Rick Browner reporting for AFANA from Patersons Stadium, Perth
On a par with “Dreamtime at the G” and the premier hometown rivalries, the Western Derby is one of the most anticipated clashes of the AFL round. These games are always full of skill, action and most of all spite. Derby number 35 came around with the "little brother" team, the Fremantle Dockers, having won two of the last five Derby encounters but the bookmakers had them as rank outsiders as the ball was bounced.
It was a tight and torrid contest with no player having room to maneuver in the early part of the game. The play was with the Dockers but they were not able to convert their dominance on to the scoreboard. It took nearly five minutes before the Eagles took it over their half way line due to the heavy tacking pressure brought by Fremantle. It was an arm wrestle with neither side giving an inch and this resulted in a low scoring, heavily defensive game that was not a great spectacle. While the Eagles increased the number of attacks into their forward 50 meter arc, they were kicking poorly to their forwards and their shots on goal were wayward. The first goal was scored at the 12 minute mark of the quarter when Hayden Ballantyne, to the boos of the Eagles’ home crowd, swooped on a loose ball. He ran from the wing, bounced and kicked on the run to give the Dockers first blood. It was a dour struggle with lots of intent but no scoring. Darren Glass and his able deputy Beau Waters were cutting off any Fremantle forward thrust by floating across the back line and marking their forward movement time after time. This was well and good but they couldn’t move the ball forward to mount an attack. So disjointed was this style of play that West Coast did not score a goal in the quarter and trailed by three points as the siren sounded.
Both teams maintained the man-on-man pressure through the second quarter with Fremantle looking the better side. The Dockers ran from end to end with a great Matthew Pavlich and Chris Mayne combination of running and handballs as they broke through the middle of the ground. Zac Clarke was on the end of the sprint and scored a goal from their hard work. Pavlich was carving up the opposition through the middle of the ground and the Eagles were on the back foot and floundering. They were winning the clearances however and at 6-0 at this stage in the quarter were keeping themselves in the game. Matt Priddis, always in and under for the ball, took a quick snap from a ruck tap to score West Coast’s first goal, eight minutes into the second half. From this piece of inspiration, the Eagles began to lift their work rate. They got some encouragement from Matt Rosa who was everywhere - across the wing, half back and half forward. His marking, with support from Luke Shuey, turned the game around for the Eagles. The Dockers scored the next goal when Mayne, perhaps guilty of cherry-picking, found himself 50 meters in the clear. When the ball squirted out of a pack Stephen Hill took off on one of his characteristic runs. Hill spotted Mayne, delivered a great pass and Mayne sprinted in to score an uncontested goal. West Coast's forwards were not getting the ball delivered with any great efficiency, and as a result were not marking the ball in scoring position until Nic Naitanui goaled late in the half from a Josh Hill pass. His accurate kick tied the game up.
Half time is a time to regroup, discuss strategy and give a rocket where it is due. It is a fair bet that West Coast coach John Worsfold did all of that and more because when the Eagles came out for the second half they were a different team. They started in sprightly fashion, full of running and intent. Will Schofield typified this when he ran all the way from the back line to score. Supported by his teammates with handball, shepherds and talk, his goal was game-changing. There was a squeaking sound heard around the ground and it was the sound of the floodgates opening up. West Coast demolished their opponents in the rest of the quarter, kicking the next four goals to put the Dockers to the sword. Jack Darling had a difficult shot from the pocket that was made easier when the Dockers gave away a 50 meter penalty. Ryan Crowley thumped his opponent in the stomach as Darling was lining up for the kick, with the penalty putting him right in front to goal for the free kick, an undisciplined mistake by the Docker. Josh Hill produced a freak goal for the Eagles from deep in the “vortex pocket”, when he snapped around his body from an impossible angle. This pocket is well loved by the Eagles, as it is the place where they leave the oval after training and each player has a kick on goals as they go down the race. The game was slipping away from Fremantle with eight inside 50s to two so far in the quarter. Things went from bad to worse when Darling faked Zac Dawson out, pretending to run around from a strong mark near the behind post. He sprinted through on the blind side to score from right in front as Dawson turned to see if anyone was supporting him. The Eagles were using the ball at over 80% efficiency in this quarter, 10% over what other teams have done so far this year at this stage of the game. All indications were that this game was over. It was party time for the Eagles and Naitanui rose to the occasion, literally. He soared from three deep to take what might be nominated for the Mark of the Year. It was head and shoulders above the pack and will be in West Coast highlight reels for years. The dominant Hill put some icing on the cake with a free kick goal in front of the big sticks to take West Coast out to a 34 point lead.
It was clear at this stage that the uber-defensive style of Fremantle was not working. Teams have to score to win a game and the Dockers were not doing that. They were being overrun in the center and the ball was being delivered into their back line with great regularity. More punishment was to follow, as West Coast was relentless in running over the Dockers. Priddis, despite a concussion two weeks ago, was hard in at the ball, delivering it to Quinten Lynch for the first goal of the final quarter. This was quickly followed up when Hill took a mark from some slick Andrew Gaff running and delivery. He slotted his third to give the Eagles a commanding lead. Rosa, who was on target for man of the match, scored the next goal. Fremantle made the most of a poor kick-in and Matt De Boer scored a consolation goal as a result. Josh Hill has risen to the occasion with his second chance at the Eagles and produced another of those one-percenters that make a difference. He tapped the ball back into play from the goal line after a terrible Lynch kick at goal. After a series of handballs, Shuey kicked a goal to cap off Hill’s smart work. Fremantle worked hard from an impossible position and Dawson, who had been moved forward, kicked their final goal of the match. It was all to no avail as the game had been well and truly over long before and the Eagles ran out 48 point winners.
It was the lowest score ever by Fremantle at Patersons Stadium and supporters were left with no doubt as to who was the better team. Fremantle faces off against the Adelaide Crows next week at Patersons and must lift to have any chance of playing Finals. West Coast players travel to Brisbane to take on the Lions and will be odds on to defeat them comprehensively. West Coast continues to own its place on top of the Table and is the current Flag favorite.
To see Dave Woodley's photos of the 35th Western Derby go to: http://www.afana.com/drupal5/category/image_galleries/2012_season/home_and_away_games/round_9_fremantle_v_west_coast_eagles/14-21
Scoreboard West Coast: 0.4 2.8 7.14 11.18 (84) Fremantle: 1.1 3.2 3.3 5.6 (36) Best Players West Coast: Rosa, Glass, Kerr, Waters, Cox, Schofield Fremantle: Pavlich, Barlow, Broughton, Johnson
Article last changed on Thursday, May 31, 2012 - 9:21 AM EDT