What was said at halftime in the Fremantle Dockers’ rooms at the MCG? What was the spark that lit the flame under this side that would burn the Demons to the ground and inflict their first loss of 2022?

As the teams left the ground for the main break, this felt like a classic Melbourne game. Up by four goals, they’d done what they always do and created separation between themselves and their opponents. With a 25-point lead, what would usually happen from here is the Dees would hold the lead, perhaps increase it slightly, but not to the point where they dropped the hammer and embarrassed their opponents.

That was how it was scripted – we’ve seen it several times this season – and at that point of the game, everything was going off without a hitch.

And then… well, then we started to see some hitches.

One hitch – Aish, then another – Darcy… a minute later, another appeared – Logue, until the Dockers grabbed the Demons’ script, tore it to bits and started writing an ending that better suited them. In this one, they were the heroes. In this one, they slayed the Demons and walked off into the sunset with the four points. In this one, Fremantle reigned.

In a game of two-halves, Fremantle put on a third-quarter clinic, complete with intelligent tactical moves, a renewed passion for the contest, and a hunger that only a win on the road can satiate.

Almost a decade ago there was a team out west that didn’t care who you were, where you were from, or where they played you.

Anyone, anywhere, anytime…

There was a whole heap of that today about this Fremantle team – a team that had already demonstrated these traits in a trip to Geelong earlier in the season. After two weeks where their heart, their ability, and their structure were questioned, these Dockers played as though their lives depended on it in the second half. And for the first time in 17 games, the Dees wilted under the pressure.

Let’s get into The Mongrel’s big questions as we celebrate one of the best wins of the season to date.

 

 

WAS I THE ONLY ONE JUMPING OUT OF MY SEAT WHENEVER MICHAEL FREDERICK TOUCHED THE FOOTY?

Lachie Schultz got to bask in the glory of running into the open goal n several occasions in the second half, but from where I sat, it was the actions of Michael Frederick that were the standout pieces of forward play.

Early this season, watching Freo go through their paces in their practice games and as part of the AAMI series (the series of one game), seeing Frederick up forward was like a breath of fresh air. His attack on the footy, his pace, his recovery – they were all first class.

Whilst we’ve seen games where he has been good, I reckon he took his game to another level in this one, particularly after halftime. His game went from good to great in a hurry, as he used his speed and creativity to torch the Dees forward of centre.

Whilst the small forwards of Melbourne were solid, with Toby Bedford’s second-quarter burst running, and Kysaiah Pickett’s pressure both real highlights, they paled in comparison to Frederick’s brilliance in the second half. Playing with confidence, and flair, yet maintaining a sense of never overreaching, Frederick combined with teammates to create 11 score involvements. Two of these were goals of his own and two more were direct goal assists.

Using the wide wings and flanks of the MCG, Frederick found space to run where others did even know there were spaces. There was so much to like about the way this Freo team went about their attack in the second half, but basically, everything that involved Frederick turned to gold.

And if you want to talk about that brilliant little tap back to setup one of Lachie Schultz’s four goals, I’m all ears. It was brilliant.

 

HOW GREAT WAS IT TO SEE JAMES AISH TAKE THE RESPONSIBILITY OF STOPPING CLAYTON OLIVER?

This is maturity, and it is something Aish probably was not capable of when he moved over from Collingwood, or, to be fair, for his first couple of years in purple.

However, after two seasons of playing half-back and wing, seeing Aish finally ready to move onto the footy and not just go in there to win his own footy, speaks of a player that understands that his role, irrespective of what he is asked to do, is just as vital as any other player on the team.

If he goes in, does as he’s asked, and does it well, others will do the same. When everyone does that, great things happen.

This was a great thing.

Clayton Oliver did as he pleased in the first half. Seriously, he treated the Fremantle midfielders like they didn’t matter, running around, collecting the footy at will, and driving it long inside 50.

At halftime, Oliver had 24 disposals and when he wanted the footy, he simply went and got it. With Will Brodie, Andrew Brayshaw, and Caleb Serong trying to win footy of their own, Oliver was largely left to his own devices, and despite his 55% disposal efficiency in the first half, he was hammering the footy inside 50.

And then James Aish showed up.

He was like the gunslinger that walks into a saloon. Those saloon doors swing open and there he is standing there. You can see his hand just twitching, hovering around his holster as he surveys the room. The mood changes when someone enters the fray like that – everyone knows the party is over and it is just a matter of time until shit goes down. Things could get ugly.

Shit went down for Clayton Oliver, who suddenly had someone who didn’t like the fact he was getting plenty of the footy, and made it his job to ensure there was no back-to-back 40+ disposal games for The Dees’ red menace.

Oliver had just 12 second-half disposals, and only six of them were effective. Wherever he went, Aish was never far away. He wasn’t hanging off Oliver like a cheap suit – he was just in the vicinity, and when Clarry went for the footy, Aish did as well.

And Aish won plenty of his own footy in the process.

He had 12 second-half touches as well, matching the output of the Melbourne gun and doing it with better efficiency.

If this is the role reserved for James Aish going forward, it speaks volumes about his value to this team. He can slot in at half-back, head out to the wing and find the footy there, and when required, he can be sent into the middle to disrupt things when they’re not going Freo’s way. I loved what he offered in this game and cannot speak highly enough of his negating work – it is an aspect of the game that is too often forgotten.

 

WHO WON THE BATTLE OF THE BRAYSHAWS?

I know they didn’t play on each other, but their influence at different points was marked.

Angus had several moments running back inside defensive fifty where he appeared as though he was the only Demon looking at reading the flight of the ball. His equal game-high nine intercepts are evidence of that.

Meanwhile, little brother had a solid four-quarter performance in the midfield, only taking his foot off the pedal late in the piece when the game was sewn up.

It is interesting that Angus has put his contract talks on hold, as it is apparent to all that watch the Demons that he is playing a team game at this point in his career, and is capable of much more than we’re seeing from him at half-back. Whilst I am sure Demons fans hope this is just a negotiating tactic, it’s not often that players do that and hang around.

Meanwhile, Andrew is developing into the player that will soon be hailed as Freo’s best, if he is not there already. He is a relentless runner who is unafraid to take on the responsibility of holding the footy for a second longer than most to allow the traffic to pass and give him a clearer run. It’s like everyone else is straining to get to the office by 8.30 and Andrew cruises in about nine-ish with a coffee and still does the job better than anyone else.

I know I asked who won the battle here, but in truth, there was no battle between two brothers who didn’t play on each other. The young fella gets the bragging rights this week, but really, I just love both their games and relish the chance to write about two of the best in the league.

 

HOW IMPORTANT WAS IT THAT RORY LOBB STOOD UP IN THE FIRST HALF?

He was massive, and I reckon it is only when we look at this game in its entirety that we come t understand just how good he was, and how much he gave Freo early in the piece.

In a first quarter that could have seen the game completely get away from the Dockers, Lobb was the man to stand up and put the team on his back. He had nine touches in the first quarter, including four marks as he attacked the ball in the air the way Freo fans have been wanting him to for bloody years!

I know there is a big chance he is out of there following this season – Lobb has always struck me as someone who is not easily satisfied. Not happy at GWS, not happy to play ruck, not happy at Freo… some people are just like that. So, had you asked me which bloke was going to put his hand up and become a force for the Dockers when Melbourne threatened to blow it apart, I probably would not have chosen him.

I guess that is what makes his efforts seem so huge in this one. Every time he flew for a mark and took it, it came across as a big surprise to me.

“Whoa… settle down, Rory!”

I’m joking, obviously, but with all sincerity, I have not ever pictured Lobb as a “heart and soul” type player. Given what he demonstrated in this game, maybe this is a side of him I just haven’t seen yet. I kind of like it.

Maybe he should reconsider and stay with this team – they’re obviously going places.

 

WHAT KIND OF IMPACT DOES LOSING A PLAYER LIKE STEVEN MAY HAVE ON A TEAM?

It’s mammoth, and it is increased when your second biggest bloke, Harrison Petty, goes down with an injury and cannot get around as well as he usually does.

We saw at points Jayden Hunt trying to cover Matt Taberner, and then the Dockers would send Sean Darcy down inside 50 to further complicate matters. On a wet day, you could probably get away with going smaller, but this was played in excellent conditions (if a little bit chilly) and the hands of the Dockers up forward meant that there were no easy intercepts and no huge contest kills for a Demon defence that usually eats up long, high deliveries.

The Dees were forced to throw Sam Weideman down back to try to stop the bleeding, but really, Weed is usually much better at preventing his own team from scoring steadily than he is the opposition.

Yeah, I know – cheap shot, but I have never really rated him that highly, so it’s nothing new.

The issue is that May will now have to miss next week as well against Sydney, which immediately makes that a more interesting contest.

 

HOW DOMINANT WERE FREO IN THE AIR?

Let’s run some numbers, shall we?

You guys can look up the contested mark numbers all you like, but here at The Mongrel, there is another metric I like to look at as it demonstrates how well a team moves the footy when they’re stuck in a series of slow plays. I call them the “Get out of Jail” marks, or GooJ marks for short. And in this game, the numbers for this stat tell a big story.

Freo had 11 of these marks in this game, with Griffin Logue the best exponent of the skill, taking three. I have been tracking this stat since the start of the year – 11 is the highest number for any team so far, meaning that Fremantle were able to take big marks that broke down the Melbourne zone and allowed for easy matchups down the field.

As an example, Melbourne love to bottle teams up in their own half. They take a heap of intercept grabs between half-forward and the centre as teams try desperately to clear the footy from their back half. The Dees set up the wall and drive the ball back inside 50 until the inevitable happens and they kick a goal.

However, one big mark down the line or through the middle changes all that. Suddenly, those Demons that pushed up to create a wall are out of position, and with hard run, you can get back inside fifty with only your own man to beat.

When you combine a 17-10 contested mark advantage with an 11-5 GooJ mark advantage, you can just about guarantee you’re going to get some good outside footy as a result. A tip of the hat to Logue for his work in this one.

 

IS WILL BRODIE THE RECRUIT OF THE YEAR YET?

Well, he sits at the top of our Recruit of the Year Award coming into this round, and he has done nothing to weaken his position following this outing.

I was a little worried watching Brodie in the first half, particularly early on in the game. He seemed to be treating this game like any other, as though he could meander around, collect the footy and dispose of it at will. I reckon he learnt a lesson quickly, as he had two disposals smothered to start the second quarter and was then rundown in a tackle and pinged for holding the ball.

The penny then seemed to drop for Brodie, who started to apply himself with a little more urgency when the ball was in his hands. Just one of his second-half touches failed to hit the target as he worked diligently to find space of his own, and hit his teammates in places they wanted the footy.

The renaissance of this bloke has been marvellous to watch. He has gone from being a forgotten man on a team many would like to forget about, to being one of the best ball-winners in the game.

In terms of other recruits, George Hewett at Carlton has been excellent – yes, yes Freo fans… much better than Adam Cerra – and both Jordan Dawson and Tyson Stengle have played pivotal roles for their teams, but you’d be pulling my leg if you told me that any of them had been better than Brodie to this point of the season.

No one saw this coming from him, but everyone is glad he has been able to produce what he has. There is something a little bit special about seeing a bloke make good on a second chance and prove people wrong. In a way… I’m kind of proud of him. Maybe proud for him… oh, shut up, you guys… I’m not crying – you’re crying!

 

WHO WON THE GAWN V DARCY BATTLE?

This was tight.

I am leaning toward Darcy as it seemed to me there was a bit of garbage time stats from Gawn to round out his numbers., particularly with a couple of late intercept marks when the sting was well and truly out of the game.

However, it was not a dominant win, and really, I reckon it would be closer to a draw than an outright victory, but it was a definite sign of things to come, as the 23-year-old Docker big man matched the premiership captain in most facets around the ground. Gawn was still clearly better in the air – it is his strength – pulling down eight intercepts and adding seven one-percenters to his totals, but Darcy’s clean hands at ground level were able to generate plenty of run when he took possession and dished off to his runners.

At some point in the next couple of seasons, the expectation is that someone comes along and takes the title of the best ruck in the competition. For a while, I thought it may have been Rowan Marshall that slotted into the number one spot, but over the last two seasons, it has become apparent that Sean Darcy has the tools to be the next mainstay in All-Australian ruck discussions.

It may not be this year, but in the next couple of seasons, we are going to see moments where his ascension to the top spot in the ruck world is simply undeniable. And with a couple of wins in this game, I reckon we may have seen a couple of signs in this one.

Was it enough to take the Mongrel ruck title from Gawn?

Nah, their competition was too close for there to be a decisive winner. Gawn will live to fight another day, but his strangehold on that title slipped a little in this game, and for a little while there, Sean Darcy had a pretty decent grip on it, himself.

 

DID CHRISTIAN PETRACCA JUST LOSE THE MONGREL MIDFIELD CHAMPIONSHIP TITLE?

Well, at the risk of giving away the column I will put together over the next 24 hours… yes, he did. He absolutely did.

In perhaps his quietest game in a couple of years, the Norm Smith Medallist failed to fire a shot, gathering ten disposals as he spent most of his time forward. He looked to double grab several times and did not appear to be able to find the space he normally would.

If we’re looking at those who may have taken the strap from him, look no further than Andrew Brayshaw and Will Brodie. With 28 touches apiece, these two were brilliant, with Brodie’s inside work a real highlight.

I guess we’ll have to see who wears the belt in the next 24 hours, as I haven’t quite made up my mind which Docker has ended the ten-week reign of the Demon champ.

 

ANYTHING ELSE, OH MIGHTIEST OF MONGRELS?

I like that title… I might keep it.

Was this the loss the Dees had to have?

Hmmm, look – I am not all that sold on that theory. Had to have? No. Were they ever going to go through a season undefeated? Also no. This season is a marathon, and whilst Melbourne have made a great start, premierships are not won in May. There is a heap of work left to do and all it takes is one bad day late in the year for it all to come crashing down. Ask 08 Geelong, or 2017 Richmond about that.

What will be interesting now is how the Dees recover and bounce back. Will Jake Bowey need counselling? Will Reece Conca be dressed down for smiling on the bench late in the game like he forgot which team he was there with? Will the idiotic media use this to needle the Dees, who have been absolutely magnificent to this point of the season?

Let’s see how this team responds against a Sydney team that fancy themselves as a team knocking on the door.

I really think Freo should re-embrace the “anyone, anywhere, anytime” mantra. If not officially, then internally. I know it was a Ross Lyon thing. I know there might be baggage, but as an outsider, I greatly admired that 2013 team and the way they approached every game with zero fear about them.

I really enjoyed what Michael Walters brought to the team in this one. No bullshit ducking, no throwing the head back… just good, hard footy. It’s great to see because, when he is focused, he is just so damn good at football! Sounds dumb, but when he is preoccupied with umpiring, he loses that which has made him so wonderful. Great to see Sonny playing a significant role.

You probably won’t see his name in the best players, but Brandon Walker’s work to limit Kysaiah Pickett probably deserves a mention. He is one of the few players that looks like he can match it for speed with Pickett. A nice card to have in your pocket come September.

The Deed really missed that Ed Langdon run int his game. It is easy to take what he brings for granted because he does it so effortlessly, but that constant driving run up and down the wing – it keeps teams accountable. Charlie Spargo’s 13 touches were at 43% efficiency – he just did not give them the same drive as Langdon does.

 

And that may just do me, people. Great win by the Dockers – inspiring stuff.

As mentioned, Melbourne get Sydney next week at the G – is that three in a row at the G? It’s good to be the king, huh? Meanwhile, Freo welcome Brisbane in what should be an absolute belter at Optus Stadium. I’m putting my name down for that one – will be a belter. Hope it doesn’t rain.

 

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