Rick Browner reporting for AFANA from Perth
Fremantle coach Ross Lyon proved his adage (after a week of discontent amongst fans that the AFL had decided to fixture the Second Qualifying Final in Geelong rather than in Melbourne) that he and his Dockers would take on Geelong, “Anywhere, anytime,” when his team powered away for a win at Simonds Stadium in their Qualifying Final encounter. Geelong had a 99% win ratio at Simonds going into the game and had every reason to expect another notch in their belts. It was a bruising and often spiteful match that epitomized the standard of play in a Finals series.
Before the ball was bounced to start the game a free kick was awarded to James Podsiadly in front of goals. Zac Dawson was put on report for striking "Pods" in an early skirmish. Unfortunately he kicked a point and from there it was ‘game on’ with no quarter asked or given in the battle. Geelong got off to a fast start and could have put Fremantle to the sword early in the match and broken their spirit if had they kicked straight. From ten scoring shots in the first quarter they could only manage four goals. Steve Johnson was masterful and unstoppable kicking two of them before Coach Lyon switched his best tagger, Ryan Crowley onto the champion to dampen his influence. There were many stoppages and packs as players threw themselves at the contested ball. It often resembled a game of Rugby Union with the scrums that were forming. The home town crowd seemed to be having an influence on the amount of free kicks that Geelong were being awarded as soft contests saw them with the free ball as a result of the umpire’s whistle. The Dockers’ small brigade of Michael Walters and Hayden Ballantyne were being effectively blanketed in front of goals but Walters managed a goal to give the Dockers their first of the game. Matthew Pavlich was leading from the front and his goal late in the quarter kept Fremantle in striking distance with a 13 point deficit at the end of the first quarter.
Podsiadly got a second chance at a free kick on goals early in the second term when Dawson was again pulled up for hitting him. This time he made no mistake, taking the margin out to a three goal lead. Alarm bells were sounding in the Dockers’ ship and the crew rallied to take the game right up to the Cats. Michael Barlow was playing the game of his life and scored two quick goals to put Geelong on notice that the game was not being relinquished yet. Ballanytne popped up for another goal to haul the Cats’ lead back to a slender two points. As the game progressed it became more free flowing and the ball was moving with alacrity from end to end. Fremantle were having the better of the play and they scored five goals in a row before Podsiadly chimed in with a settler towards the end of the half. The Dockers held onto a slim four point lead at the main break.
Both teams threw everything into the third quarter and the game cranked up a notch. Substitutions were made to bring fresh legs onto the ground. Geelong took out Corey Enright with a knee injury for Paul Chapman, while Fremantle put Tom Sheridan in for Nick Suban who was also suffering with a knee problem. Geelong took the lead back when Dawson made a critical error in the midfield. He fisted the ball forward when he was meters in the clear instead of making sure of it with a mark it and Steven Motlop was the recipient of a goal as a result. The Cats were moving the ball efficiently out of their back line and setting up scoring opportunities although they were still suffering from an inability to kick goals. Mitch Duncan scored their next with another free kick in front of goals, much to the home crowd’s delight. Again the Dockers dug deep and made the most of two decisive ruck taps in front of goals. The Geelong defenders made the cardinal mistake of not getting goal side of their opponents at the tap and Barlow and Stephen Hill both waltzed into open goals. Podsiadly was again the savior for Geelong booting a major as the clock ran down but Aaron Sandilands evened it up for Fremantle to keep their lead intact on the siren.
Geelong could sense an upset brewing as things were not going to plan. They held the ball in their forward zone for much of the last quarter and had kick after kick on goal to no avail. The Dockers were like boxers on the ropes – they had taken some big hits and serious punishment, but were still on their feet and dangerous. Chris Mayne took the Dockers out to a 12 point lead when he goaled after a free kick and there was a dawning realization that perhaps the unthinkable might actually happen - Fremantle might win against all the odds. The sealer on the game came with two minutes left when a lucky interchange saw Hill bob up with the ball on the wing one second after stepping onto the field of play. He took off like a shot wallaby, ran 50 meters, had a couple of bounces and slotted the goal that would take Fremantle into a home Preliminary Final with a week’s rest. Geelong were down for the count to the tune of 15 points and resigned themselves to the defeat.
With only their second win at Simonds Stadium in their history, Fremantle echoed Ross Lyon’s belief that they can take on any team at any ground in Australia and be confident of a win. They play the winner of the Carlton-Sydney clash for a position in their first Grand Final appearance since joining the competition. Geelong face up to a rejuvenated Port Adelaide at the MCG, the winner facing off with Hawthorn for their chance in the big one. Although they had an equal number of scoring opportunities with Fremantle they will rue their poor kicking accuracy if they repeat the performance next week.
Scoreboard Geelong: 4.6 6.11 9.13 9.18 (72) Fremantle: 2.5 7.9 10.12 12.15 (87) Best players Geelong: Mackie, Bartell, Podsiadly, Guthrie, Taylor Fremantle: Barlow, Hill, Pavlich, Mayne, Dawson
Article last changed on Tuesday, September 10, 2013 - 7:34 AM EDT