You get the feeling that Fremantle will be walking away from the latest version of the Derby with a sense of relief, and that’s about it.
Let’s face it – this was a game the Dockers should have put the Eagles to the torch. They had the ascendancy in the ruck, with Nic Naitanui now looking as though he will not be available until the second half of the season (I smell a retirement, personally…). They had veteran Eagles dropping like flies, with Luke Shuey, Jeremy McGovern, and Jamie Cripps all heading to the bench and unable to return, and they even sent Alex Witherden packing after he copped a big knee in a marking contest.
The stage was set for West Coast to lay down and for Freo to run all over them.
But the Eagles simply refused to lay down at all, and at points in the last quarter, looked as though they may have been able to cause a bit of a boilover. I genuinely reckon that most West Coast supporters are resigned to a couple of years of pain, but with the way they fought back into the contest, the more admiration I had for them as a unit.
It was as though West Coast were the ones playing to gain the lead and Freo were playing to protect it waaaaaaaay too far off in the distance.
Of course, we all know that an Eagles win wasn’t to be, with the Freo kicking the last six goals of the game to run out 41-point winners, but something tells me that no Freo supporters will be content with what they saw from their club. This was a live kill and it took until the last quarter for them to bring their prey down.
Let’s jump into the talking points
HOW GOOD WAS AISH V KELLY HEAD-TO-HEAD
I loved it. Two blokes making life difficult for each other… it had the makings of an excellent story within the story, and as the game played out, it soon become apparent that this was not going to be the type of scenario that West Coast fans have seen a little too often.
I had a mate message me during the game telling me that Kelly had managed to work out how to break a tag.
I wasn’t convinced.
His argument was that TK was finding plenty of the footy, even with Aish on him. It required a little more diving into.
When I have watched teams throw a run-with player in Kelly’s direction in the past, you can pretty much guarantee he is going to be taken out of the game, however, in this one, he continued to collect the footy and did it with Aish hot on his tail.
But was he effective?
Ah, god question, and therein lies the beauty of Aish’s role. Kelly was not effective, running at just a 52% success rate with his disposals. Meanwhile, his direct opponent had 31 touches of his own and went at 71% efficiency. Kelly had five clearances and nine score involvements, whilst Aish had three clearances and seven score involvements, so you could realistically argue that TK won the battle, if not the war.
I’m not arguing that, however. The reason being that Kelly was often forced to kick under extreme pressure, or dish off whilst being harassed by Aish. That resulted in him averaging just 7.7 metres per possession. When you’re running at such a low disposal efficiency and are not even gaining meterage, guess what?
You’re being ineffective.
In contrast, Aish had a better disposal efficiency and averaged 18.4 metres per game possession, so he was much more inclined to go direct when he had the ball.
If you’re going to use stats to make a point.
NEVER DOUBT THE HEART OF A CHAMPION
Leading with his head aside, I am a big Michael Walters fan. Despite him being one of the more frustrating players to watch over the last couple of seasons, I was always a big believer that when the whips were cracking, he’d be the player in their fighting tooth and nail to eke out a win for Freo.
That was how he applied himself over the last month of footy in 2022, and he started the same way in this one, as well.
Looking a little lighter and fitter, Walters was a livewire for the Dockers, running hard to get on the end of chain possessions, as well as timing his leads perfectly. Between him and Jye Amiss, Freo have two players that know when to get on the move.
He finished with four goals in a vintage ‘Sonny’ performance, slotting them from everywhere and relishing the Freo fast break through the middle of the ground. Hell, he even outmarked Tom Barrass in a genuine one-on-one contest – using his head to split Barrass’ chin open in the process.
Walters is not the same player he was when he was named All-Australian back in 2019, but he still has enough tricks in his bag of… well, his bag of tricks, really, to make a big impact in 2023.
Well, I know what will be on West Coast’s shopping list this off-season…
Sorry to say, guys, but I think Nic Naitanui is just about cooked. With wonky knees, a questionable tank, and now spending half the season on the sidelines, Nic Nat Is fast approaching the end of his career, and when you consider that your best option as a backup is Bailey Williams…
… things become quite painful, quite quickly.
Sean Darcy had his way with Bailey Williams, registering 52 hit outs to Williams’ 14. When you add in that Luke Jackson had 17, as well, what you have is complete and utter domination from the Freo big men. It may have taken them a while to get going, but once they got up and running, they ran right over the top of the hapless West Coast big man.
With three goals between them, the Darcy/Jackson combination clicked in this game, and had Jackson held onto a couple of marks he managed to get both hands to, we could be sitting here reading, or writing in my case, about what a potent combination they are and will be.
We can, if you like, but I am much more likely to want a bigger sample size before making any assessments.
That said, it would have felt nice to play this game as one of the Freo rucks, knowing full well you were going to be battling an undermanned squad. Let’s see how they fare against Reilly O’Brien next week.
Whilst I am confident that the focus of most people goes onto Andrew Brayshaw when they think of Fremantle, Caleb Serong has quietly, or not so quietly at times, gone about becoming one of the best young mids in eh caper.
He was the top possession getter in this game, the best inside 50 player (12 for the game), the most prolific tackler (eight again), had the most contested touches (16), and covered the most ground (697 metres gained). In short, he did a hell of a lot of everything and did it via hard work.
A worthy recipient of the Glendinning/Allan Medal, Serong was a clear best on ground in this game, adding two direct goal assists to his totals, meaning that at least two players will owe him coffees all week.
If you were building a seven-to-eight year midfield from the ground up, I am not sure you could go past Serong as your number one pick. He just does everything so damned well.
Looking back at the start of the year, I can vividly remember writing about the Eagles’ decision t load up with the veterans and go around again.
And now, as we conclude Round Three, we have a bunch of those veterans on the sidelines, looking like the walking wounded.
Already without Elliot Yeo, the Eagles lost Luke Shuey to a hamstring injury, and within ten minutes, saw Jeremy McGovern suffer the same fate. Not long after, Alex Witherden went down in a marking contest against Jaeger O’Meara, and a quarter later, Jamie Cripps broke his ankle when it became trapped under him in a contest.
I feel like a Demtel salesman at the moment… but wait, there’s more!
Liam Ryan somehow hurt his knee despite landing on the back of his head and shoulder in a marking contest, and on any other day would likely have stayed on the pine. But given how depleted the Eagles were, he went back on and did as much harm as he did good with his gammy leg.
West Coast fans would have felt as though they were watching any hopes they had of moving up a few places on the ladder go up in smoke as the injury toll mounted.
What do these injuries mean to the Eagles?
It means they now play the kids, forget trying to defend this pride in the club that West Coast supporters talk about, and embrace the fact you’re not going anywhere or doing anything this season. Look for little moments when Ginbey, Chesser, Long, or Hewett does something special, and know that when your time comes again, it’ll be these blokes taking the wheel.
Know who won’t be there?
Those old blokes whose bodies cannot stay healthy.
Time to make some tough decisions at the Eagles.
THE FORWARD CAMEOS
There were moments in this game where it seemed as though one player was just about ready to take over… and then… unsighted for a half hour of game time.
Jack Darling threatened to tear the game open in the first quarter, only to go completely missing in the second quarter. His two first quarter goals were impressive, particularly as they came quite early in the game whilst everyone was “up and about”, but he produced goose eggs in every statistical area in the second quarter. Momentum killed.
Oscar Allen snagged three in the first quarter and looked like he was ready to take on the world. Our own Daniel Jon Kershaw was almost orgasmic as he slotted his third for the quarter… and then… nothing for the remainder of the game.
But it wasn’t just the Eagles checking out any time they like…
The Dockers had their own culprits guilty of disappearing.
Jye Amiss kicked two goals in two minutes in the second quarter on the back of some beautiful direct leading at the ball carrier. And the… the lanes closed down as West Coast collapsed into defensive fifty and made pinpointing anything or anyone quite impossible.
Only Sonny Walters was able to continue to provide a mobile target on a consistent basis, but he had able support from Sam Switkowski (who could be an AA forward if he manages to keep his body right for 12 months), and Lachie Schultz (who created for others just as much as he tried to create for himself).
HOW DID LUKE JACKSON GO?
He copped a bit of flak during the week, didn’t he? Was it old mate, Kane Cornes with a hot take?
Just checked… absolutely, it was.
Jackson got his hands to plenty of high balls, but whether it was the pressure, implied pressure, or perhaps he is being pressured into starting a family or something, he did everything right up until the point he was supposed to clutch the footy in his hands. Right about then, it would bobble out.
If I am rating him out of ten, I’d say a five would be okay. Not too good, but not awful, either.
Dom Sheed’s disposal is rank. There, I said it.
I know he has this memory etched into the minds of Eagles supporters everywhere, and yes it was an amazingly good shot at goal, but since then, he has really become a “throw the ball on your boot and let someone else take care of things” type.
Campbell Chesser is a highly-rated youngster, but I am not sure he has the pace of the game at the moment. He looked a step slow in most contests in this one, but I reckon he will be much better for the run.
A decent game from Sam Petrevski-Seton. Loved dishing out those “don’t argue” stiff arms. Dusty would have smiled watching SPS plant his hand in his opposition’s chest and dart the other way. Now, he just needs one or two other moves so people will never pick exactly what he is trying to do.
A pretty good fightback from Brennan Cox after Jack Darling got the better of him early. Didn’t dominate by any stretch, but was handy with the ball floating inside defensive 50.
And that might just have to do… I am almost sleepwalking, at the moment.
Next week, the Dockers visit the Crows in a game I have high hopes for if the weather is dry. Meanwhile, West Coast host the Demons, in what will be a massive test.
Huge thanks t all those who support The Mongrel. You helped us build this, and I am so grateful to you.