Dockers rewrite the script
FREMANTLE 5.7 8.9 12.11 14.12 (96) GEELONG 0.1 3.5 6.9 11.14 (80)
GOALS Fremantle: Pavlich 6, Ballantyne 3, Walters 2, Pearce, De Boer, Crowley. Geelong: Mackie 2, Hunt 2, Christensen, Taylor, Selwood, Duncan, Stokes, Vardy, Motlop.
BEST Fremantle: Pavlich, Mundy, McPhee, Walters, Barlow, Hill, Dawson. Geelong: Selwood, Mackie, Bartel, T Hunt, Taylor, J Hunt.
REPORT James Kelly (Geelong) rough conduct against Tendai Mzungu (Fremantle).
UMPIRES T Pannell, B Rosebury, J Bannister.
CROWD 44,460 at MCG.
SELDOM, if ever, have the expectations about an AFL final been turned on their head as spectacularly as they were in the first 30 minutes at the MCG. The scoreline at quarter-time looked like you might have expected. Just with the teams the wrong way round.
Fremantle's opening burst in an elimination final few expected it to win, let alone dominate to the extent it did early, was little short of stunning. This wasn't just a case of a warm favourite being caught on the hop. Geelong was completely dominated by the Dockers in every conceivable facet of the game. Had it not been for just one flaw, a little bit of inaccuracy, the game would have been effectively over before it had barely begun.
Cat wrapped: Geelong's Mathew Stokes is wrapped up by Fremantle players last night. Photo: Sebastian Costanzo
Right from the start, Freo was not only clearly ''on'', but had a fanatical intensity for which even the most seasoned Cats had no answer. It started at the top, with skipper Matthew Pavlich having the first three shots at goal. The first, he shanked. The second, following a beautifully crafted pass from Michael Walters, was spot on. The third, after he out-bustled Tom Lonergan, was a stroll.
Even as the prolific David Mundy created his second goal in a couple of minutes with a quick kick to Hayden Ballantyne, and Ryan Crowley converted another set shot to make it four goals to zip, you still felt this was more an aberration, or at best a cameo. Perhaps the non-plussed Cats thought it, too. And that was a huge mistake. Because there was far more to come.
The stats by the 20-minute mark said plenty. Fremantle had just taken its 10th mark inside 50, as many as Geelong usually concedes for an entire game. It had doubled the Cats for forward-50 entries. Beaten them for contested ball and even more convincingly for the uncontested stuff. This was far from the dour, stodgy outfit people presumed Ross Lyon would send into the fray.
Purple haze ... Michael Walters celebrates one of his two goals. Photo: Sebastian Costanzo
The Dockers ran, spread and carved huge holes in the Cats' defences. By the end of the quarter they'd had the ball in their forward half nearly 80 per cent of game time. The margin was 36 points, with the Cats held goalless.
It blew out further to 48 after Matt De Boer and Clancee Pearce made it seven goals to zip. Zac Dawson wasn't giving Tom Hawkins a look in, and he wasn't alone. Mundy and Michael Barlow were superb, Ballantyne his usual nuisance value, the still-raw Walters inventive and dangerous near goal.
But in a way what happened then was perhaps even more impressive on the part of the Dockers. The seemingly inevitable Geelong revival did eventually come. In fact, several times. And on each occasion, Fremantle was able to quell the uprising.
There was the Cats' three goals in four minutes into the second term to drag the deficit back under five goals. That was the cue for Walters to snatch one off the ground after Joel Corey had been pinned in his defensive goal square.
It happened again at the start of the second half, goals to Steven Motlop and Mathew Stokes making it a very gettable 20-point gap, the smallish but very parochial crowd finding its voice, the knowing looks exchanged.
Instead, the Dockers slammed on four of the next five, Pavlich, in surely one his very best and certainly his most significant game, again taking charge at the opportune moment.
His fourth for the night was another strong mark out in front. The fifth, however, was an absolute gem, keeping his feet in a one-on-one with a second opponent, Harry Taylor, giving him the slip, running in on the tightest of angles, and after considering squaring the ball, taking the initiative and drilling it home. Ballantyne pumped another lethal shot into Geelong's heart with a follow-up on the run, and Walters coolly stepped clear and restored the margin to 39 points. The Dockers stood tall twice more in the final term, too, as the Cats gave it one final, desperate shot. The ineffective James Podsiadly went back, Taylor and long-kicking Josh Hunt forward.
Again the September masters loomed ominously with goals to Andrew Mackie and Allen Christensen, back to four goals with 20-odd minutes left. Again, Freo struck on the counter-attack, Ballantyne relishing the opportunity to charge in and hammer another nail in the Cats coffin, now just about completely closed. And after Hunt had revived the tiniest flickers of a Geelong heartbeat with two goals, the gap now 17 points with just under five minutes still to play, Pavlich fittingly delivered the last rites, driving home his sixth.
Fremantle hadn't just clung on after getting off to a flyer. It had set the tone, braced itself for a worthy opponent to hit back, and gone punch for punch, always finding the appropriate answer when challenged. In 18 seasons in AFL company, no victory has come close to this one for enshrining not only the Dockers' football credentials, but their character.
Geelong, for its part, fought on, but couldn't find when it mattered most, at the start, the same sort of intensity with which it set Sydney on its heels last week. Skipper Joel Selwood couldn't have done a lot more, certainly. Jimmy Bartel came good after a slow and fumbly beginning. Taylor Hunt tried to lift his team as best he could. But the Cats' forward artillery was effectively muted by Dawson and co. Their defence was never allowed to peel off and distribute the ball with any sort of ease, the Dockers' forward pressure red-hot, Matthew Scarlett suddenly looking every bit his 33 years again, Lonergan a trier but simply beaten by a champion in Pavlich's brilliance.
And so Geelong's expected historic charge at a premiership from the unlikeliest of positions was snuffed out before it had even begun. You won't find too many people prepared even today to consider the possibility of the team which killed the Cats' dream performing a similar miracle. But after last night, who can say with certainty. Lyon's team sure is developing a taste for defying the odds, and its many doubters.
As you'd expect, the crowd of 44,460 was dominated in no small way by Geelong supporters. But what fans were there on behalf of the purple army certainly didn't keep a respectful silence. The Freo chant dominated the barracking stakes, even before the game had begun, and reached a crescendo as it became apparent in the final few minutes that a historic away finals win was about to be recorded. The performance from the Fremantle fans was just as impressive as the one by its players.
While it has lifted its scoring capacity significantly in recent games, Fremantle still isn't seen as one of the AFL's more potent scoring machines. But the Dockers mustered 12 scoring shots to just one in the opening-term blitz, putting Geelong's defence under the type of pressure it has rarely known for years. By late in the first term, Freo has taken 10 marks inside its forward 50. That figure is what the Cats usually concede in an entire game.
ZAC ON TRACK
Zac Dawson still has his share of critics. But the former Hawk and Saint turned in one of the finest performances of his 94-game career on one of the competition's most intimidating propositions in Tom Hawkins, holding the previously rampant Cat key forward goalless, and to just nine possessions and three marks. Ross Lyon's liking for the much-maligned backman makes a lot more sense to a lot more people now.
QUARTER BY QUARTER
A Matthew Pavlich goal got Fremantle underway five minutes in. The Dockers started well, chopping off balls in defence and moving it precisely upfield. They turned a couple of the Cats' early chances into messy, unfulfilled ones and went two goals ahead when Pavlich outmarked Tom Lonergan, got up and scored from the goal line. Hayden Ballantyne's brave mark made it a three-goal lead, then Ryan Crowley and Pavlich again made it five by the 21-minute mark. Dockers by 36 points
The Dockers controlled play, failing only to put the Cats away even at this early stage. A Matt de Boer set shot, 10 minutes in, put them on that path although the Cats were getting a touch more of the ball. Behinds to Tom Hawkins and Allen Christensen were the Cats' only scores. Down by 48 points, Andrew Mackie marked and scored Geelong's first goal, while Joel Selwood and Mitch Duncan goaled soon after. A Michael Walters' soccer goal interrupted that charge and the Cats still faced a massive challenge at half-time. Dockers by 34 points
Fremantle began with a three-man forward line, indicating a desire to shut things down, but goals to Steven Motlop and Mathew Stokes had the Dockers on the back foot. A third, to Nathan Vardy, kept Geelong's score ticking over but the Dockers continued to find room to move. Two Pavlich goals and a running shot from Ballantyne kept the Cats at arm's length, before another Walters goal took them further ahead. A Lonergan shot hit the post, Duncan's shot went right, Zac Dawson outmarked Hawkins and the game seemed over. Dockers by 38
The Cats rolled the dice, throwing Harry Taylor forward and moving James Podsiadly back but after six minutes they'd only made up two points. They weren't done with: Christensen scored off a set shot to bring the margin to four goals and Josh Hunt's shot slammed into a post. Again, Fremantle broke the flow with a goal of its own; Stephen Hill, Walters and Ballantyne teamed up to score. Hunt nailed his second but time was running out. That was as close as they got in one of the biggest September upsets in years. Dockers win by 16