back to the pack when the footy becomes slippery, and Adam Cerra was an absolute star in this one.

He had 30 disposals to top all players, and the goal he kicked from the pocket in the last quarter was ridiculously good. Fremantle would be very, very well-served in ensuring he puts pen to paper sooner rather than later. With a contract expiring at the conclusion of 2021, his presence in this team will go a long way to seeing them play finals in the near future.

But would I take him if I had to choose just one?

Nope.

I’d take Andrew Brayshaw.

I know he wasn’t the most prolific in this game, but he has something really special about him, and the more I watch him the more convinced I am that he will become a star for the Dockers – perhaps THE star of the midfield.

In this one he had 21 touches and ran at an impressive 71% in the trying conditions. His seven tackles were an equal game-high and his ability to take the game on always makes me smile.

Brayshaw has a brother at West Coast and another one who didn’t play for the Dees in this one. If Fremantle are smart, this is the perfect opportunity to snare Angus Brayshaw at a bargain price. The Demons will be looking to shake things up in the wake of missing finals again and I am sure that Mrs Brayshaw would love having all three sons in the same state together. Pinching Angus Brayshaw from Melbourne, where he has looked out of place for the better part of the last two years, would be a coup for the Dockers, and would offer another inside mid to help when the inevitable happens and David Mundy calls it quits.

What do you say, Docker fans? Two Brayshaws sound good? What would you be willing to give up to get him?

 

WAS THE THIRD QUARTER BLAKE ACRES BEST QUARTER OF AFL FOOTY?

Quite possibly.

Acres doing his hamstring earlier this season was the kind of setback that can ruin a season. He was flying in the Marsh Series and with both Ed Langdon and Brad Hill out of the team, the spot on the wing looked like his to absolutely own.

Then he had that six-week hamstring, and as a bit of a hamstring veteran, I know it can take time to get confidence back in your body. I have zero confidence in mine at the moment, having strained my hammy on Friday – boooooo!

Leading by just six points at the main break, Acres gave Freo a huge lift in the third, moving into the guts to collect nine disposals and two clearances for the Dockers. Importantly, with the wet footy he was able to hit up teammates and put the ball in the right spot for them to run onto it.

Whilst others were hacking it forward and hoping for the best, Acres’ poise and willingness to take the responsibility of holding onto the footy for a second or two allowed him to control the footy.

He was an island of serenity in the sea of chaos in the third quarter, and if you’re looking for the spark that lit the Freo fire, you would find Acres’ name right up there with Michael Walters and Adam Cerra in this game.

 

IS THERE A MORE RELAXED-LOOKING PLAYER THAN BRENNAN COX?

I’m not sure, but I am digging the way he goes about his footy in the defensive 50 at the moment. He looks calm, cool and collected as he cruises around there, tag-teaming with Luke Ryan to clean up whatever mess the opposition leave behind.

In truth, I was not entirely sold on Cox as a defender initially, and I know I am not alone at all. His laconic nature made it seems as though he was ill-suited to the mad panic that sometimes engulfs a defence, but the more I have watched him, the more I think it might actually be exactly what a team needs.

Amid the chaos, Brennan Cox is the order.

He finished with eight intercept possessions and six big spoils in this one as he relished playing the role as the deepest Freo defender, and as time goes by, I can actually see him becoming so comfortable in his role that he could be the tall defender Freo stick with once all is said and done.

My go-to footy stats website, Footywire tells me that Cox is out of contract after this year. Time to prepare an offer, Freo – this is one relaxed bugger that you don’t want to lose.

 

WHO WON THE TABERNER V MAY CLASH?

Well, this is the first time this season Tabs has not kicked a goal in a game… though with 0.3 to his name, he definitely had his chances.

I really enjoy watching both these blokes play, but in this contest I expected the conditions to render Tabs pretty much useless. It took until a little way into the game for me to realise that Taberner has been playing in shitty conditions all season- it’s like wet weather has followed this club around.

This summer, wherever we have bushfires or drought, if we can schedule a Freo game in the vicinity, it almost guarantees some great rainfall.

Taberner took six grabs, including three contested marks with a very wet ball. May added seven spoils but was way down in his intercepting work, unable to zone off Tabs to impact other contests.

On the whole, my gut says it was close to a draw, but six marks in the wet is impressive. If only Tabs had converted one goal tonight – he would have been a clear winner.

 

DID WE SEE THE BEST AND WORST OF SONNY WALTERS IN THIS ONE?

Yes, we did.

He is a match-winner and with three of Freo’s first four goals, he blew this game open. His hands at ground level were excellent and he sat in wait, like a cheetah about to pounce as the Melbourne defenders fumbled and overran ground balls inside 50.

And when they did, he struck, and struck hard!

Yet still, the amount of times he opted to take his eye off the footy and play for a free kick were very concerning. I’ve written this before and sadly, I think I will write it again – he is way too good to be flopping around like a fish out there trying to milk a free kick. The irony of him claiming Trent Rivers ducked into his tackle late in the second quarter was spectacular.

Walters could be one of the best players in the game to watch. Hell, on his day, he is. However, the playing for free kicks detracts from his game to the point where I shake my head when he does it. He is better than that. As a matter of fact, he is better than most, and in terms of small forwards, he could be the best.

But not with that in his game.

 

WHY WOULD THE DEES PLAY TWO RUCKS TONIGHT?

Any Geelong fans reading this?

No? Good.

Remember last season’s first final when Geelong coach, Chris Scott looked at the rain radar and decided to drop Rhys Stanley for the clash against Collingwood?

Well, it didn’t rain, and as a result, Brodie Grundy had a day out.

Well, maybe that made Simon Goodwin a little gun-shy? Maybe he thought “well, I don’t want that happening to me… so I’ll play two of the big bastards!”

And he did.

And it was an error.

Max Gawn is a star. He is a ruckman of the highest level. Brayden Preuss… is not, and with the rain pelting down and the lumbering Preuss having just one moment in this game (his tackle on Nathan Wilson) it became more and more apparent that the decision to play two rucks in this game was a really, really poor one.

Luckily for Goodwin, Justin Longmuir helped him out by playing both Sean Darcy and Rory Lobb.

Lobb was slightly more useful than Preuss, but not by much. Sometimes, being a good coach means you have to make a hard call, and if that means a player’s feelings get a little hurt, then so be it. Goodwin should have had Preuss pull up a little sore in the warm up and replaced him with someone who could have had an impact. Longmuir should have done the same thing with Lobb.

 

DID THE DEES WASTE THE CREATIVITY OF JAKE MELKSHAM?

I’m a bit wrap for Jake Melksham. I think he is one of the more creative players in the league, and his ability to find the footy inside 50 and set teammates up for goals rates right up there. So, given that, watching him match-up on Nat Fyfe around the ground piqued my interest.

Did he stop Fyfe?

Hmmm, hard to say. It might have been the conditions that limited Fyfe’s influence as much as anything Melksham did. Fyfe finished with five clearances amongst his 21 touches, whilst Melksham had just nine touches for the game. Importantly, without Melksham up forward, and missing Bailey Fritsch up there as well (I’ll get to that), the Dees lacked structure and their two goals through the first three quarters can attest to that.

Melksham on Fyfe will go down as being one of those things that seemed like a good idea on paper, but in reality just didn’t completely click.

Righto Mongrel… you’re a big man with your Captain Hindsight cap on – what would you have done differently if you were Goodwin?

I’m glad I asked. You see, the Dees have this bloke in the middle who is one of the best two-way midfielders in the game. He loves to tackle and can run off his opponent and collect plenty of the footy as well. Not many read the footy better than Clayton Oliver – I am a huge fan – and I would have backed him in to go head-to-head against Fyfe and at the very least break even.

What do you think about that?

 

WAS TAYLIN DUMAN ON TRACK FOR THE GAME OF HIS LIFE?

He was having a blinder, and at half time I had him as the best player on the ground. His run and carry from defence, and repeat efforts to win the foot, distribute and run to receive again were really impressive.

Alas, we didn’t see him in the second half, so whilst this could have been the best game of his career, I suppose we’ll just have to settle for it being the best half of his career.

This Freo back six has been like The Replacements this season, and I’ve been really impressed not only with the efforts of Duman, but Brennan Cox and Ethan Hughes as well. Yeah, they are outgunned at times and they’d be a hell of a lot better with blokes like Alex Pearce and Joel Hamling in the mix, but in a season where everything kind of went out the window, we found out a lot about these players, and it looked as though tonight we were going to see it really come home to roost for Duman.

Damn injuries…

 

WAS THE BAILEY FRITSCH IN DEFENCE EXPERIMENT A FAILURE?

Look, I see what Simon Goodwin is attempting to do – throw his team around in an effort to spark… something. However, is it intelligent coaching to send one of your leading goal kickers into defence for a game that will dictate whether or not you’ll play finals?

Fritsch, in my humble opinion, has been one of the big positives for the Dees in 2020. He missed a couple of rounds ago due to being late for training and watching him line up in defence, I was thinking that his tardiness must have really pissed Simon Goodwin off.

For the record, playing as a medium forward, Fritsch has 17 goals for the year and leads the Dees in marks inside 50. As a matter of fact, he is sixth in the entire league in that category.

So it makes perfect sense to remove him from the position in which he is excelling, and throw him into defence to shake things up, right? When you’re fighting for a spot in the eight and goals are hard to come by. It made me shake my head.

Fritsch went forward after half time and managed to kick a goal anyway, and could have had two. You know when the Dees could have used his presence in front of goal? All bloody game!

 

HOW TOUGH IS JACK VINEY?

Far out… usually I don’t like pumping up tyres like this. I much prefer to let a player’s actions speak for themselves, but how can you not admire the way Jack Viney took that hit in the third quarter, got to his feet and played on?

No mess.

No fuss.

No posturing – just one tough bastard taking one of the biggest hits of the AFL season and pulling himself up off the deck for his team.

It was an inspirational act… but somehow the Demon failed to be inspired by it. I reckon that says a lot.

Viney had 20 contested touches in this game as he continually threw himself into the contest and dared someone to stop him. He added seven clearances and eight inside 50 deliveries to his tally as he once again established himself as the Melbourne player that wanted it most.

What a pity others couldn’t match his intensity.

 

WHAT CAN WE EXPECT FROM FREO IN 2021

Not to detract from the comprehensive season review I will be compiling for each team after the finals, but the priorities for Freo seem pretty straight forward.

  1. Player health. The club has released their high performance coach after a rash of injuries and some weird ongoing issues for players over the last few years. They need to get this aspect right in order to have the best shot at keeping a competitive team on the park
  2. Re-sign the kids. Cerra and Brayshaw are absolute priorities and the Dockers should be ready to lock them away on at least three-year deals. An extension for Hayden Young would be wise, as well.
  3. Re-sign Brennan Cox. He has proven he can hold down a key defensive role
  4. Trade wisely. The Dockers have assets now. If Hogan wants out, let him go. If Connor Blakely is not part of long term plans, get some value for him

I believe that if Freo have the cards fall well for them this off-season, they could make a run at finals as early as next year. With five losses by under 15 points this season, they have shown plenty, and as the kids get better and the superstar Fyfe gets more help, they could really do some damage.

 

AND THE DEES?

I was a Dee-Believer coming into this season, but they have once again proven that whenever their destiny is in their own hands, they’re going to fumble it and bumble it until they turn it over to someone else.

On paper, I love their list. On-field, I hate it. They have had a superstar emerge, have high quality contested ball-winners and a defensive set up with Steven May one of the best lockdown full backs in the game.

And yet here we are.

Something is up at Melbourne and I would expect some of the deadwood to be moved on after this season. Some will retire, others will be traded, whilst others may be delisted, but if Melbourne come into 2021 with a list highly resembling the one that has fallen over so dramatically the last couple of years, then they do not deserve success.

 

HOW DOES THE NEXT COUPLE OF WEEKS PLAY OUT?

Freo have their plans set. They are playing North and the Western Bulldogs and I reckon both are winnable games. Their kids are already getting game time so there is no need for any abrupt changes or radical game plan alterations. It is all about gelling as a team now.

Melbourne…. hmmmm, people expect them to lose now, so they’ll probably start winning! They have GWS next week and couple play the role of spoiler, followed by a date with the equally disappointing Bombers to round out the season. I’d love to see Nathan Jones get a farewell game and I get the feeling there might be a few on this list that play their last games in the red and blue over the coming two rounds.

 

That’ll do me – for a wet and wild game, I really enjoyed it. I love watching the Freo young players morph into the next generation of stars in purple, and while I am at it – I want Freo to start wearing more purple! This kit is way too dark – I want Prince-kind of purple on their guernseys. He’ll, I might even buy one if they did that.

 

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