Rick Browner reporting for AFANA from Patersons Stadium
Fremantle has been on a downward slide without star ruckman Aaron Sandilands, missing for the last three games with a foot injury. The Dockers have lost their last six games without him in the team. Essendon has also had a topsy-turvy month and were coming off an upset loss to the lowly Melbourne Demons last round.
A fast-starting Fremantle took the game on early with the first two goals. Tendai Mazungu, playing in only his third game, showed class beyond his years when he took a strong mark in a pack and converted from 20 yards out. Ryan Crowley followed his lead when he read the ball off a pack to kick the Dockers’ second. Paddy Ryder steadied Essendon with a mark and goal against the tide of play. Unfortunately for the Bombers this was the first and last spark for the quarter. Hayden Ballantyne kicked the next major for Fremantle before disaster struck. Star midfielder David Mundy hobbled off with the help of trainers and it was later discovered that he had broken his fibula and will be out for at least four weeks. Nate Fyfe was the next in line for a goal and Chris Mayne added to the Bombers’ woes with a mark and goal after a run, bounce and carry up the members' wing by Ballantyne. After a recent slump in form, Matthew Pavlich played a solid role with a mark and goal conversion to move Fremantle out to a 30 point lead. With Fremantle swarming over the contested ball, it was a case of one team working hard while the other team spectated. Michael Johnson should have rubbed more salt into the Bombers’ wounds just before the quarter siren. He took his fifth mark for the quarter but missed an easy shot on goal. The Dockers went into the break 32 points ahead and full of confidence.
Johnson redeemed himself with a goal early in the second quarter when he found himself on the end of a brilliant Ballantyne handball. It was all one-way traffic when Pavlich scored his second after taking the ball out of a pack and dribbling it through the goal posts. Leroy Jetta was one Bomber who was tireless in his running, and he was rewarded for his efforts when he scored Essendon’s first goal in 45 minutes. The Bombers had slowed the bleeding but didn’t take advantage of their opportunities in front of goal. They could have put the heat right back on the Dockers who showed last week that they can be brittle when under pressure. Ryan Crowley twisted the knife when he scored a goal for the Dockers after four Bomber misses in a row. Fremantle went into the main break with a 40 point lead.
Dustin Fletcher did not return to the field after half time, having injured a hamstring towards the end of the second quarter. He was replaced by substitute Alex Brown. This was a huge blow for Essendon as Fletcher is always a stalwart in defense and his presence would be sorely missed. Fremantle was still hunting in packs and full of fire despite being a man down with Mundy taken to hospital. The Dockers kicked the first three goals to start the second half. Essendon had stopped running and looked like they had conceded the game. The home crowd was looking forward to the humiliation of their Victorian rivals. The magic of this game is that every contest is open to possession from either side and Essendon suddenly started to run and claw their way back into the match. Nathan Lovett-Murray started the comeback with a goal and Ryder followed up quickly after a turnover by the usually perfect Fyfe. After chasing down a casual effort by Cale Hooker in defense, Johnson kicked his second and gave the Dockers a chance to regroup. Mark Harvey’s pre-game move of Johnson to the forward line after some recent mediocre displays in defense proved a good strategy. Ryder again showed his aerial skills with a big mark and goal before the siren to give the Bombers an ounce of hope going into the final quarter although they were a huge 47 points down.
In last week’s round, Fremantle looked to be unassailable with a 26 point lead against Hawthorn in the early minutes of the last quarter but they were overrun in the end. There was the possibility of an instant replay this week as Essendon entered the final term with their tails up. Fremantle appeared to be flat and for the first time in the game, they were not running as Essendon was. If gasoline were the currency in this match then Fremantle had hit the red line, and because Essendon had spent so little in the first part of the game, they were running on half a tank of high octane. The Bombers started the last quarter like a house on fire. Travis Colyer kicked a goal and when Ryder followed up they were back to within 35 points. Although this is a fair margin to overcome in a final quarter, Essendon looked capable. When Hurley received from Lovett-Murray and kicked another goal, the Bombers looked dangerous and ripe to take down the stunned Dockers. Livewire Lewis Jetta scored again from a ruck tap and within minutes the Bombers had silenced the Fremantle fans as they sensed an upset brewing. Essendon had kicked the last seven out of eight goals and the Dockers were clinging to the ropes when fan favorite Keppler Bradley rose to the occasion and kicked a goal. Mazungu kicked the sealer minutes later and the Dockers ran out winners by 34 points. Considering that at one stage they had a 59 point lead, it was a closer finish than they would have liked.
The cavalry is arriving soon for Fremantle with Michael Barlow, Roger Hayden, Aaron Sandilands, Alex Silvagni and Nick Suban coming back into the side in the next week or two. This should bolster their chances of a Finals berth as they head into some critical mid-season games. Although Essendon started the season in fantastic form, they have a tough draw in the next three rounds and may struggle to secure a Finals berth if they don’t recapture that form and their earlier endeavor.
Scoreboard Fremantle: 6.3 9.4 13.6 15.8 (98) Essendon: 1.1 2.6 5.7 9.10 (64) Best Players Fremantle: N Fyfe, H Ballantyne, G Ibbotson, M Johnson, M Pavlich Essendon: L Jetta, D Hille, J Watson, P Ryder, Howlett
Article last changed on Monday, May 28, 2018 - 5:36 PM EDT