AFL Grand Final – Preview: The Iron Mike Verdict

This weekend will lead Fremantle somewhere they have never been.  As a club they must be tired of the guilt and of being sorry for their woeful existence.

The AFL has suffered enough at the hands of Fremantle.  The Dockers can’t run anymore.  They must fight.

This is the grand final the AFL had to have, final confirmation that the national competition, Gold Coast and GWS aside, is really working.

Fremantle finished third, which guaranteed the double chance and nothing else.  In scheduling the qualifying final at KardiniaPark, the AFL seemed to punish the Dockers for daring to dream.

Ross Lyon has led a besieged existence at Fremantle.  His appointment at the expense of Mark Harvey was perceived as betrayal.  Lyon was comfortable with it, and he came to fight.  Before the final against Geelong, he uttered the now famous mantra, any team anywhere.

The Dockers slipped away from KardiniaPark with a 15-point win and a preliminary final to ponder.  Two weeks later they crushed Sydney before cruising to a 25-point win.  History was created.

By virtue of helplessness, the Dockers are sentimental favourites.  Despite finishing third with the best defense across the season, their penchant for ruination has swayed the bookies and punters, but not the fans.

Few people aside from Hawthorn supporters could begrudge the Dockers if they won the grand final.  Lyon couldn’t care less about sentiment.  It won’t be sentiment that determines the result.

Besides, failure cannot be rewarded.  Lyon is rightly being hailed a hero for resurrecting the hapless Dockers, but he’s quick to point out that nothing has really been achieved.

Too many times throughout their unfortunate history, the Dockers kept losing respect.  Two finals wins in 2013 haven’t earned them respect; merely they’ve qualified for a Grand Final.

Getting there is a fantastic achievement but so what?  They won’t gain or deserve respect until they win the premiership.  Right now they’d be engulfed by fear and excitement, trepidation too, that they must face Hawthorn, a team wanting to erase the memory of failure.

That would be cold, cold comfort.

Meanwhile, Hawthorn coach Alistair Clarkson is back exactly where he was last year, days out from a grand final and wondering why the hell it had to be against the best defensive team in the league.

Sydney, it must be remembered, was the best defensive team last year.  In the 2012 grand final, Hawthorn conceded the last four goals and lost.

That aberration has the Hawks favoured among those sentimentalists who expect more than one premiership from six years of dominance.

Capitalising in September is a necessary evil.  The victor gets the spoils, the losers the rest, which isn’t much in terms of glory, just a whole lot of heartache.  Good clubs capitalise, those without mettle don’t.

The Hawks must be feeling the itch.  They’ve got to win the premiership to atone for last year and to justify a stellar existence, just twelve home and away losses in the last three seasons.  Anything less will be a dismal failure.  Three seasons of hard work without a triumph will never seem enough.

If the Dockers win it’ll be reward for effort, their best season ever.  If they don’t win, it’ll be no sin losing to Hawthorn, a club out for vengeance, tough and hard, experienced in finals football, ready to extract every ounce of gore at the MCG.

But Fremantle cannot be written off.  Their game plan is not a squeeze, it is strangulation and asphyxiation.  They do not do not play to excite.  They play like traffic, killing the game first then feeding off the remnants of excitement.

Excitement is powerful and dangerous, as is keeping a lid on things.  The Dockers game plan revolves around strangulation.  Ross Lyon will have strangled the mood in the rooms following the preliminary final, warning his men to stay focused and not get carried away.

No one knows how a man will respond to hype until it happens.

Fremantle might kill the contest, but Hawthorn outscores the contest.  Across the home and away season, the Hawks scored 488 more points than the Dockers but conceded 341 more.  While the numbers, defensively, stack up in favour of Fremantle, the experience and ability to kick a bigger score belongs to Hawthorn.

Forget Fremantle’s miserly defence for a moment.  Despite not scoring as heavily as the Hawks throughout the season, their top five goal kickers have scored 154 goals between them, led by Michael Walters with 44 and Chris Mayne with 36.  Hayden Ballantyne kicked 34 while Matthew Pavlich has 22 and Nathan Fyfe 18.

The Hawks top five have scored 230 goals, led by Jarryd Roughead with 70 and Buddy Franklin with 59, while Jack Gunston has 42, Luke Breust 39 and David Hale 20.

It’s clear which men need to be shut down on grand final day, clear too, which men must fire.

Hawthorn has the edge in the forward line.  Fremantle will struggle if Zac Dawson and Luke McPharlin cannot keep Franklin and Roughead quiet.  Peripheral players like Daniel Pearce, Nick Suban and Lee Spurr must get their share of the ball and make each possession count.  They’ve got to counter quality with quality.

Ross Lyon must make his forwards accountable for Hawthorn’s creative backline, particularly Luke Hodge and BrianLake.

Hawthorn has to match Fremantle’s aggression at the man with the ball, and bust the game open when they can.  If they can’t be creative off halfback, they’ll get beaten.

Unfortunately for Hawthorn, they are being engulfed by the bloom in the gloom, as the Dockers swept all before them on route to the best season in their tepid history, a club that traditionally has waved the flag of least resistance.

How each club handles the pressure of expectation and desire to prove excellence will decide the premiership.  It has little to do with numbers for and against accrued across the home and away season, though they’re certainly a guide.

Many times in recent history, the vanquished has rebounded from disappointment the following year and won the premiership.  In the seventies and eighties it seemed prerequisite.  Hawthorn is favoured, and might shorten further before the first bounce, with the punters and bookies blinded by star quality.

Both clubs have been warned by the AFL to leave each other alone or face stiff penalties.  Hard men, therefore, are handicapped, vowing to match physicality and courage at the ball, no cheap shots.  It won’t stop footballers been driven into the turf, bumped off the ball and niggled like mad.

Through the midfield, both clubs have a whole lot of finesse and grunt, men with the courage to run and the skill to set up their team-mates.

Sam Mitchell is general to a skilled midfield that includes Jordan Lewis and Cyril Rioli.

Pitted against Michael Barlow, Stephen Hill and Nathan Fyfe, the Dockers midfielders seem to have the edge.

Aaron Sandilands looms large as Hawthorn’s biggest problem.  If he can impose himself on the game, the Hawks will have all sorts of issues.

By virtue of finishing on top, Hawthorn has had an extra 24 hours to recover from their bruising preliminary final against Geelong.  That final was a tight, suffocating contest, leaving key players struggling as the match wound down.

Fremantle breezed through their final against Sydney without any new injury concerns, so the extra day of recovery mightn’t be so precious.

The Dockers should be too big, too strong, too well coached.  They’ll play uncompromising and assaulting football, intimidating and destroying the confidence of the Hawks.

Fear, however, is powerful, especially fear of failure.  The Hawks deserve favouritism, but the Dockers have a real chance of winning.  Poor teams don’t finish in the top four, and Hawthorn aren’t exactly rock solid in September, given what happened last year.

I believe the Dockers will overrun Hawthorn in the final term, and win by three goals.



About Matt Watson

My name is Matt Watson, avid AFL, cricket and boxing fan. Since 2005 I’ve been employed as a journalist, but I’ve been writing about sport for more than a decade. In that time I’ve interviewed legends of sport and the unsung heroes who so often don’t command the headlines. The Ramble, as you will find among the pages of this website, is an exhaustive, unbiased, non-commercial analysis of sport and life. I believe there is always more to the story. If you love sport like I do, you will love the Ramble…


  1. Malcolm Ashwood says

    Good Preview but for me Fremantle have wone respect by the general Footy world
    Irrespective of result every 1 is going to dread playing Freo 4 a fair while this belief that you have achieved nothing if you lose a GF if you have a right royal dip unlike Port in
    2007 that’s ok we put too much emphasis on the Premiership club making a GF in a
    18 Team comp is a achievement ! The Goalkicking stats are in reality out of kilt it must
    be remembered how much of the season that Pavlich has missed
    Overall it looms as a fascinating contest can Freo replicate the manic defensive pressure they displayed last week until the Game was won took Footy to a whole new level
    The Goalkicking of both clubs ? Who will stand up to the mental pressure ?
    A lot of Questions to be answered

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