It took eleven weeks of hard work, but Fremantle finally have their first win on the board for 2016. Their opponents, the Essendon Bombers, tried gallantly all game. But on a fine cool night, where the wind was not a factor, the Dockers were able to pinpoint most of their attacking kicks to telling effect.
The ruck duel between Fremantle's Jonathon Griffin and Essendon's Matthew Leuenberger was arguably the most intriguing contest for the evening. The honors were roughly shared at center bounces but Griffin was more effective at the stoppages around the ground. And it was around the ground that the Dockers were able to clear the ball with aplomb, mainly through the clever work of Lachie Neale, Michael Barlow; and Michael Walters. Walters brought some of his scintillating play to the middle. David Zaharakis has been one of the Bombers' more consistent players this year and it appeared that Barlow had orders to shut him down. By playing a close tagging role Barlow did this, and more, to signal that his career is not over yet, despite his recent fortnight relegation to the reserves competition. Barlow was able to run off from Zaharakis, picking up 26 possessions, and leaving one of Essendon's most potent weapons virtually ineffective with just 11 possessions.
Nearly sixty percent of the game was played in the Dockers' forward half as their big men, Matthew Pavlich, Matt Taberner and livewire Chris Mayne were able to take numerous marks within the attacking 50 meter arc. Essendon's Brendon Goddard played a lone hand in defense taking nine marks, but he mostly lacked support in the air. When the ball hit the deck, the Dockers' forward pressure caused skill errors from the inexperienced Bomber players. Veteran Adam Cooney, a Brownlow Medal winner eight years ago, used his guile to clear regularly for the Essendon defense and continued the good form he has exhibited in the first half of the season. However, on many occasions, his younger teammates were panicked by the typical rush of two or three Docker players to the man who received the ball; and a costly turnover resulted. Such was the pressure from the Docker midfield that 13 of their 20 goals were a direct result of turnovers. The Dockers did not have it all their own way, but they were usually first to the ball and Essendon's main option was to use tackling as their way of keeping some semblance of pressure on the home team. Zach Merrett found plenty of leather for Essendon and continues to suggest he will be a player of future for his club. His disposal at times was woeful but his endeavor could not be questioned. Martin Gleeson like Merrett, also in his third year, found enough of the ball in pressure situations. His game was highlighted by his excellent delivery when receiving out wide for Essendon.
It was mostly the "old brigade" of the Dockers who were the drivers for their team; in particular Pavlich during the first half, when the game was won. In the rooms after the game he appeared to have more ice on his battered legs than Eskimo Nell could dig in a week; but the parochial crowd enjoyed the moment of seeing him turn back the years. Mature-age recruit Sam Collins, played strongly in defense for the Dockers by taking 11 marks and having 24 disposals in just his second game of league football. Hayden Crozier continued to sparkle in his new position on half back for the Dockers. Similarly, young players Darcey Tucker and Connor Blakely showed class in the midfield. The test for these young players is whether they can maintain the output when confronted with more capable opposition.
For the patched together Essendon team, the second half of the year appears long and arduous. They have the prospect of facing three top-shelf teams over the next few weeks. Their effort is not lacking, but their overall skill level is not that of nearly all of their competitors. They have a core of five or six promising players who will blossom further next year, when the bulk of Essendon's twelve suspended players return. However, the harsh reality is that next week they confront Hawthorn at Etihad Stadium in the white-hot cauldron of Friday night football. Not the happiest prospects. Particularly after two flights across the country and just six days to prepare. The Dockers have an even longer trip to meet fellow cellar dwellers, the Brisbane Lions. With Tom Rockliff returning to his best form in the middle for Brisbane, the Dockers will face a much sterner test than that offered by Essendon.
Scores Fremantle Dockers: 5.1 11.2 18.4 20.6 (126) Essendon Bombers: 1.3 3.4 4.7 6.11 (47) Best Fremantle Dockers: Neale, Barlow, Walters, Collins, Mundy Essendon Bombers: Z.Merrett, Goddard, Cooney, Gleeson, Leuenberger
Article last changed on Monday, June 06, 2016 - 12:40 PM EDT