The Dockers were out of form and making the trip to the Gabbatoir to face a Brisbane Lions team looking to cement their spot in the top eight and move their eyes to a top-four position.
The Lions overcame a valiant GWS Giants the previous week, on the back of a powerful Charlie Cameron performance. and they were looking for four wins in a row after an up-and-down start to their season.
The Dockers were looking to steady the ship as the 2022 finalist’s season is looking like unravelling early in 2023. An early loss to the Saints doesn’t look so bad in hindsight, but with their only wins coming against a hapless Eagles team and a travelling Gold Coast Suns, they have not presented the strongest form. The Dockers are simply conceding more scores this year, and cannot find a consistent path to goal. The losses of Logue and Lobb are definitely being felt.
Well, a new Fremantle team turned up to the Gabba. A handball-happy running team that wanted to move the footy through the flow of hands and try and work through the Brisbane midfield. They do not want to deliver high long bombs for their experienced defence to pick off. Other than a few moments where they let themselves down, it seemed like a bloody good read on their opposition. Brisbane got their turnovers through the middle and capitalised, as good teams do, but all the Dockers had to do was fix the final 10% of their possessions and they would’ve been level, if not in front at the first break.
The Lions took control in the second quarter and started to create a buffer between the two teams thanks to some decent goal kicking. A special mention to Will Ashcroft for his second quarter. Very special stuff from the kid. It’s got to be the hair. Feathered and lethal, you just don’t see it nowadays. A late goal gave the Dockers some life thanks to some good game awareness from Andrew Brayshaw.
The third quarter provided a very good contest within the game. The Dockers came out and had the better of the Lions in the first fifteen minutes and brought margin back to around 20 points. Then the Lions steadied and kicked a couple of consecutive goals to sure up their position.
Brisbane finished off the game strongly and posted their fourth consecutive score above 100 points as they ran out 48 point winners.
But enough about that. Let’s get into the stuff that mattered
The Best Stuff
Goal of The Year?
It’s not often you get two legitimate goal-of-the-year contenders in one round, let alone in one game! Not unless Eddie Betts was playing. The first came early in second quarter from Will Ashcroft, who displayed his own take on Daniel Wells “Jackie Chan in mid-air” and kicked (I couldn’t even tell you what type of kick) the ball after collecting it, without ever touching the ground. Oh, and he did it deep in the pocket on the boundary, on the outside of his right boot. Ashcroft then topped it off with his own “are you not entertained?” style celebration.
The second came in the last quarter Michael Walters found himself cramped for room on the boundary in the opposite pocket to Ashcroft. Walters was tackled by Harris Andrews near the boundary and swung around, but Andrews didn’t complete the tackle. He let Walters go during the spin, which allowed him to hold onto the ball legally. And then while effectively on one knee and about to be tackled by another Lions defender, Walters threw the ball onto his boot and dribbled it home from the pocket. Wow.
I don’t know which one was better, but something tells me Ashcroft’s’ will get more plays due to being the up-and-coming star kid in the team competing for a top four spot, over the veteran in a bottom team.
It was an industrious day for Neale. Just doing his normal stuff out there and collecting a likely three Brownlow votes. Neale just hunts the football. It is very pure to watch and anyone wanting to learn how to play an inside midfield role perfectly should switch on a Kayo replay and just watch Neale do his work and try and mimic him. As noted in previous weeks, he looks to be enjoying the benefits of having a couple of extra players taking responsibility of the Lions midfield this year.
It’s been said too many times already, but the kid is an absolute jet. He just looks completely at home at the centre bounce of an AFL match. He looks every bit of the ready-made player that was touted all last year and the Lions are looking to him to have an immediate impact this season to assist their premiership aspirations. No wonder they were happy to give up so much on draft night to get him in.
The Good Stuff
A solid veteran performance from O’Meara in this match. Playing in his 150th match in the AFL and at his third club, you could sense his experience compared to some of his teammates when he was in the frame. A well-earned milestone in his career as he now attempts to usher through a new wave of Dockers.
Congrats to Aish on his 150th AFL match as well. Much like O’Meara, Aish had a solid outing on the wing for the Dockers. His form has suffered with most of the Dockers players compared to their 2022 output and he is likely being asked to do more with the departure of Blake Acres during the off-season.
A Classic Ruck Duel
It won’t make the record books or be of much note for casual pundits, but it was a classic old fashioned ruck duel in the middle during this game. Darcy emerged as one the dominant rucks in the competition last season for Fremantle. Meanwhile, McInerney has very quietly gone from an okay ruck that needs support, to a guy that can now competently ruck 85% of the game, no worries. And he does so with great impact. He’s not going to get mentioned with Darcy, English, Gawn and Witts etc. However, he is definitely a key piece of the Lions’ fortunes in 2023. McInerney got the points in this match, and should be looking to have a big impact against Carlton.
The Other Stuff
Matthew Johnson rightly got two weeks for his tackle on Dayne Zorko in the second quarter. Gave away the free kick in the tackles and then decided to dump Zorko on his head. You just can’t do that sort of stuff anymore. Not when the AFL is clamping down so hard on any incidents involving head impact.
Cox must’ve woken up on the wrong side of bed before the game. He wasn’t awful, but things just kept not going his way. Multiple attempts at being third man up and missing the ball altogether. Handballs and kicks clearly missing their targets all day. Fremantle was already facing an uphill battle in the game; it doesn’t help when one of their prime rebounding defenders is out of sorts and consistently hurting them on both offence and defence.
Gee, this Lions team is just powerful. Some have tried to say that it’s Collingwood, Melbourne, Geelong and then daylight this season, but this Lions team has already beaten two of those teams, and when their game plan is clicking, they look just about unstoppable. Every aspect of their game is currently under control and working their midfield looks stacked and complete after being found lacking in recent finals. Their forward line is as high powered and scoring as anyone’s. And their defence looks to be settling into a consistent structure and group. And their injury list is also not in bad shape with Darcy Gardiner returning through the reserves this week.
Brisbane now sit at 5-2 and inside the top four, The Lions can set up their season in the next month. Carlton this week in a massive Friday night match-up. Genuine eight-point game here. Then it’s the Bombers and Suns in successive games at the Gabba. Followed by a trip to Adelaide Oval to face the Crows before the bye. Go at least 2-2 and you’re 7-4 after 11 rounds and in a very strong position to launch an assault on the second half of the year.
Fremantle are almost the opposite of Brisbane. After a standout 2022 campaign, they now languish at 2-5 and just outside the bottom four of the AFL ladder. The Dockers had the most inexperienced team to take the field on the weekend, and that isn’t the first time that’s happened this year. Perhaps 2022 was an “ahead of Schedule” jump and now they’ll need to do the hard yards to claw their way back up. They have the chance to regroup with a game against the Hawks at home at Optus Stadium next Saturday night. They absolutely need to win that game as they then face a horror three weeks of football that includes a trip to the SCG, hosting the Cats at Optus, and then heading to the MCG to play Melbourne. Ouch.