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Rick Browner reporting for AFANA from Patersons Stadium, Perth

South Australia has the Showdown, Queensland the Clash but the Western Derby is considered one of the most exciting games of the entire season. Unlike other games, it doesn’t matter where the West Coast Eagles or the Fremantle Dockers are on the Ladder. The Derby is guaranteed to be a cracking, hard fought match. For the record, this time the teams were fifth and sixth on the Ladder and 41,000 fans were treated to a classic encounter.

As expected, it was a tight start to the game. The Eagles were going forward without great authority with Garrick Ibbotson intercepting everything coming his way and returning the ball straight back down the middle of the ground. Stephen Hill took off on one of his trademark runs, escorted down the ground by three teammates. His goal lit up the Dockers and gave them confidence early in the match. Michael Barlow took a strong mark and goaled from the top of the square after the ball was moved the length of the ground from a kick in. This was Barlow’s third full game back after breaking both bones in his lower leg last year and he was racking up possessions and having an influence, much to the Fremantle crowd’s delight. The Eagles kicked only four behinds from their attacks and could not make the most of their forward entries. Jack Darling kicked the West Coast’s only goal for the quarter after a big mark. Had West Coast kicked more accurately, they could have taken command of the game. Instead they kicked two more behinds and trailed by three points at the end of the quarter.

Matthew Priddis scored first for the Eagles in the second quarter when he read the ball off a pack and snapped on his left foot from deep in the pocket. The Eagles were hunting and tackling in numbers. While there was no doubting Fremantle’s endeavor, they were wasting opportunities when disposing of the ball. Josh Kennedy was superb overhead and kicked the Eagles’ next goal from a centering Quinten Lynch pass. Nic Naitanui gave away a 50 meter penalty for not returning the ball straight to Zac Clarke. Clarke kicked a goal which seemed to spark the Dockers, but the half ended with them trailing by a point.

It had been an arm wrestle for most of the game. The Dockers got the second half start they needed when Hayden Ballantyne snapped a goal from the pocket after grabbing the ball off a pack. The Eagles’ conversion rate in front of goals was diabolical as they racked up the behinds at a rate of knots. Finally Eagle Mark LeCras booted a goal after receiving a clever centering pass from Brad Ebert. A good forward movement from end to end resulted in Adam McPhee kicking his first goal, but then disaster struck for Fremantle. In-form ruckman Jonathon Griffin left the field with a leg injury and was replaced by Fremantle's substitute Paul Duffield. Griffin had so far been prominent in keeping champion Eagles’ ruckman Dean Cox in check. After he went off, Cox’s influence on the game soared. So much so that he won the Ross Glendinning medal for best on ground in the Derby. The game opened up and the Dockers benefited from another 50 meter penalty goal. Again Clarke kicked truly but the Eagles rebounded with the last two goals of the quarter to Kennedy and LeCras to take a seven point lead at the change. Both teams had wasted opportunities during the quarter with turnovers and inaccurate kicking.

During the early stages of the final quarter, Fremantle's run into space was closed down. The Eagles’ much-feared forward press was working well and when Kennedy kicked his third goal, it looked like they might run away with the game. Cox could have made it a certainty but missed a relatively easy kick on goal. Luke Shuey, who was winning possessions all over the ground, led by example when he took a strong mark and showed where to kick the ball when it mattered. With four straight kicks at goal needed to win, the game looked all but over for the Dockers. However they found their second wind with the clock ticking down. It wasn’t that West Coast had eased off the gas, it was Fremantle stepping on it that made the difference. Suddenly there was run in the Dockers’ tired legs and they almost stole the game. Hill kicked a goal to spark a Fremantle comeback after an inspiring run and bounce down the wing by Nathan Fyfe. Chris Mayne sped towards goal with a couple of bounces to kick their next. Fyfe, a solid contributor all day, found himself with a free kick and goal from a third 50 meter penalty for the Dockers. This put them two points behind with only seconds to play. A dubious “deliberate out of bounds” decision by an over-zealous umpire gave Ballantyne the ball in his hands, 52 yards out from goal, as the siren sounded. It was a long distance kick for the small man but he gave it his best. The ball sailed steadily and straight to the goal line but hit the post for only the minor score. It was the West Coast Eagles over the Fremantle Dockers by one point, the narrowest of possible margins. Had the kick gone inches to the left, Fremantle would have caused a huge boilover.

This was the closest game in Derby history since the Dockers won by a point some years before. The win keeps the Eagles’ hopes of a Final Four finish alive while the Dockers’ loss places them perilously close to dropping out of the Top Eight. One benefit for West Australian football is that the Eagles’ win might give the teams some separation on the Ladder if they both make the Finals. The worst possible result would be the Western Australian teams finishing so closely to one another that they finish up playing an elimination final in the first round.

See David Woodley's photos of the Western Derby at:

Fremantle:  2.3 3.6 6.7  9.10 (64)
West Coast: 1.6 3.7 6.14 8.17 (65)

Best Players
Fremantle:  M Barlow, G Broughton, H Ballantyne, N Fyfe, L McPharlin
West Coast: D Cox, L Shuey, D Glass, J Kennedy, B Waters

Article last changed on Monday, May 28, 2018 - 5:36 PM EDT

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