AFL Round 9 – Fremantle v Geelong: Viva la character; viva la personality; viva la history.

Fremantle v Geelong
5:40pm, Saturday 17 May
Subiaco Oval

David Zampatti

Hero [Gk; ME] n. One who does brave or noble deeds; an illustrious warrior;

Twenty-odd years on, Freo finally has a history. There are significant players who’ve begun and ended their careers there, a few highs to go with its remorselessly regurgitated lows; incidents that stick in football’s collective memories (Sirengate, the Chant of Dale Kickett).

And there’s a genuine, notable, rivalry, that’s not just the inevitable consequence of geography, played out over time, against one of the greatest teams the game has seen.

If recognition results from rivalry, then Fremantle v Geelong is the first and best evidence that the Dockers have arrived in the AFL.

That’s why the most important game in Freo’s history was round three, 2010 (although I notice with resigned chagrin that it didn’t rate a match report on the Almanac website at the time).

That day, Freo applied unheard-of pressure to the premiers early, and came home over the top of them for a seven-point win. It was the prototype of the Fremantle style, based on the defensive pressure generated by Chris Mayne, Hayden Ballantyne and Matt de Boer, that has served it well since under both Mark Harvey and Ross Lyon.

Since then the ledger is square, at three wins each (not that there’s much consolation in that for the Cats, two of the Dockers’ wins being finals).

The week leading up to the game had been full of niggle, the protagonists (Crowley, Johnson, Ballantyne) fingered, old coals raked, strengths and weaknesses mulled. Plus a fair bit of attention on one player, much of it of the “if only he’d played in Melbourne…” variety.

So if Freo’s all-but unchallenged opening quarter blitz (Hill carving them up, Sandilands a monstrosity, Mzungu threatening to play the game of his life) was something of a surprise, Geelong’s inability to mount any sort of meaningful challenge to what was never really a put-down-your-glasses lead was inexplicable.  They did manage three in a row either side of the half, but two were unconvincing dribbles across the goal line, and goals to Duffield and the Ballantyne quickly snuffed out the resistance.

For much of the game, though, Freo was able to display some audacious skills against a powerless opponent. Fyfe climbed over Rivers for a spectacular hanger, then Ballantyne turned him inside out, twice, for what should be the goal of the year; Sandilands roved and snapped like a seven-foot Gary Ablett, and, in one dazzling sequence, Hill to Mundy to Fyfe to Barlow, they seemed to render their opponents incorporeal.

So what does Freo seem to be able to take from the Cats that no-one else, not even the mighty Hawthorn, can? I think it’s their personality. Geelong players who invariably impose themselves on games, Johnson, Kelly, Enright and Lonergan, Hawkins and Taylor, Bartel and even Selwood (who had a mountain of possessions but never looked like he was going to carry the game) seem inconsequential, harried, spooked. Anonymous, even. The Geelong system, the reef across half back upon which attacks founder, the spear up the guts that eviscerates defences, can’t compose its ranks or gather its force against Fremantle.

It’s not the end for Geelong (not by a very long stretch) and it’s not the Ascendency of Freo, either. There’ll be big circles around Rd 20 down Corio Bay, and it will drip with malice and intent. But that’s as it should be – especially for Fremantle.

I’m incapable of giving Matthew Pavlich his due. Perhaps the greatest tribute to his simple supremacy is that no player can have ever played more football with two, sometimes more, players on him. There were times when he’d push through the middle like some fabulous, doomed beast, with three opponents hanging off his back. Sure, it was often because Freo’s weakness allowed opponents that luxury, but I like to think it’s because they knew it was folly to leave him with only one man to beat.

He made a modest lap of the centre square to offer himself to the crowd after his wonderful 300th game, alone in the middle of the oval. As I watched him, I was reminded of H.S Altham’s paean to the great C.B. Fry: “He could, alike in form and feature, have stepped out of the frieze of the Parthenon”.


Fremantle        5.3   7.11   10.15   13.18   96

Essendon       0.3   3.5   6.7   9.10   64


Fremantle: Pavlich, Ballantyne 3, Mzungu 2,  Fyfe, Duffield, Barlow, Sheridan, Pearce.

Geelong: Hawkins 3, Varcoe 2, Horlin-Smith, Bartel, Murdoch.


Fremantle: Mundy, Sandilands, Ballantyne, Fyfe, Hill, Barlow, Mzungu

Geelong: Selwood, Horlin-Smith, Hunt, McIntosh

Umpires: Donlon, Dalgleish, Chamberlain

Official crowd: 38,565


Our Votes: 3 Mundy (Frem), 2 Sandilands (Frem), 1 Ballantyne (Frem)



  1. “The Geelong system, the reef across half back upon which attacks founder, the spear up the guts that eviscerates defences, can’t compose its ranks or gather its force against Fremantle”


  2. Agree Smithy. You could take that line to a writing seminar, analyse it and wonder which poem it came from. Reef and founder. Spear and eviscerates. Ranks. A nod to the age of imperialism – with Geelong the mother country and Freo the energetic colony?

    On that have you read A Working Forest by Les Murray? The man can write prose as well.

  3. By the way DZ: you’ve pretty well nailed it. The Cats looked pressured for much of the game, and occasionally intimidated.

    Young side.

    Will bounce back.

  4. Neil Belford says

    I’m with you about Pav. There aren’t really the right words yet. Not yet.

    I was at the MCG around 200 Pav games ago, when playing ruck rover, he just took a dominant North Melbourne apart single handedly. He repeatedly grabbed the ball at stoppages and wrestled his way clear until everyone who was hanging on had been shaken off, on one occasion I think running away from the centre bounce to goal. I think we won by a point. Never seen anything like it before or since.

    Pav – Warrior class.
    300 games
    600 goals
    Purple, White, and redandgreen
    Heave ho.

  5. One of my favourite games since moving to Melbourne Neil. I was there – having done some ABC stuff earlier in the afternoon. Pav took control. Smokie Dawson was commentating for 6PR back to Perth. He was out of his share, his jugular going all Parkin. One point.

  6. Brent Harvey got the 3 Brownlow votes in that game.

Leave a Comment