Rick Browner reporting for AFANA from Subiaco Oval
In spite of this match having little significance other than bragging rights in Western Australia, the Round 17 Western Derby opened true to form with some pre-game rough stuff. Before the ball was even bounced there were scuffles and bumps as players tried to assert psychological and physical dominance over their opponents. With West Coast and Fremantle ranked 15th and 16th for kicking efficiency in the league (last and second last) the possibility of a low skill and error-filled game was very real.
Although West Coast had lost the last four Derbies to the Dockers, all the early play took place in their forward zone. Against the run of play, David Mundy was on the end of a series of passes to score the first goal of the match for Fremantle. The Dockers were hitting their targets, running and sharing the ball and looking more confident in their approach to the game. The Eagles have had a shocking goal kicking record in recent Derbies. This game proved no exception as they missed early shots which could have put scoreboard pressure on their opponents. They squandered opportunities with ten inside 50 meters to the Dockers’ three. In fact it wasn't until the last nine minutes of the first quarter that the Eagles scored their first goal through Brad Ebert. Fremantle took control and Antoni Grover and Aaron Sandilands kicked the next two goals to take the Dockers into the break with a 12 point lead.
Both teams missed easy shots in front of goals in the second quarter. Neither could hit targets by foot or hand in the midfield and the standard of play was very messy. The Eagles clawed their way back into the game with back to back goals to Mark Le Cras and Josh Kennedy. The Dockers kicked the next two through the enigmatic Hadyn Ballantyne and first gamer Jay Van Berlo. As with the first quarter it was the Eagles dominating early and the Dockers surging late. There was a lot of aggression off the ball and a 50 meter penalty to Matt Rosa saw the Eagles hit the front. In a rare error, veteran David Wirrpanda turned the ball over with a horror kick-in and Nick Suban capitalized by scoring a goal as the half ended. The Eagles had reduced the margin to five points and signs were promising for an exciting second half.
A comedy of errors would be a kind description of the game throughout the next thirty minutes. Players dropped easy marks, hit the post from only 5 meters out, kicked into the backs of their teammates, over-ran the football and generally looked second rate. All this and more contributed to a game of professional football that looked more like amateur hour. Every second disposal resulted in a turnover or fumble. It was unbelievable that the skills were so awful at this level. Each team scored only one goal for the quarter. Docker Tim Ruffles kicked his maiden goal in AFL football with one and a half minutes to go, and Matt Priddis evened the score for the Eagles a minute later. Mercifully, the third quarter came to an end and the Dockers took a one point margin into the final term.
A shambles is the description that comes to mind to describe the final quarter. Both teams missed goals that should have been converted from directly in front. Bad kicking, poor marking and sloppy checking reigned supreme but strangely enough the equally bad football by both sides made for an exciting finish. It was close on the scoreboard and it seemed that the team that made the fewest mistakes might just win the game. Fremantle’s fortunes took a turn for the better and they scored three out of the first four goals with new boys on the block Van Berlo and Ruffles combining for a couple. A saddening incident saw young Ruffles carried off the ground on a stretcher late in the game with a knee injury from a non-contact chase of the ball. The medical team indicated that he will be out for 12 months and the latest news says he will undergo a knee reconstruction in a matter of days.
Both teams threw everything into the game and it did turn out to be an exciting spectacle, albeit with skill errors that would make both coaches weep. West Australian football lovers must be wondering where the next western powerhouse will come from. The local teams are so far off the pace of the rest of the competition that it may be years before either threatens to make it to Finals as the Eagles did through the nineties.
Scoreboard Fremantle 3.4 6.8 7.9 10.11 (71) West Coast 1.4 5.9 6.14 8.18 (66) Best players Fremantle A Sandilands, C Tarrant, M Pavlich, N Suban, H Ballantyne West Coast A Selwood, T Houlihan, S Hurn, C Masten, M Rosa, A. Embley
Article last changed on Tuesday, July 28, 2009 - 7:24 AM EDT