AFL Round 4 – Fremantle v Essendon: Too hot for anyone from over east

Fremantle vs Essendon
4:40pm, Saturday 12 April
Subiaco Oval

David Zampatti

It’s hard, sometimes, coming to grips with reality. Twenty years is a long time, more than long enough to entrench opinions and attitudes, so it’s understandable that, for most football supporters, the Dockers are still the joke, the bunnies, the easy beats. The term “basket case” may have existed before them, but it was Fremantle circa 2001 that gave it currency in football. (Hi there Carlton – welcome to our nightmare).

And if it’s like that for everyone else, it’s even more so for Dockers supporters. For many of us, Freo’s run last year unfolded in a kind of trance; the grand final had a hallucinatory quality, the defeat somehow distant, because it was so hard to believe the whole thing was real.

Fremantle were installed as premiership favourites this year, and it was disconcerting to see them there. The team went over to Melbourne in Round One and exposed the ‘Pies for the middle-of-the-road outfit they are, and came back home and snuffed out the improving Suns.

Then Barlow went down. Fyfe copped a tough couple of weeks. Even Dawson was missing a week, the Hawks caught fire and we did the burning. Winnow out the excuses from the reasons, and the old doubts hung like dust in the smoke…

…Essendon. They’ve beaten Freo two out of three times over the journey, rolled over the top of them last year after they were six goals plus down, spinning the ball out of the mauls like they were the All Red and Blacks. And now Mayne and Walters were out as well.

Sure Essendon were down in the ruck, they left a couple of their old soldiers in Melbourne and Bomber Thompson suddenly discovered the day was five degrees hotter for his boys than ours (he could shrug his way out from under an avalanche, that bloke), but none of those things have stopped us losing in the past.

There was plenty to worry about in the first quarter, when Heppell and Stanton had all the ball and the Bombers looked the goods, but in the second Freo blunted them across half back, and stung them on the rebound. Is there a more elegant player on the move than Michael Johnson? This was rope-a-dope football, and he is both a butterfly and a bee.

Sandilands was man-mountain-handling his suddenly puny opponents, de Boer was sapping their will to live in close and Pavlich sent us to interval happy with a sixty-metre roost that should be the Goal of the Year for its sheer, simple perfection.

Après les oranges le déluge. Danyle Pearce and Hill led the charge (Mundy’s absence in the second half was hardly noticed), Sandilands and Clarke went mental, McPharlin and Johnson were unpassable and unstoppable, and the Dons were swept away. The rest of the story is on the scoreboard.

Pearce is the happiest–looking player in the AFL after that damned smiling villain Ryan Crowley, and it’s not hard to see why. He’s been steadily winning hearts and minds since his escape from the then-floundering Port (would he have thrived in their renaissance, I wonder?) and adds more grunt and discipline to his game with every outing.

But the best news of the day for Freo was born of necessity. Josh Simpson got his first real chance to show his stuff in the second half, and he’s got plenty. He’s not ready yet, expect to see him in and out of the side for a while, but when he really clicks – and it mightn’t be long – watch out. And Matt Taberner, 197 cms, 90kg and still just 20, only had it six times and only took two marks (one, tellingly, from a beautiful kick to advantage from Simpson), but he kicked two goals, got into position to take another three or four marks close to goal, and just might be the one the Dockers are looking for.


Fremantle        2.1   6.3   13.4   18.5   113

Essendon        2.1   4.2   5.4   9.6   60

Fremantle: Pavlich 3; D. Pearce, Taberner, Neale, Hill 2; Crowley, Mundy, Suban, Ballantyne, McPharlin, Mzungu, Clarke

Essendon: Hardingham 2; Watson, Daniher, Gleeson, Winderlich, Jetta, Stanton, Melksham


Fremantle: Sandilands, Johnson, D. Pearce, McPharlin, Clarke, De Boer

Essendon: Heppell, Stanton, Hibberd, Gleeson

Umpires: Margetts, Nicolls, Hosking

Official crowd: 36,722

Our Votes: 3 Sandilands (Frem), 2 Johnson (Frem), 1 D. Pearce (Frem)


About David Zampatti

David writes theatre and the popular arts for the West Australian. In past lives he hung out with some great bands, opened a pub in San Diego and did it tough with the Fremantle Dockers.


  1. Peter Flynn says

    Cheers David.

    Enjoyed reading your piece.

    Is anybody else a little suspicious about the performances of teams traveling to play in Perth and the dockers against Hawthorn and the Eagles against Geelong?

    Cue in rack I’m thinking.

  2. Not me PF. Hawks and Cats are A grade; Dockers B grade without Barlow and Fyfe but A grade with them back; Eagles are B grade (6-8) with a full side – but very skinny on depth so D grade with a few injuries. These 3 and Port (potentially) are the only serious contenders for the last 2 weeks. Rest are developing; try hards; flakes or duds.
    Form is temporary – class is permanent.
    DZ – what can I say – witty, balanced, insightful. Are you back on the meds; or does someone else post those comments?
    Particularly loved your Bomber Thompson ‘could shrug his way out from under an avalanche’ observation. When I saw Pavlich line up his long shot on half time, I thought ‘he’s a south aussie boy, he’ll do a Blighty, and kick a torp’. It was as pure an execution as I have seen for years, the way it spiralled through the air as it sailed through. Like there was an invisible power drill guiding it, as you elegantly described.
    I turned off half way through the third quarter. I hate the Dockers more than the Bombers??? Who knew. Must be your and Les’ influence.
    Still, Michael Walters, your most dangerous forward and a wonderful player to watch (plays small and tall; skill and aggression – equally well) – is out for the season with ankle surgery. Small mercies.
    Your in enmity,
    Peter B

  3. sean gorman says

    PB No Masten No Eagles – Nice one DZ

  4. SG No Malaxos no Eagles.

    (Love your style DZ – really easy reading, while actually saying something as well)

  5. DZ is the most overrated writer on this site.

  6. sean gorman says

    The NMNE line is Les E’s btw

  7. Just one thing: does cyberspace to your state have a WA-mention detector on it? You blokes sure can jump out of the woodwork.

  8. Nah John, its just that WA people know good writing and shit footy clubs when we see them.

  9. sean gorman says

    we sure do PB we sure do!!!! “we are Geelong the greatest team of all….”

  10. Malcolm Ashwood says

    Good write up David and while it is only round 4 totally agree with , PB re the contenders there are a lot of shit players and teams in the comp , 18 teams is too many re the talent available in general . We are only going to no re the mental scars if freo make the big dance again the loss of , Walters may prevent this in the long run
    ( Pearce was as bad as Ballantyne in the GF ) would love to no what freo have done re the phschology of sport since the end of last season
    Thanks David

  11. Hey Zampo,

    Great game in Sydney last night! Even better result!
    SWANS are back in town!
    I’m now back in Vietnam.

    Missed catching up with the Suburban Boy – been out of action with a spot of hemorrhoid trouble.


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