Some games of footy pull you in from the first bounce, keeping you enthralled and exhilarated all game long, not letting go of your attention until the final siren. Other games sort of amble along at a leisurely pace before, almost without warning, receiving a shot of adrenalin and becoming a high-octane thriller, rewarding the patience of those who stuck with it.

Fremantle’s 12-point victory over Collingwood today definitely belongs in the second lot of games. This game meandered along until about halfway through the third quarter when Collingwood all of a sudden seemed to wake up to the realisation that an attacking style of play, and kicking goals, was their best bet to win the game. Then, for the last quarter and a half, all of us watching were treated to a virtually uninterrupted series of attacking forays, as both sides continuously threw caution to the wind and in doing so, gave a hopeful and exciting glimpse into the future for both of their supporter bases.

While Fremantle fans will obviously feel a lot more positive with the outcome of today’s game, being the winners and keeping their chances of an unlikely finals appearance alive, I reckon that both teams may, in a few years time, look back at the final forty-five or so minutes of football as the start of something really special.

Here are my four points.

 

  1. The Present v. The Future

 

Before today’s game, I sat down and made a few notes about some of the match-ups I was looking forward to seeing. The first one I wrote down was Brodie Grundy v Sean Darcy. It’s a match-up that promised so much – Grundy as one of the three best ruckman of the last four years (along with Max Gawn and Nic Naitanui) and Darcy as probably the first significant young challenger to this group.

Before this season, it would be fair to say that Darcy’s potential had far outweighed what he had produced. A combination of form and injury (and perhaps a lack of conditioning) seemed to be holding him back from nailing down the first ruck spot in the Dockers line-up. I’m not sure what happened to him this off-season, whether it was Fremantle ruck legend Aaron Sandilands getting in his ear, or him approaching the final year of his contract (I know, he just signed for two more), or maybe the existential threat posed by COVID, but whatever it was that has happened, Darcy has shown up to season 2021 like a man who has finally realised how great he can be. Thus far in 2021, Darcy has proven just how damaging a ruckman he can be, consistently winning hit-outs and having more score involvements than any other ruck.

Twenty years ago, most people in football would tell you that a ruckman’s job was two-fold; win the hit-out to a midfielder, and stay a kick behind general play to take marks in defence. Then Dean Cox happened, and we all suddenly realised that a ruckman could be so much more. If Cox started the revolution for the role of ruckman, then Grundy has continued it. A smooth mover with neat skills, he has a rare ability to cover the ground like a midfielder and rack up possessions like one too. While he has probably been down on form over the last 12 months or so, there is no doubt that Grundy has the capability to both control a game and destroy an opposition.

The match-up between Darcy and Grundy, I am sure, will one day have star billing. Hell, if it weren’t for a COVID-imposed 25% capacity at Marvel Stadium today, I reckon Collingwood’s marketing team would have made plenty of it in the lead up – one of the best ruckman of today against one of the best ruckman of tomorrow. It almost sounds like a Marvel movie!

Let me state outright that I thought Grundy was just about best on ground today. Like many great players, he rose to the occasion and won/helped Collingwood win clearances when they desperately needed them, and his stat-line today (22 disposals, 27 hit-outs, seven marks and two goals) is one that most ruckman could only dream of.

I kept waiting for the moment that the match-up would take centre stage, and then the last quarter happened. With the Pies three goals down, they needed a lift from somewhere, and a twenty-minute surge of dominance in the middle from Grundy, capped by a wonderful mark and goal at the top of the goal square, almost appeared as though it would be enough. The Pies had just hit the front, having trailed by four goals midway through the third, and with the crowd having reached fever pitch, the match seemed all but over. Then Darcy lifted. I would argue he is a man not known for his elite skin-fold tests, but if he lacks anything in fitness, he more than makes up for it in heart.

Darcy’s last ten minutes were enormous, punctuated by a couple of superb contested marks – one in deep defence that stopped a Collingwood attack in its tracks. While Grundy was definitely the superior ruckman and footballer today, running Darcy off his feet on a few occasions, Darcy showed me and everyone else watching that though you may beat him one-on-one, he’ll be damned if he lets you beat the Dockers. In a competition where many clubs seem to lack perseverance and resilience, it was inspiring to watch.

 

  1. Ageing Like A Fine Wine

 

If the last ten or so years of the AFL have taught us anything, it’s that players’ careers don’t have to be over once they hit 30. Previously, it felt like once a player hit 30 years of age, commentators would, as if a switch had been flicked, start talking about the end being near and the players time in the league coming to a close. I don’t know if there’s any specific player who challenged this seemingly accepted style of thinking, but what I do know is that any list of players who turned 30 and somehow got better has to have the names David Mundy and Scott Pendlebury at the top.

Without having played AFL footy at the highest level (or even at an impressively lower level), I can only imagine that you’d know you’ve been in the league a long time when people born in the year you were drafted can now legally drink. That’s where David Mundy is at. He was pick 19 in the 2003 draft – the same draft that saw the likes of Adam Cooney get taken at pick 1, and Andrew Walker get taken at pick 2. Now in his eighteenth season, Mundy is still going strong, having now played 346 games and inspiring the hashtag ‘#mundy4hundy’ – surely the greatest of his achievements.

In a typically efficient display today, Mundy gathered 28 disposals (12 contested), had six score involvements and six tackles. The consummate professional, he led Fremantle’s midfield in a way that teams like Carlton and Gold Coast could only dream of, showing poise and class that defied the high-pressure nature of the final quarter and a half. Every team in the competition is on the look out for players who seem to make time go slower when the ball is in their hands, and if he makes the inexplicable decision to retire after this season, Mundy may very well find himself with eighteen clubs calling him to teach this skill.

If there’s anyone in the competition who can challenge Mundy for poise, it’s Scott Pendlebury – he has a basketball background, after all. I reckon there must only be one image etched in the mind of all Collingwood supporters from their clubs’ last ten or so years. It’d be Pendlebury, faced with two of three opponents, stepping one way, then the other, before crafting a beautiful left foot pass through the middle of several opponents, onto the chest of a leading forward. Balance, elegance and polish. They’re words that everyone uses to define Pendlebury, and they were on full display again today. 29 touches, five score involvements and eight clearances – a stat-line that Pendlebury has just about made his bread-and-butter since being drafted in 2005.

Yes, both of these players are probably a step slower than when they were drafted, and yes they are not fleet of foot. And though they ended up on either side of the win-loss ratio today, their leadership and experience counted for a lot today. Who said footy is a young man’s game?

 

  1. The Battle For The 8

 

Prior to the result of St Kilda’s upset victory over the Tigers last night, today’s game was probably seen as more of a chance for either side to stay in touch with the eight, rather than actually qualify for finals. But if a week is a long time in football, then last night must have felt like two weeks for both of these teams as the implications of the result started to dawn on them.

To be clear, if Collingwood had won today, they would have still been two games out of the eight and just as unlikely to make finals before the win as after. Football clubs, however, live off hope, and that’s what a win would have delivered – three wins on the trot, and only two out of eight with eight games to go? I’m no mathematician, but that seems possible! The loss today rules them out of any finals aspirations they may have had, and probably pushes the club closer to making tough decisions.

For Fremantle, however, the impact of a win or loss was more immediate. A loss today would almost hit them twice as hard, following Richmond’s loss last night and facing a winnable game today. Fortunately, like a good side should, the Dockers took care of business, though they were certainly made to work for it. In a post-match interview, David Mundy mentioned that he thought this was the sort of game the club would have lost over the last few years. Presented with a great opportunity to press for finals and being four goals up midway through the third before being significantly challenged in the last quarter, the level of resilience shown to dig deep and bury an opposition bodes well for Freo.

 

  1. The Transitions Out Of Defence

 

I’ve written quite a bit about the last forty-five minutes in this review, so I am sure you are all wondering what the heck happened in the first two and a half quarters. Well, to keep it simple, the defence’s dominated.

Down one end was Alex Pearce, Griffin Logue and Luke Ryan creating a Fremantle version of the Great Wall of China, while up the other end was Brayden Maynard, Jordan Roughead and Jack Madgen providing more of a Hadrian’s wall.

Much was made on the TV coverage of Fremantle’s ability to defend Collingwood’s forward thrusts, particularly after the first ten or so minutes of the game today. They seemed to be sitting their defenders a little deeper than I have noticed before, and pushing their forwards up a line. This had a dual effect of cramping Collingwood’s attacking half, while also allowing Fremantle to use the leg-speed of their small forwards, namely Lachie Schultz, Liam Henry and Sam Switkowski, when transitioning forward.

For quite a while, Collingwood seemed bereft of an answer, handballing the ball along their half-back/midfield line before ultimately bombing the ball inside 50m to an outnumbered contest. It wasn’t until they were forced to move with speed that they started to take chances out of their back half, squaring the ball into the middle of the ground and forcing Fremantle to defend the entire field rather than one half, that they looked dangerous.

Similarly though, it must be said that Fremantle struggled to score for long periods of the first half too. Part of the reason may have been to do with the injury to Matt Taberner, however, their exits from Collingwood’s back half when he was on the ground looked static and without imagination. For a long time in the first quarter, I kept wanting Freo to just kick a long bail-out ball down the boundary line to half-forward, and set up their forward structure so that they could force this kick out of bounds and re-set in attack.

Taberner’s injury, however, seemed to force Freo’s coaches to change up their structures a little, and instead of trying to simply handball their way out of defence, the Dockers started to change direction a little more.

The last forty-five minutes was, as I have said, exhilarating football as both sides changes angles, switched directions and took chances. The game was played at almost break-neck speed, though both sides still showed they could defend when necessary. I hope the coaching staffs of Freo and the Pies took notice, and allow their teams to play this way for the remainder of the year.

 

Stray Shots

 

  • What do Collingwood supporters make of Brayden Maynard’s game today? I thought he was one of their better players, but that 50m penalty (which should have been given a lot earlier than it was) was unforgivable. Yes, the free kick was dubious, but it’s from a defendable position. He made a possible shot at goal a certain goal, and in a match that was decided by 12 points, that means a lot.
  • Taylor Adams looked to me to be just missing that fine-tuning that comes with a couple of AFL games under your belt. He butchered his first few kicks, and double grabbed at the ball a few times, but will be better for the run.
  • Andrew Brayshaw looks to be becoming exactly the sort of player Freo hoped he would when they drafted him second overall. Every time I watch him play I can’t help but think he plays exactly the way a captain should. Again today he had 24 touches, six inside-50’s, five score involvements and a goal.
  • Some guys are lucky that they’re tall, aren’t they? I can’t help but think that Jamie Elliott looks across at Mason Cox and thinks “man, if I was as tall as you, I’d be kicking 100 a year”.
  • Can I just say, I LOVE JOSH TREACY!!! You know that scene in Rocky II, where Mickey is giving Rocky a motivating chat in the church and he says (about Apollo Creed) “this guy don’t wanna win, you know, he wants to bury you, humiliate you.” That’s the kind of way that Treacy attacks the ball, like his opponent is insulting him by picking up a possession. To keep the Rocky theme going, I just hope Treacy doesn’t get civilised.
  • It is really fun getting to watch Liam Henry ply his trade. That left foot pass across the face of goal for the sealer to Brett Bewley was a thing of beauty.
  • I really like the use of Isaac Quaynor off half back, but I reckon Collingwood just need to work out how to use him more. He only had 13 touches today, and when he gets up to 20, he’ll be a game breaker.

 

That’s about all I have for today – a really exciting game between the Pies and the Dockers. Next week, Freo host Carlton at Optus Stadium, whilst Collingwood play their 1966 and 2010 grand final opponents St Kilda.

 

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