Eagles Beat Off-line Dockers

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Chris Kowald reporting for AFANA from Domain Stadium, Perth

The gladiatorial tradition of Derbies at Domain Stadium between the West Coast Eagles and Fremantle Dockers finished with a whimper rather than a bang. Derbies at Domain, have traditionally been fiery contests decided by sustained aggression and brutal attack on the ball. The 46th and final Derby, before the move to a new stadium, was decided not by strong contested play but by skill errors. The West Coast Eagles fielded a team of experienced campaigners who held their nerve in attack and finished their forward thrusts with clinical coolness. The Dockers team had far less experience and despite competing with determination, were their own worst enemy in attack.

Both teams started each center bounce with two spare players on the defensive side of the center square. The Eagles’ tactic was to leave space for Josh Kennedy and Jack Darling to fly for big marks (catches). The Dockers focused on running the ball into their own attack, to avoid the air dominance of Eagle defenders Jeremy McGovern and Tom Barrass. In the first quarter the honors were even in ruck hit-outs, with the Dockers through Lachie Neale and Nat Fyfe (11 contested possessions) gaining an advantage in clearances over Nat Priddis and Luke Shuey. The Dockers made five more forward entries than the Eagles. However, in trying to kick the ball where McGovern and Barrass weren’t, the Dockers’ attacks faltered. The Eagles’ small defenders Shannon Hurn and Liam Duggan feasted on wayward balls to repel entries, sharing 27 possessions between them. The Eagles’ attacks were more successful with big men Drew Petrie, Darling and Kennedy ruling the air and kicking a goal each.

The second quarter continued as the first, with the Dockers having a marginal ascendancy in the midfield via ruckman Luke Darcy, playing his fourth game, having the better of Nathan Vardy in hitouts and around the ground. Josh Kennedy kicked his second goal early for the Eagles and then the game became a rolling scrimmage as the Eagles pressed players into contests and the young Dockers struggled to find clear space. Luke Ryan, playing his sixth game, was influential in defense of the Dockers. It was not until the 14th minute of the quarter that the Dockers scored their first goal of the match, through a cross-body snap by underperforming tall forward Shane Kersten. A late goal by Dockers’ rover Nick Suban was only the third kicked in the tight quarter and brought the Dockers within 14 points at half time.

The Eagles lifted in the third quarter and matched the Dockers in the midfield. Eagles’ tagger Mark Hutchings subdued the Dockers’ most skillful player, Michael Walters, while Sam Mitchell and Andrew Gaff bettered the Dockers’ Lachie Neale and Connor Blakely in clearances. At the three-minute mark, Eagles’ defender Andrew McGovern kicked a monster from the 50-metre boundary line and then Eagles veteran Marc LeCras showed coolness to slot another precious goal a minute later. With play congested and the Dockers’ backline containing Kennedy and Darling, the next major score (goal) was not kicked until 18 minutes later when LeCras marked a low ball and kicked accurately. Before this the Dockers had missed four easy goals, with Brad Hill missing three simple shots as the worst offender. A clever Michael Walters snap, with a minute to go, gave the Dockers their sole goal for the quarter and kept them in touch.

The final quarter mirrored the previous three. It was a tight but unspectacular contest. After ten minutes, breakout runs which resulted goals from Suban and Walters brought the Dockers within 16 points. The Dockers lifted and dominated the midfield and ran the ball through the center to outpace the leg-weary Eagles. However, the Dockers continued to butcher their kicks and made it easy for Eagles’ defenders to mop-up the mess. Hurn and Duggan were the main beneficiaries, but were rarely able to push the ball beyond the Dockers’ center line. At the 20-minute mark the Eagles shut the gate with strong play from Kennedy who centered the ball to Darling, who marked and goaled from close range. A fifty meter penalty against former Docker captain David Mundy, for overstepping the mark, gifted a goal to Eagles’ youngster Dom Sheed who terminated Fremantle’s determined but error ridden performance.

Next week the Eagles travel to Etihad stadium to meet Collingwood. West Coast approach three winnable games (including Collingwood) which should see them make the final eight. However, their performance against the Dockers suggests a win against Collinwood is not a given; and that the Eagles will be out of their depth in the finals. The Dockers play Hawthorn at home. Both teams have missed their chances to play in September and it will be a game where coaches look to the future and persist with younger players. If the Dockers can straighten their kicking, it will be an even contest.

Scores

Fremantle Dockers 0.3  2.8  3.13  5.14 (44)
West Coast Eagles 4.1  5.4  9.6   11.8 (74)

Best

Fremantle Dockers: Fyfe, Neale, Blakely, Ryan, B Hill

West Coast Eagles: Hurn, Duggan, Gaff, McGovern, Sheppard 

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Crows  15  6  1  135.98  62
Cats  15  6  1 117.38  62
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