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Chris Kowald reporting for AFANA from Domain Stadium Perth, Australia

In an emotional farewell to Fremantle’s greatest ever player, Matthew Pavlich, the Dockers rose to the occasion to defeat the determined Western Bulldogs by twenty points.
700
Pavlich played his final and 353rd game by picking up twenty possessions and taking ten marks (catches). However, the only statistic that really mattered to the Fremantle faithful was the goal that Pavlich kicked in the fourteenth minute of the first quarter. This brought his career tally to 700 and he became the fifth player in AFL history to play more than 350 games and kick 700 goals. Fremantle players ran from every part of the field to congratulate their stalwart, as the crowd gave an extended standing ovation.

This game was important for the Bulldogs. A good win could see them climb above Hawthorn into 6th position on the ladder and earn a home final. The Dogs threw everything they had at the Dockers, winning more contested possessions and laying more tackles than the home team. By three-quarter time the Bulldogs had scored eighteen times to the Fremantle’s twelve. This was despite them learning at half time that Hawthorn had beaten Collingwood by one point; which meant that win or lose, the Dogs would stay in seventh position and must return to Domain Stadium to face West Coast in an elimination final. The Western Bulldogs started well, by scoring two goals into the wind, and leading until that Pavlich goal. After which, the roar from the home crowd appeared to lift the Dockers and the home team remained in the front for the rest of the match. The Bulldogs appeared to struggle to kick the ball accurately in the windy conditions. They resorted to handballs to move forward, which suited the Dockers. There is nothing a Ross Lyon coached team loves more than applying pressure to the ball carrier. In front of goals the Bulldogs’ kicking was not accurate either. By three-quarter time, they had kicked six goals and twelve behinds (each behind worth just a single point). Their goal-front inaccuracy was partly due to wind; and partly due to the enormous pressure the Dockers applied all around the ground. By contrast, Fremantle knew which parts of the field to play. This was clearly evident in the final quarter, where the Docker defenders defied conventional wisdom, by frequently switching play to the Bulldogs’ attacking side of the ground. This was the part of the ground where the Bulldogs would have the wind behind them when kicking for goal. The tactic caught the Bulldog midfielders off guard, leaving Docker defender Garrick Ibbotson to kick long to Steven Hill, who then kicked long to Danyle Pearce, who then would drive the ball into an open Docker forward line. They were able to kick long in this part of the ground as the stands on that side of the ground gave some protection from the incessant wind.

For the Bulldogs, Caleb Daniel, Liam Picken and Tom Boyd tried their hardest and picked up many possessions. Lin Jong played one of his best games gathering twenty-eight disposals, thirteen of them contested. A team high on a dirty day. Tory Dickson kicked three goals. Marcus Bontempelli competed well but was unable to have an impact on the scoreboard. Luke Dahlhaus and Jason Johannisen also had plenty of the ball, but struggled to deliver to advantage in the windy conditions. Will Minson was thrashed in the ruck by Fremantle big man, Aaron Sandilands; yet the Bulldogs were able to edge Fremantle in center clearances. The last quarter saw the celebratory Dockers hold the Bulldogs to a solitary point, while kicking one goal six behinds themselves. Pavlich kicked three of those behinds from set shots. An ironical conclusion for a career that began seventeen seasons ago with two goals from his first two kicks in AFL.

Despite the loss, the Dogs survive to have another day. Whether they live beyond that day, when they return to meet West Coast, will depend on whether the young dogs learned how to play Domain Stadium when the wind is howling. The Dockers will be pleased that they gave their greatest player a fitting valediction. The Dockers' Lachie Neale also achieved a significant personal milestone. His thirty-six possessions elevated him to achieving more disposals in a season than any player in the history of the game. It is no coincidence that nineteen of his possessions against the Bulldogs were contested. He has played like that all year. It has been a miserable injury-riddled year for the Dockers, and the steady growth of Neale has been one of their few highlights. The Fremantle boys, those that survive the coming cuts, will have plenty to reflect on over the summer break. The Dogs have less than two weeks to learn new tricks.

Scores
Fremantle Dockers: 4.1 7.2 9.3  10.9 (69)
Western Bulldogs:  2.4 4.9 6.12  6.13(49)

Best
Fremantle Dockers: Neale, Sandilands, Ibbottson, Hill, D. Pearce
Western Bulldogs:  Daniel, Picken, M. Boyd, Dahlhaus, Jong 

Article last changed on Tuesday, August 30, 2016 - 12:21 AM EDT


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