Round 1 – Fremantle v Port Adelaide: Dear ABC Radio

Dear Radio


Dear ABC Radio,

It’s official. I’m hanging in my love card. I’m over you. A gaggle of ex-midfielders (insert stats here) giving special comments that run pretty much something like…


“Oh, midfielder (insert stats here), midfielder (insert stats here), midfielder (insert stats here).”

“Hm. Yes, yes. Midfielder (insert stats here).”

“Although midfielder (insert stats here).”

“Hm. I’ll pay you that. Midfielder (insert stats here)  did midfielder (insert stats here).”

“Yep. Midfield, midfield, midfield.”


I was listening after working on Tassie’s east coast, between trying to find a pub stupid enough to house Foxtel. I drove from small coastal town to small coastal town. Fortunately for humanity, the one pub that had it was also the most empty. I drank and watched and they kept it open for me.

These are the sort of points they should make in their tourist campaigns, not scenery.

The second the siren sounded about four staff mumbled “Thanks Christ,” and turned out the lights before I’d left the building. Between that and finding another pub, full of people who won’t pay extra for sport because life and drinking are about people, I listened to the tumble of cold harbour waves and more radio.
“Midfield got 31 touches. Midfield got 29. And I thought Midfield, normally 34 touches, still played half okay with 28.”

“Yes, but Midfield didn’t do that well tonight with only 24 so I left him out of the votes. Just.”


Port and Freo. To me, this match was the perfect door to any season. A blinder, ruined by radio. Made bland, ordinary by their summary.
Midfielder (insert stats here) Midfielder (insert stats here) MIDFIELDER!

These ‘experts’, these robots, somebody replace them with a stats machine, please. Nobody will notice. Take them out back and do what must be done. Explain things to them. Make them earn their money and title. The game tonight had only one word, and it wasn’t fucking midfielders (insert stats here). It was ruckman. It was Sandilands.


If you listened on the radio, here’s what I think you missed about the game. Which is pretty much everything.


The whole show has gone up a notch this year, both in terms of pace and pressure. Teams as good as Freo and Port have taught their players who miss marks to be electric on the up and chase. With a stomp of their foot, they’re righted and running again.

Shepherds are now done with thrusting shoulders. They really knock the chaser onto the back foot. Every one of them. It sounds obvious, but isn’t. The difference between a normal shepherd and an impact shepherd is huge. At that level, the game is made up of half steps and quarter seconds.

Often it is the second chaser who is laying the tackle. The first corrals. The ball carrier doesn’t see the second coming.

I suspect, though I’m not out there, the game is often getting too fast for voice. Decisions are made too quick, players appear too fast. More and more there’s instinct. It’s no-longer enough to be a yapper, you have to be a quick one.
With increased speed and less time and space, players are A\ working the boundary better that ever before (thought it may lead to a few more on-the-fulls), and B\ there will be more slapping it on the boot this year, which is great for people who like their football less predictable and congested.


The game itself, Fremantle versus Port Adelaide, pulled one way, then the other. It was played almost entirely on Lyon’s terms. A shitfight at 1,000 mph. Pav received a few 50/50 frees, but got a lot of it and kicked 4 when they mattered. Zac Clarke blew me away with the little things he did in the Freo forward line, his tackles, his shepherds, the way he knocked the ball out of bounds, causing a contest rather than a clearance. He has sharp reflexes for a big man, can slap down a handball, tackle a wrist. He kept the ball in there in key moments. Stats would not do him justice. There were no other forwards. Michael Johnson did brilliantly down back for Freo. I think it was him who s.p.a.n.k.e.d Schulz, but who knows, backs didn’t get a mention.

Which is a shame. Port’s were electric. Time and time again they kept their team in it.

For the commentary team, blinded by sweet orgasmic, simplistic love of the word midfielder (insert stats here), they missed the only stat that mattered. Port doubled the Freo tackle count and lost. You see, to figure that out would require thought. Not numbers. The lop-sided tackle count, the reason Fyfe was given best on ground, was the reason Freo won. Sandilands.

He blitzed every hit out. Cleanly.

Big Az got a clear, even hand to it each damn time, hitting it right down the throat of Fyfe and Barlow and all the other Freo midfielders (insert stats here) who’s stats I CANT DAMN REMEMBER! Port had to throw so much of their process out. Their centre bounce structures, their stoppages structures. Every time the umpire got it they were on the defensive. It was like starting each contest one kick away.

In fairness to Patty Ryder, he’s short of a run, and the back-up ruckman wasn’t there to help, but results win games, not excuses. The game eased into a violent pattern. Big Az would win it down, deliberately, to Fyfe, who was just so bloody brilliant in traffic. Him or another Freo midfielder would get a slap on, by hand, boot or toe poke, never with time or space, Port are too good to give them that, but forward is forward. The ball started, time and again, bouncing into Freo’s half forward line, which is why Port’s half back line were so damn good, and Pav, starting a bit deeper, got so much of it. Pav didn’t monster the ball, he ran onto the work done before him.

So, NO, ABC Radio, the ball did not suddenly, magically will its way into Fyfe’s hands. Time and time and time again Big Az put it there.

In a dream world Big Az would have held about 6 of the half-marks he dropped, and dominated the game thoroughly, like we haven’t seen since Rehn’s prime and earlier. In a dream game Westhoff or Jay would have really clunked a few. All a game as tight and exciting as this lacked was some good marking. No big men were monstering anything. But that’s what happens when you have two great minds going head to head in the coach’s boxes. One team is too quick to simply bomb it long to a pack for a big man to climb over. The ball gets there low and hard and too fast for traffic. The other team is too defensive.
But that’s what it is. Big marks aside, the game was a corker!
And, in ignoring Big Az’s dominance, the ABC Radio crew have missed its significance entirely. “Oh, both these teams are Top 4 on this form.” Obviously. “Oh, they have a real rivalry.” Duh. But tell us something we can’t see, like, maybe…

Freo aren’t that good.

Not on this night’s fair. They stayed in the game, then came back and won, because their ruckman absolutely, totally dominated against an underdone opponent with no back-up. It made Port look tired in the dying half of each quarter. And, as the year wears on, Freo won’t always be so lucky.

Matty Pav got most of his ball running onto the mess constantly coming Freo’s way from the middle. Fyfe was freakish in close. He made impossible order out of chaos. But without the first hands Aaron Sandilands gave him, none of that would have happened. For influence, not stats…

Big Az 3, Pav 2, Fyfe 1.
I thought Freo had the best three players on the ground, but, more importantly for the year ahead, Port had the better team, easy.

Sorry ABC radio. It has been love, but I want a stat on how many times you fall back on stats in a game. Then I want to hit you with it. The ball’s now in your court. Lift your game plenty.



  1. Dr Goatboat says

    Listening to last Q on ABC radio in Tokyo, I felt much the same; it certainly wouldn’t have helped the locals here in their grasp of the game’s intricacies. A thoughtful piece.

  2. Malcolm Ashwood says

    Matt as you no I an totally with you re the influence of ruckman . Sandilands clear taps to advantage were pivotal to the outcome . The pressure, tacking , harassing on the ball carrier was incredible prob the best I have ever seen in round 1 it was more than worthy of a final thanks , Old dog

  3. Peter Schumacher says

    The game of the year so far!

  4. John Zito says

    I like your unique report Matt. Well done!! Most of the special comments experts state the obvious, even our great analytical minds of the game with unquestionable pedigree have no more insight than you and I. David King and Michael Voss are two that I rate highly. Unfortunately, and the Brownlow reflects this, midfielders are the “only players on the park.” And yes Peter I agree it is the game of the year so far and I’ll go the early call….. Will be the game of the season!! Only 189 games to go.

  5. Phil Dimitriadis says

    I think this one of the reasons I’ve come to like ‘Sellers’ MacLure more. I watched a few games this weekend. Got most excited watching Jack Riewoldt and Tex Walker strut their stuff and the fans reaction spoke volumes.

  6. Didn’t see this game Matt, but I’m with you 100% on the influence of Big Sandi. The Dockers have a very good midfield and he gives them an armchair ride. If he can stay fit they are a threat to anyone.
    The Eagles won a flag in 2006 with Cox plus an elite midfield, and modest plodders front and back. History can repeat.
    I reckon Fyfe is the best player in the AFL, but Sandi is the most valuable player at Freo. He is essentially irreplaceable at that level of ruck dominance, whereas Freo can back up an elite midfielder with a pretty good one.

  7. Malby Dangles says

    It’s always a treat to read a match review by you Matty. Extra points for making a statement on how good these teams actually are. One to revisit as the year rolls on.
    I’d love to hear you do footy commentary mate!

  8. John Butler says

    Matt, this is the only analysis I’ve seen really that told me anything about the most consequential game of the round.

    Nice work.

  9. Sorry mate. You’ve got no idea.

    I just looked at the paper and Fyfe beat Sandilands 31 stats to 11.

    And then I analysed it and Sandilands was the 17th best Docker not the best. You’ll never get a gig on radio.

  10. Old Dog, I also like big picture observations and language-based analysis. This is a form of story-telling. The ball-by-ball caller describes the detail, the specialist explains the plot. I think Malcolm Blight was the last of them. I think Leigh Matthews does sometimes.

    Who is influencing the game – to the naked eye?

    I think the ABC coverage is changing/has changed – footy and cricket.

  11. David Zampatti says

    Oh wow! Zurbo AND Zito!!

    Just sticking my hand up.

  12. snowy from lonny says

    I agree with Les,a most curious report.You must be an old ruckman Matt

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