AFL Round 8 – Sydney v Fremantle: Dockers, Swans show their mettle

I was in Mildura on the banks of the Murray when I picked up Cookie’s request to cover the Swans/Fremantle game at the SCG two days later, after a week away from the phone and internet at Lake Mungo, 110 kms north, in the semi-arid mallee country of western New South Wales. There is no place on earth quite like this, a massive landscape  which preserves an extraordinarily detailed picture of ancient Australian life, from a time when the interior was well watered and the continent still joined to New Guinea and Tasmania. The ancient humans who lived, prospered and died by the shores of these now dry lakes  40,000 years ago were just like us, modern humans who left bountiful evidence of their past occupation, camp fires, the remains of their meals, their footprints on the eroding Pleistocene clay pans and most potently, the remains of their dead.  It is impossible not to be moved by the scale of human time visible for all to see in the Lake Mungo landscape, as even important matters, such as how I was going to get to Sydney from Mildura to watch the looming Sydney-Dockers clash with no time to spare, are swamped by the evidence of the thousands of generations who have lived before us in this country.

This job of mine has been having a strange effect on my ability to focus on the first third of the 2013 season, a year in which I expected Fremantle to improve on its impressive second half of 2012 in the second year of Ross Lyon’s reign. Even my young son Nick Allbrook has upstaged me in our efforts to catch every Fremantle game one way or another, wherever we might be. In a moment of inspiration, he brandished his Dockers scarf from behind his Hoffner bass, the old purple, green, red and white, on the prime time Jimmy Fallon Show in the US, a gesture whose significance escaped the international legion of Tame Impala fans, but not the Fremantle Dockers hierarchy, who rewarded the free publicity by giving him a corporate box at Subiaco for the first up clash with the Eagles on his return to Perth. Little bugger. The old man’s heart swelled with pride – if the young fella can do it from as far away as New York, then so can I, even if I do live in Bungendore, a small Southern Highlands village not far from Canberra, where rugby is king and whose inhabitants, apart from me, the lone Dockers supporter in town, barely recognise the existence of the true Australian game.

In the end, a mercy dash to Sydney for a fix of Dockers action was beyond me, as I chucked another red gum log on the fire and settled in to focus on the game at home, far more comfortable and distraction free than the North Ainslie footy club or the Royal in Bungendore, but definitely lacking the atmosphere of actually being there, even in the cavernous wastelands of a half re-developed SCG. This was definitely going to be a hard fought game between two teams with a similar brand of footy. Under Lyon and new stoppage coach Brett Kirk, the Dockers have become more and more like Sydney, and who wouldn’t emulate a team that has consistently figured in the finals over the past eight years, the reigning Premiers? Lyon has good material to work with and even without the star trio of Pavlich, Sandlilands and Hill, has Fremantle well-placed at 5 wins and 2 losses and coming off an impressive last quarter effort against the Pies at Subiaco.

Fremantle start the first quarter well as Fyfe goals from a spekkie two minutes in, the skinny kid with the Prince Charles ears of two years ago now a man mountain, a formidable figure at the stoppages and in attack. With Zac Clarke looking glad to be back after his long lay-off and doing a good job in the ruck against Mumford, the Dockers look good in attack as Ballantyne snaps another at the five minute mark. The game starts to settle into a groove, as Sydney steady and make the most of limited forays into attack, with goals from Hannebery, already at this early stage showing he is up to the challenge from Freo’s master tagger Ryan Crowley, Everett and a brilliant snap from Jude Bolton. Fremantle continue to attack with Spurr, De Boer, Mundy and Barlow giving plenty of opportunities to an undersized but nippy forward line, as Clarke goals from a set shot. But by quarter time, Fremantle are only a goal ahead, thanks to a string of minor scores from gettable shots by Mayne, Barlow and Fyfe.

Fremantle has blown the chance of establishing a decent quarter time lead and it doesn’t take long in the second quarter for the Swans to make them pay, as Pyke takes a big grab and gives the lead to Sydney. Hannebery adds to Crowley’s woes by snapping two beautiful goals, and then breaks away for another.  Jetta starts to come into the play with a stunning burst to leave Walters in his wake, himself no slouch in the pace department, and by half time, the Swans look comfortable, ahead by three goals and Fremantle starting to look messy in attack with two solitary points for the quarter.

The third quarter sees Fremantle again attacking but again not making much headway. The problem, as Paul Roos and Jason Dunstall continuously remind us, is an inability to take marks in the forward fifty and the ease with which the Swans defenders are left to repulse attacks. After eight minutes, Suban finally manages to take a strong mark on the lead and get one back, but Kieran Jack replies immediately against the run of the play. The Dockers get the kicking yips again, as De Boer, Suban and Sutcliffe miss, before Ballatyne finally coverts on three-quarter time, a return of 2.4 for over thirty entries into the fifty, while Sydney go inside just a handful of times for their 1.1.

By the end of the third quarter Sydney look to have Freo’s measure, even though the margin has shrunk to just 9 points. And within minutes of the final, they have all the running after two goals from McGlynn and another from Jetta intercepting a muffed kick-out from Mundy.  Suddenly, the Swans lead is out to 27 points and the Dockers are looking gone. The words of the inimitable Matt Price about Fremantle’s ‘infinite capacity to disappoint’ start to ring around my brain. Our expert commentators heap praise on the Swans defence as they continue to get plenty of ball from the Freo midfield. What they forget is that the defence is starring precisely because Freo is always attacking, and it only takes a slight change of fortune for the game to change dramatically and wipe the smile off the voices of Roos and Dunstall.

First Fyfe grabs a free by cleverly tacking an indecisive Swans defender and splits the middle. Ibbotson fails to hear the umpire awarding him a mark fifteen out, plays on and hits the post. Fyfe gets another free and kicks beautifully, but the ball veers late and hits the post again, then a quick passage of play out of defence sees Mayne grab the mark and goal. With Johnson starting to dominate at half forward, Duffield snaps another, and suddenly we are almost there. The man of the moment steps up again as Johnson picks up a pass from Barlow, and slips through a floater, his nonchalance a bad omen, he is everywhere. Another Johnson shot from wide out is rushed through and the scores are level with 2 minutes to go. In ten startling minutes, the Swans have gone from comfortable winners to likely losers, as the Dockers look to have all the run to steal the game. Johnson marks forty-five out and who wouldn’t you rather have kicking for a win with less than a minute to go? Certainly not Michael Johnson, an admirable defender who always seems to find a teammate coming out of defence, but no great shakes kicking for goal from a set shot. When only a point would win the game, Johnson’s indecisive kick fades left to be marked by Reid, and he learns what it is like to plunge from hero to mere pleb in the space of a second – and to be struck off my list of best players after a 17 kick, 8 handball and  7 mark performance. A draw, the first in Freo’s fifteen year history, and the first of the season.

Both teams can count themselves both lucky and unlucky to end the game with the scores locked 70 apiece. It was a brilliant game throughout, hard fought and tight. Sydney looked to have the game won with ten minutes to go and rightly so, with the Dockers looking spent and outplayed. But Fremantle were able to hang in there in defence through Spurr, MacFarlane and De Boer, while Mundy, Barlow and Pearce moved the ball into attack where, too often, good build-ups resulted in points. With accurate kicking, Fremantle could have controlled the game from the first quarter and won by a number of goals. That they were able to suddenly find their range late in the game and nearly win the game with a late burst shows they are not a team to be taken lightly in 2013. I expect both Fremantle and Sydney to figure prominently in September, both top eight teams with the ability to shake the top four. The Lyon style seems to be doing Fremantle good at the moment. They are a well-coached unit, with guys like Spurr, Sutcliffe, De Boer, Ibbotson and Duffield learning how to impose themselves, while Barlow, Mundy and the two Pearces continue to do well in the centre. They still look a bit thin in attack, although Walters, Ballantyne, Mayne and Fyfe have scored enough to win five games and draw another. They are now one of the league’s best defensive teams, and can only get better as their injured stars return and they are able to park Pavlich and Sandilands in attack and improve their scoring efficiency. Sydney can never be counted out as their Premiership last year showed, but they were unable to dominate Fremantle and get far enough ahead to head off the last quarter surges that Freo are now starting to put together. Roll on 2013.

 

Sydney Swans                   3.0          7.2          8.3          11.4                        70

Fremantle                           3.6          3.8          5.12        9.16                        70

Goals

Sydney: Hannebery 4, McGlynn 2, Bolton, Everett, Jack, Pyke, Jetta

Fremantle: Fyfe 2, Ballantyne 2, Suban, Mayne, Clarke, Duffield, Johnson

Best:

Sydney: Hannebery, O’Keefe, McVeigh, Jack, Jetta, Goodes, Pyke

Fremantle: Fyfe, Spurr, Deboer, Clarke, Duffield, Mundy, Barlow

Umpires: Rosebury, Stevic, Ryan

Official Crowd: 22,546

Our votes: Hannebery (Sydney), Fyfe (Fremantle), Spurr (Fremantle)

Comments

  1. Great write up Malcolm. I too thought it was a tough, high-intensity game between two sides that should finish top four this year. Hard to understand others who don’t find it watchable – this was deep-finals style pressure footy. Also engaging to see two sides go head-to-head playing the same brand of sling-shot style footy. We probably should have pinched it in the end but I don’t think we can underestimate how important those two points are, esp. with both sides coming off big games the previous week. Horror injury run aside – add Walters to that list now – we’ve also racked up more frequent flyer miles than any other club in the last month or son (Launceston, Gold Coast, and Sydney). Someone’s got to point that out, Ross and the boys certainly won’t, now that we’re an anytime, anywhere club! From here on, we’ve just got the standard trips to Adelaide and Melbourne.

    The Crows game away in two weeks looms large – if we can pinch that, a top four spot is looking a lock. Very exciting times for Freo.

    Also, top work by your son Nick! Flying the colours on Jimmy Fallon was a superb effort, and went viral. Tame Impala (and Pond) are doing such great things. Good on ’em.

  2. Stephen Cooke says:

    Hi Malcolm, if I’d known you were so far from home I would have called you one day earlier! Terrific report, eclipsed by your description of Lake Mungo. Truly an inspiring place.

  3. Neil Belford says:

    Great story Malcolm – also great to see a reference to the dear departed Matt Price – When Freo win the flag and the reminiscing begins, Matts place in the back story is as big as anyones.

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