There was an ill wind blowing through the stands of Optus Stadium of half time of Derby 50.
A Fremantle home game, this was their big test this season. This was their chance to make a stand and make a statement at the expense of their hated rival. They blew it in a big way. They’ve won when they weren’t supposed to and dropped games they should have won – it is the lament of a club struggling to make the finals… things are always uncertain.
On this night that could have served as the launching pad for the Fremantle assault finals, but instead of taking off and soaring into final third of the season, the Dockers ran into the West Coast Eagles, and their cross town rivals didn’t allow them to get a running start at that launching pad. Instead, the Dockers were made to look less like a team launching anywhere, and more like a failed entrant in the Birdman rally, plummeting nowhere but down.
Make no mistake – this was not a shot across the bow of the rest of the competition, this was a direct hit. This was a team demonstrating just how deadly they can be when all their guns are firing, and this was a game when the Eagles came to play, and the Dockers realised that while they MAY play finals, making finals and winning against a legitimately good side are probably pretty far apart.
By half time in this game, Fremantle’s hopes for season 2019 had changed drastically, and the Eagles supporters were loving the reality check they were delivering.
Here’s The Mongrel’s good, bad and ugly.
THE SHEPPARD IS MY LORD
I rarely watch the medal ceremonies after a game. I try to keep things as pure as possible in terms of who I think was best on ground in any given game, but curiosity got the best of me in this one.
If there is one thing I get from West Coast supporters, it’s abuse when they lose… nah, just kidding – you guys are very nice to me even when I have to say things you may not like. What you do tell me often is that Brad Sheppard is NOT underrated.
Not by West Coast supporters, anyway.
Well, it’s catching on. May I introduce you to our Mongrel of the Year voting? Here’s a link.
What do you see there in the top ten overall? Oh, it’s Mister B Sheppard, and he is in the top ten right before I give him another three damn votes for being the best defender on the park AGAIN, and doing it while the game was there to be won in the first half.
Suffice to say, Sheppard has had a wonderful year. Even as the Eagles struggled at times, Sheppard was playing at a level that his teammates were compelled to follow. It is as though he has an inner drive powerful enough to bring the team along with him. He missed the flag last year… he wants it desperately, and the way he’s going this year, he will carry this Eagles team back to the last day in September all by himself if he has to!
Sheppard had 25 touches, and nine intercept possessions but he did his best work in the first half. I was so glad to see those who voted for the Glendinning-Allan Medal based on the impact he had on the game, rather than be swayed by stats accrued once the game was out of reach.
Hell, it might make the Glendinning-Allan medal one of the most prestigious awards going round if this becomes a common occurrence.
Make sure you have a look at our Votes article on Monday if you’d like to see just where Shep ends up after this round. Imagine he gets up and wins it? Wow…
THE BARRASS IS BACK
Thump…thump… thump… forwards must get sick to death of hearing the sound of Tom Barrass’ fist slamming into the footy as he crashes into packs and spoils the ball, huh?
He made his way back into the team in style, and look at the difference it made. Yeah, he had nine spoils, and that’s great, but it’s the little things… and the Mongrel loves the little things in games, that having Barrass in the team allows.
It is the release of Jeremy McGovern (ten spoils and ten intercept possessions), and the freedom granted Brad Sheppard that makes Barrass so valuable.
While you’ll probably hear plenty about Shuey and Gaff in the newspapers, it was the West Coast defence that dominated this game. They were structurally sound at all times and demoralised the Freo forwards to the point they simply stopped leading at the footy in the second quarter – go back and watch it… it was a disgrace.
So I doubt Barrass will garner much attention because he doesn’t have shiny numbers, but do not discount what his addition to this defensive unit does – it allows the Eagles to perform at maximum capacity, and when the defenders are going well, the mids run harder to receive, and that opens things up for the forwards.
Freo were smashed all over the park today, but they were smashed most in the forward line, and much of that is due to the influence Tom Barrass has back there.
I just revved up the defenders; now it’s the midfield’s turn.
Given silver service by the (second game) returning Nic Naitanui, Luke Shuey, Dom Sheed and Elliot Yeo were the top three clearance players on the park. With 25 clearances between them, they enabled the Eagles to stream out of the centre, and when you throw in Naitanui and Gaff, with six each, the West Coast dominance at stoppages resulted in a comprehensive 48-31 advantage.
With first hands on it so often, West Coast was able to get quick delivery inside forward 50 where umpires just seemed to fall in love with Jack Darling and award free kicks to him.
Seriously guys, a couple of those free kicks were as soft as Joe Ganino since he turned 40 and started having “issues”.
Anyway, more on Darling later. And maybe more on Joe Ganino… he didn’t answer my phone call last week and deserves a serve or two. Answer the phone Joe, you jackass!
Has there been a midfielder more impressive than Shuey over the past six games? Here are his numbers over that period.
30 disposals per game
13.83 contested possessions
Shuey is having a monster run currently. A bit early in the season for Norm, isn’t it?
FYFE V YEO
Now, if this clash was completely by design, fantastic. And if it just happened to be a happy coincidence, then also great, but seeing Nat Fyfe and Elliot Yeo go head to head at stoppages around the ground was fantastic. I have to say, and in trying to be completely fair, Fyfe looked as frustrated as hell out there.
And we all know why – it wasn’t just Yeo. Yeah, Yeo was going to him at most stoppages and making efforts to be accountable (it’s Yeo… he cannot help but be accountable – it’s why he’s so good!) but the fact that Freo has no one else that can step in when Fyfe is getting significant attention, and win their own ball is a huge concern.
See, if Yeo sacrifices his own game to curtail another, which he did in this one, the Eagles still have prime movers at their disposal. Gaff, Sheed, Shuey… all of them can rack up 30+ touches easily. Not sure anyone at Freo can jump into the guts and start compiling those kinds of numbers.
Don’t believe me? Darcy Tucker had 29. That’s his career-high. Michael Walters had 23 – he hasn’t been over 30 touches once this season and has only done it twice in his career. Ed Langdon? He’s had 30+ once this season.
You see? Without Fyfe, Freo don’t get their hands on the pill enough. He’s the one farming it out to Brad Hill (five times over 30 touches this season) who runs off with it. Here’s an interesting stat – Brad Hill has had 30+ five times this year. On four of those occasions, Nat Fyfe has had 30+ in the same game (the other one, Fyfe had 26).
These two need each other. When Fyfe is down, Brad Hill is down too.
But back to Yeo. Whilst he had only 20 touches himself (Fyfe had 21), he was still laying tackles like his life depended on it, finishing with seven for the game. The bloke is a complete warrior and a great matchup for the bulls of the competition. When they run off, he goes with them. When he runs off… rarely do they bother, and that’s where Yeo hurts them.
Ah Nic Nat… what average stats you have.
All the better to lull in stupid casual fans and then beat them over the head with the impact he has with those limited touches.
How so? Well, Naitanui had 23 hit outs for the game. He was around the mark with the other rucks – Hickey (24), Sandilands (18) and Lobb (13) but this man does something no one else does in the ruck. He pushes the ball, pack and play forward like he is possesses some weird wall of force that captures all around him and moves them in the direction of his goals.
We’re all Star Wars fans to some extent, right? You know what a tractor beam is, I’m guessing? That’s how I think players must feel when Nic Nat is out there. He just draws things to him and that pull is irresistible.
He had six clearances of his own today as he took the ball from the contest and made things happen.
And you wanna know what the scariest part is? He was one of the most influential players in the game whilst racking up a measly little 52% game time. Yep, he sat out almost half the game. The man is a force of nature.
THE FAST STARTER
One of these days, Liam Ryan will play four quarters. I don’t know where, and I don’t know when, but when he does, you might wanna record it for posterity because it will be one of the greatest games ever played.
He is one of those players that makes everything he touches turn to gold, if not for himself, then those around him. If he isn’t falling over, handballing over his head into the path of Willie Rioli, then he’s working to get loose on the boundary and swinging the ball inboard to hit Jamie Cripps on the chest.
Liam Ryan’s first quarter was a class in small forward play. His ability to get to the right spot and make good decisions with the ball were perfect.
And then, just like that, he was gone – hardly sighted for the rest of the game.
One day… one day that four quarter game will happen.
THE OTHER X-FACTOR
Jamie Cripps is growing on me every time I see him. He ticked over the 20-goal mark for the season tonight and finished on 23. I still think he has the capacity to hit 40 goals, particularly if the Eagles start clicking the way they did in this one.
I read a bit from Eagles supporters last season complaining about Cripps – I thought that was what Masten was for; to take criticism, but anyway, they didn’t like the way he was going about it at times last year.
I think they must have incredibly high standards, because at a goal and a half per game last season, he was one of the better mid-size forwards in the game.
This season he has developed a consistency, with four bags of 3+ goals, and as the Eagles start to roll toward September, Cripps’ ability to hit the scoreboard will be vital to spreading defences.
Usually when a team loses you can pick out a few positives overall. A defender does well on a forward. A midfielder gets plenty of clean ball and uses it well. A young bloke takes a few good marks and instils some hope for what’s to come.
I’m sitting here racking my brain and I am struggling to think of a Fremantle player who actually won his matchup.
Can you think of one?
I’m seriously stuck.
Fremantle are not a poor team. I know, I know… there’ll be West Coast supporters on here wanting to dispute that, but you’re just doing it to be asses. They’re not as poor as this. They should not be beaten at every position on the field as they were this afternoon. It’s embarrassing.
I hope they make finals, and I hope they get a shot at redemption against the Eagles. They’d be appalled at the way they executed, and if given another shot, especially on a big stage of finals footy, maybe it’ll be a little different.
And by “a little different”, I mean “not as bad”.
So that’s my dream for 2019. A West Coast v Freo Finals Derby.
I still think the Eagles will win, but the atmosphere would be off the charts.
Righto, so I am sick to death of this “sometimes we pay it and sometimes we don’t” rule.
In the first quarter, Luke Shuey slam-tackled Reece Conca in an incident that was as bad as any hard tackle we’ve seen all year… no whistle. Nothing.
At the start of the second, Luke Ryan caught Jarrod Cameron and was penalised for a sling tackle. The result was a shot at goal. It was a terrible decision and a guess.
But wait, there’s more!
Later in the second quarter, Liam Duggan smashed Cam McCarthy into the ground in a tackle the equal of the two before. Again, no whistle.
What the hell is going on with this rule? Personally, I’d like to see it scrapped all together, but with the AFL shitting itself over a pending class action suit regarding concussion, there’s no way in hell that’ll happen. The whole criteria for a free kick to be paid is confusing, and suspensions are only handed out when someone gets hurt.
I hate the rule, I hate the way umpires pick and choose what is and what isn’t dangerous, and I hate that we are stuck with this shitful interpretation that penalises good tackles as much as it does poor ones.
Oh, and I am sure a Freo supporter will point out that the two tackles that weren’t called would have been in their favour and the one that was favoured West Coast.
And it wasn't even the noise of affirmation that swayed that one.
I seriously do not want to hear about the lack of scoring in AFLW this coming season. They play less game time, and have often booted bigger scores than Freo mustered today. On top of that, they tackle harder as well.
Two goals in a modern game of AFL is deplorable. I don’t even want to give them credit for the 19 behinds, as six of them were rushed through by defenders. Their mids just bombed the ball inside 50 like they were some demented bastard son of Hawthorn a few rounds back, and really, at times they gave themselves zero chance to score.
You’ve got Barrass, McGovern, Hurn and Sheppard all prowling around like Joe Ganino outside a public toilet block (I don’t know what he’s looking for out there) and you’re choosing to kick it long and hope Cam McCarthy will outmark them all? Bad plan.
I understand it was a little wet. It’s an outdoor sport – sometimes rain falls from the sky. It’s natural. I also need to point out that in Round One last season, North Melbourne and Gold Coast played in what looked like a swimming pool. They both managed to kick more than two god damn goals.
Freo were shocking in this one. It was as big a smack down as I have seen in a rivalry that was supposed to be close irrespective of ladder position… and the difference in ladder position before this game wasn't that great.
I hated the game of Ed Langdon in this one. HATED it. This is a guy who makes his living out of outside running and clean delivery. When the heat was on, he was disastrous. The fact that he refused to take responsibility for a running shot at goal from 40 metres out, tried to handball and FELL OVER was indicative of Freo’s day.
I’m picking on Langdon, seemingly, but why do so many players want to handball, and sell another teammate into trouble, getting no shot at goal instead of having a ping. The amount of inside 50s that end with no shot at goal is incredible. If you’re in range and no obvious option is available, have a ping!
Looked like Luke Ryan really enjoyed the big body spoil on Andrew Gaff in the first quarter. It sent Gaff to the turf in a heap, but he got straight up – no remonstrating. Took was what coming to him.
Really impressed with Brendan Ah Chee in this one. Looks like a really natural footballer, but could probably do the team thing a little more often instead of trying for mark of the year whenever the ball went near him. No tackles- I reckon if he wants to become a fixture in this side, he needs to get on board and drag some opponents down.
Another nice outing for Dom Sheed, who just made the wings his own as he cruised up and down all day. 28 touches again complemented by eight clearances.
A little too much staging for free kicks by Sonny Walters in this one. Seriously, it looked like his head was on a hinge at one point, and would just snap back if contact was made to any part of his body. Not a fan of staging…
So, the Eagles get the Grand Final rematch of the rematch and this time it’s at home. They’ve been so good at the MCG I’m surprised they didn’t ask for it to be transferred. A win there and they “could” be two games clear in second by the end of Round 17.
The Dockers head to Tassie to take on the Hawks, and that shapes as a season maker, or a season breaker for them. Hawthorn is no west Coast in terms of defence, so we should see more than two goals kicked… and hopefully a few less than 19 behinds.
Finally, tricked ya on the more about Jack Darling bit, didn’t I?
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