Rick Browner reporting for AFANA from Patersons Stadium, Western Australia
Geelong won the 2011 Premiership and despite the loss of some key players to retirement, this is still a formidable side which plays well away. Nevertheless the Cats have had trouble with the Fremantle Dockers. Last year there was one nail-biting finish and the first quarter for 2012 showed that the fans were in for more of the same.
Matthew Pavlich won the toss and kicked with the aid of a slight breeze. The Dockers were out of the blocks quickly and kicked the first five goals of the match. Pavlich opened the scoring followed by two in a row to a much improved Zac Clarke who looks lean and more confident after an apprenticeship year in 2011. Matt de Boer and Nate Fyfe supplied goals of their own and suddenly the score was 30 points to nil. Geelong looked stunned and certainly no-one in football circles had seen this coming.
Big Tom Hawkins kicked the Cats’ first goal with a clever snap on his left foot and this seemed to fire up the visitors. The Cats are a class side and any other team would have been hard pressed to overcome such a large deficit. True to their fighting character, they clawed their way back as Trent West kicked their second, closely followed by their third to Hawkins. Josh Mellington kicked a goal from an impossible angle to turn the screws for the Dockers who then tried to run the clock down. This proved to be a bad mistake as Adam McPhee fumbled a simple mark in the back line and gave away a free kick to Steven Motlop. His goal right on the first term siren saw an incredible ten goals straight for the quarter, a feast of football for the near capacity crowd.
Geelong came out from the break with a vengeance and James Podsiadly kicked a quick goal to stamp his mark on the game. Andrew Mackie benefited from a soft 50 meter penalty to tie the game up and from there on it looked as though the Cats might take over and dominate. Taylor Hunt was putting a hard tag on Stephen Hill, effectively keeping him from having any influence on the match. Good pressure by Kepler Bradley, who was trying hard but having limited success, earned him a free kick straight in front of goals. The Cats put their foot down on the gas as Podsiadly and Motlop kicked successive goals to give Geelong the lead for the first time in the game. The Dockers were having none of it and again forced the ball deep into their forward zone. Fyfe, who was arguably the best player on the ground, kicked a spectacular goal on the run off his left foot from an impossible angle. Even the opposition coach Chris Scott smiled ruefully and shook his head in amazement at this brilliant feat. Hunt kicked another goal right on the siren to give Geelong a five point lead going on the main break. With 27 goals kicked and only five behinds, it was a skilful and exciting spectacle.
Fremantle came out with renewed energy and started the second half with the determination they had shown at the beginning of the match, blitzing the Cats from the get go. Mellington had a purple patch to inspire his team, firstly converting a Michael Johnson free kick into a goal, then winning a free kick himself. Tendai Mzungu played on to advantage in the confusion and ran straight into goal from a meter out. In a bizarre follow up to the goal, serial nuisance Hayden Ballantyne gave Matthew Scarlett a mouthful of cheek for giving away the free kick. Ballantyne must have pushed the right buttons because the next minute he was flat on his back from a left hook to the jaw from Scarlett. With the umpire watching from just three feet away, there was no option but to award an immediate second free kick where the incident had taken place. Ballantyne didn’t waste the opportunity and his conversion brought the house down. For the home town crowd, there was now belief that the giant could be slain and the “Freo, Freo” chant went up.
Jimmy Bartel came into form as the taggers grew tired and the game began to open up. His steadying goal for Geelong was just what the doctor ordered. In a master stroke of coaching, Ross Lyon activated the substitute Michael Barlow, the crowd favorite after suffering a break to both bones in his lower leg two seasons ago. Barlow is still working his way back into form and there was a warm cheer when he took the ground. Chris Scott then activated the Geelong substitute within minutes and, as in a game of chess, he removed a king, ruckman Orren Stephenson to put some more pace on the field with a bishop, Allen Christensen. The Dockers’ substitute was the better move because Barlow kicked a telling goal off the left foot with his first touch of the ball. This gave Fremantle four of the last five goals and firmed up the thought that they may just pull off the impossible. Steve Johnson, who had been persecuted by Ballantyne for most of the game, danced around tackles and slotted a clever goal from just inside the arc. Hawkins followed up as the quarter drew to a close after some sparkling end-to-end movement by the Cats. Suddenly Geelong looked full of life again and trailed the Dockers by a solitary point at three quarter time.
Bartel led the way in the final quarter with a true rover’s goal when he waited at the back of the pack for the crumbs. The Dockers kicked the next two, none better than Ballantyne after some Fyfe magic in the forward line. Hawkins again brought the Cats back with some uncharacteristically accurate under pressure kicking. However the cream rose to the top when the game was on the line. Pavlich kicked two goals to take the Dockers out to a game-winning ten point lead. Pavlich is in contention for Goal of the Year after he soccered a ball out of mid-air, 20 meters from the goal line as the ball came free of the pack. The goal lit up the crowd and the game looked won. Bartel had other ideas, kicking a goal to bring the Cats back within four points and 41 seconds to play. Every spectator was on the edge of their seats as the ball was bounced in the center, but the forward foray didn’t happen for the Cats and the clock finally wound down to see Fremantle win by less than a kick.
Although coaches are loathe to pin a win on a specific incident, Scarlett’s rush of blood to the head when he punched Ballantyne to give away a second goal, effectively cost the Cats the match. It was an electrifying finish none the less and sets the Dockers up to think that this year might be the one. They showed fight and fierce determination to beat the Reigning Premiers and will be under the microscope to perform like this more consistently. Certainly the Cats will lick their wounds and bounce back but it was not in their game plan to find themselves in eleventh position at the start of the season.
Take a look at David Woodley's game day photos at http://www.afana.com/drupal5/category/image_galleries/2012_season/home_and_away_games/round_1_fremantle_v_geelong/14-2082.
Scoreboard Fremantle: 6.0 8.3 12.8 16.9 (105) Geelong: 4.0 9.2 12.7 15.11 (101) Best players Fremantle: Fyfe, Ballantyne, de Boer, Clarke, Pavlich Geelong: Selwood, Bartel, Hawkins, Stokes, Chapman
Article last changed on Monday, May 28, 2018 - 5:36 PM EDT