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Janet Linn, reporting for AFANA from Subiaco Oval, Perth

Mental toughness has been the top talking point among Western Australian football followers in the past few weeks. With both local teams flailing at the bottom of the AFL Ladder and each failing to deliver consistent and winning performances, fans have been turning to an examination of the psychological components of the game to find answers. The Fremantle Dockers in particular have promised much in recent seasons and were widely tipped to be a Final Eight prospect this year under new coach Mark Harvey. Sunday’s game against Port Adelaide was a make or break moment for the Dockers coming off six straight losses with only one win on the scoreboard. Port were in a slightly better situation with three wins from eight encounters but needed the four points to have any chance of seeing Finals action in September.

The first quarter was an entertaining affair. Fremantle tackled strongly and had winners in Sandilands, Tarrant, Pavlich and McPharlin. For Port, Rodan had a big impact, teaming well with pacy midfielders Motlop and Pearce. The lead changed several times during the quarter and while the skill level wasn’t great with lots of mistakes on both sides, the contest was tight and fast. Scores were level at the 18 minute mark but Fremantle lifted and converted every attempt on goal to lead by 18 points at quarter time. Port’s forward line looked out of sorts with many of their scores coming from poor defensive work by the Dockers.

Port began the second quarter looking flat but a brilliant individual effort by Daniel Motlop turned the tide of the game. His long goal against the general run of play inspired six Port goals in a row with Fremantle held goalless for the quarter. Rodan, Tredrea, Westoff, Pearce and Salopek were dominant and Fremantle had no answers in a hard fought 32 point turnaround by Port. The margin was 14 points in the visitors’ favor at the long break.

A third quarter revival by Fremantle kept the game competitive. Grover opened the tab for the Dockers and Pearce replied with a miracle goal for Port Adelaide. Pavlich was everywhere and team mates Ibbotson, Farmer and Black had a lot of the play. There was some exciting end to end football with both teams strong in defense and on the ball but struggling to find consistent targets in their forward lines. Eventually Rodan broke through to give Port a 19 point buffer only to see McPharlin score a desperately needed goal for the Dockers. A free kick to Thornton in front of the sticks reduced the margin to one clear goal and minutes later an inspirational six pointer from Crowley saw scores tied with four minutes remaining. It was Port’s turn to show some mental strain as they mishandled the ball and showed signs of panic. Fremantle took a narrow two point lead into the final break after Pavlich and Farmer scored points in the closing minutes of the quarter.

There was no doubt that every Dockers’ fan had the mental toughness question on their mind as the whistle blew to start the final quarter. Port took the initiative immediately. After a fantastic play by Rodan, Motlop kicked a Goal of the Year contender to give Port the lead. Ibbotson snapped a brilliant goal off a marking pack and it was Fremantle in front. McPharlin had an opportunity to increase the lead but wasted it. An easy clearance by Port resulted in a downfield chance to Westoff. He nailed it and Port were ahead again. Fremantle began to make mistakes, getting caught holding the ball, missing tackles and becoming tentative in defense. Port’s supremacy was obvious when, with two players lying on the ground injured and effectively out of the game, Port moved the ball forward to Gray in the forward 50 and scored a goal. With seven minutes to go to full time, Port had a 16 point lead. Pavlich was awarded a free kick for an arm chop but hit the post, wasting a final chance for Fremantle to get back into contention. In contrast, Port took the ball out of defense and retained possession to give Westoff another opportunity on goal. He capitalised as did Motlop minutes later and Port ran out comfortable 28 point winners.

While Port Adelaide supporters rejoiced at the resurrection of their season, Fremantle Dockers’ fans wept tears of frustration at the thought of what could have been - indeed should have been - in season 2008. There can be no excuses for Fremantle. They had plenty of the ball and lots of opportunities but Port Adelaide were deserving winners. They showed more endeavor and fought hard to come from behind for the win. The Dockers were no match for Port’s persistence or toughness when it counted. Where Port were resolute and convincing, Fremantle were inconsistent and brittle. To rub salt into the wound, the Dockers earned a dubious honor. They are the first team in AFL history to be defeated on five separate occasions after leading games at three quarter time. This will no doubt fuel further debate on the reasons behind the Dockers’ inability to finish off games.

In Round 11 Port Adelaide (now in equal 10th place on the Ladder) will host Carlton at AAMI Stadium in Adelaide. Fremantle (equal bottom) will travel to the Gabba to meet the in form Brisbane Lions in front of their home crowd.

Port Adelaide 2.1 8.3 10.5 16.7  (103)
Fremantle     5.1 5.7 9.13 10.15 (75)

Port Adelaide Motlop 5, Tredrea 3, Westoff 2,Roden 2, Lade, 
              Salopek, Pearce, Gray
Fremantle     Sandilands 2, Pavlich, Farmer, Black, Grover, 
              Thornton, Ibbotson, McPharlin, Crowley

Port Adelaide Motlop, Rodan, Salopek, Pearce, Westoff, 
              K Cornes, C Cornes
Fremantle     Crowley, Sandilands, Palmer, Ibbotson, 
              McPharlin, Pavlich

Article last changed on Tuesday, June 10, 2008 - 2:22 AM EDT

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