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Round 4 – Fremantle v Sydney: De Boer’s War

Fremantle vs Sydney
6:45pm, Saturday 25 April
Subiaco Oval

David Zampatti


De Boer’s War – In the Trenches at Subiaco Oval

I’m an unabashed fan of Matthew de Boer, the unprepossessing Freo utility who the coiners of such things must have had in mind when they came up with “hard as nails” and “tough as teak”.

If he has a weakness – other than a mysterious inability to dob fairly straightforward set shots after having gone through hell and high water to earn them – it’s a tendency to cook himself by sheer effort (by the time Freo reached the 2012 semi-final against Adelaide he had nothing left – we were rolled; his gut-busting performance in the heat against Essendon in Round 4 last year must have nearly killed him – he fell out of form, and the team, soon after).

So it’s testament to the strength and steel of this year’s Dockers that a player who possesses all the qualities his coach and teammates most admire has become their absolute borderline selection, subbing in or subbed out most weeks. When Ballantyne returns next week from a couple of games out for misguidedly attempting to play footy in the AFL, de Boer is the most likely Docker to make way for him.

That seventeen other clubs should be so lucky.

Now I’m not going to use de Boer in some awkward analogy of the game to events of this day a century ago (I’ll leave that to others with the skill of a Harms or the glibness of a Cometti to attempt) but I will say that he epitomises what’s great about Sydney v Freo clashes. From their superstars – and Fyfe and Franklin are the starriest the AFL has – to their foot soldiers, both teams are uncompromising hand-dirtiers with a fanatical belief in their systems and each other.

So I went to the game expecting brutal footy and a final score line something like Fremantle 11.8 (74) v Sydney 8.12 (60), and that’s what we got.

I expected Freo’s crash through midfield to finally prevail – just – over Sydney’s chains of possession and release, and that’s how it played out.

I expected Buddy to be terrific. But not to beat the best key defender of his era, and that’s what Franklin and McPharlin delivered. There was a moment, after one contest, I swear they gave each other a look as if to say: “Shit, you’re good!” … “Oh yeah, what about YOU?”.

I expected my mouth to be wide open in amazement often, and have my heart in it at the death, and we got that too.

What none of us expected was how all that unfolded. That Fyfe and the Dockers’ midfield would simply pulverise the Swans for a half (9.3 to 1.3) and Hannebery and Sydney’s would then run rings around Freo for a quarter and a half (7.2 to 0.2) from half time to the middle of the last quarter. Only on the very last leaf of this page-turner of a game would normality return, Freo managing two goals courtesy of a superb kick by Mzungu to Pavlich and a stunning intercept punch from the admirable Ibbotson to Mayne, to finally throw back the surge of a brilliant, indomitable Sydney.

So Freo got the points, but I’m not sure anything critical was proved about the relative strength and weaknesses of the two teams.

(One thing, though, might be decisive at the pointy end of the season. For once, the Dockers actually get to play the Swans in Perth and don’t have to play them in Sydney; that’s, in effect, an eight-point turnaround from the norm in what must be one of the most corrupt pieces of lopsided fixturing in sport.)

Just a final word about ANZAC Day and football (I know I bang on about this every year). It was great to see five games in two countries and four Australian states on the day. We’re obviously very proud of our 20-year-old Len Hall Game over here, despite its sometimes hostile snubbing by many in the Melbourne football media and the AFL, but that’s not the point. The lacklustre exhibition by the league’s two most indulged and cosseted clubs on a day when its four real contenders were in mesmerising action against each other showed how arid the argument for the stand-alone game between Essendon and Collingwood is. Let’s hope we’ve heard the last of it.

Next hobby-horse off the rank – the disgraceful allocation of Friday night games and the case for introducing the Davis Cup home-and-away system to the AFL.


Fremantle        4.2   9.3   9.4   11.8   74

Sydney            1.1   1.3   5.8    8.12   60



Fremantle: Pavlich 3; Mayne 2; C Pearce, Sutcliffe, Taberner, Fyfe, Suban, Clarke

Sydney: Tippett, Franklin 2; Rohan, Lloyd, Jetta, Parker


Fremantle: Fyfe, Ibbotson, McPharlin, Hill, Spurr, Sandilands

Essendon: Hannebery, Reid, Parker, Franklin, Lloyd, McVeigh


Umpires: Dalgleish, Rosebury, McInerney

Official crowd: 39,009

Our Votes: 3 Fyfe (Frem), 2 Hannebery (Syd), 1 The Buddy and Luke show

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. sean gorman says

    Nice Job DZ – I too am amazed that the health of the list is producing either by circumstance and/or design some of the best football The Purple brethren has seen. I doubt the shut down that Crowley provided a few years ago would get a run now that we have seen the hard running of Hill, Fyfe, Neale et al and the scoreboard pressure that this has created (watch Everett lift that last quote for his dinky web site – no shame) .I also would not be surprised if Ballantyne spent another week getting cherry ripe – it won’t happen but it would not be totally out of the blue if it did occur. Interesting days.

  2. 1. Watch the game again DZ and you’ll note that Mr de Boer pulled off a couple of stunning bits of ball handling. Almost Fyfe-like. It is so pleasing that good players struggle to get a game for Freo these days. It wasn’t always so.

    2. Gorman. Vin and me and set it up so we get $1 every time someone uses the term scoreboard pressure. Leigh Matthews has paid for one of our houses. Thanks for your contribution.

  3. sean gorman says

    I told you he would use that scoreboard pressure bit…..doh!

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