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Fremantle stuns Geelong with maiden Melbourne finals win

Fremantle stuns last seasons premiers Geelong with an upset 16 point win in their elimination final.

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FREQUENTLY, the AFL finals are a new and self-contained season, not susceptible to the form or verities of the home-and-away rounds, nor even to eternal football truths. In an elimination final at the MCG last night, unfashionable Fremantle stunned Geelong, the reigning premier and the team of the era, by racing to an eight-goal lead, then withstood the Cats' several comebacks to prevail by 16 points.

For Geelong, it meant the end. For the AFL, it means that there be no Hawthorn-Geelong dream preliminary final in a fortnight. For Hawthorn, this was a bonus for its victory over Collingwood on Friday night.

For Fremantle, it meant uncharted territory. This was only the Dockers' third finals win, and their first away from Perth. ''Anyone, anywhere, anytime,'' read their banner, which was both a prophecy and an encapsulation of their philosophy under Ross Lyon, the coach they spirited away from St Kilda a year ago, and who in an improbably short time has remastered their game.

Devastation: Geelong players James Kelly, Corey Enright, Josh Hunt and James Podsiadly after the 16-point loss to Fremantle.

Devastation: Geelong players James Kelly, Corey Enright, Josh Hunt and James Podsiadly after the 16-point loss to Fremantle. Photo: Getty Images

Next week's assignment is Adelaide in Adelaide. In another counter-intuitive result yesterday, the Crows succumbed at home to a supreme defensive display from the Sydney Swans, who by their victory earned a week off and a place in the preliminary finals.

The perversity of the first week of the finals is that the stakes are higher for the four lower-placed teams, for whom defeat means elimination, than for the top four teams, who play to advance, but with no other guarantee. It is why clubs put such a premium on the double chance. It put a grim edge on last night's encounter even before it began.

Technically, Geelong and Fremantle both were from out of town, and between them did not even half-fill the MCG. The match began against the backdrop of a low hum, the sound of fewer than 40,000 then, and soon the MCG was metaphorically and

Dockers forward Michael Walters jumps on his captain, Matthew Pavlich, after the skipper's final quarter goal.

Dockers forward Michael Walters jumps on his captain, Matthew Pavlich, after the skipper's final quarter goal. Photo: Paul Rovere

almost literally silent. Fremantle, playing a busy, effervescent brand of football, kicked the first seven goals of the match, and midway through the second quarter led it by 48 points. Evergreen captain Matthew Pavlich was in irresistible form, taking five marks and kicking three goals in the first quarter. Geelong would never fully have his measure.

But he was only one. Diminutive Michael Walters, whose profile is low in every way, at least in Melbourne, demonstrated a cultured football foot and brain. Hayden Ballanytne, well if not fondly remembered by Geelong folk from an earlier meeting this year, played the part of a highly skilled gnat. If you were to pick a fault, it was that the Dockers should have led by more. Geelong was unrecognisable; only the numbers and names were the same.

Desperation set in for Geelong, and it proved a greater force than inspiration. Joel Selwood put his neck on the line, and Fremantle, obligingly, almost wrenched it off. Three successive goals gained the Cats a toehold at least, and by midway in the third quarter, they had fined down the margin to 20 points. The unbeatables were stirring.

Matthew Scarlett leads his despondent team off the field.

Matthew Scarlett leads his despondent team off the field. Photo: Getty Images

But Fremantle's swarming pressure, stamped with Ross Lyon's patent, recognisable to every St Kilda fan, still told. Three times, great Geelong players kicked hurriedly from defence, and out on the full. Pavlich and Ballantyne delicately measured up goals on the run from the same forward pocket, and Walters danced onto his left foot for another, to restore the night's status quo. Lyon's animated three-quarter time address doubtlessly impressed on the Dockers that they had no laurels on which to rest.

Andrew Mackie, Geelong's best on the night, stole an early goal in the last quarter, and another to Allen Christensen tightened Fremantle's nerves. But a team pressing as urgently as the Cats always is vulnerable on the break. Twice, the Dockers hurt them this way, via Ballantyne and the indomitable Pavlich, rising Lazarus-like from the bench. It was his sixth goal.

The final siren might have been the tolling of a bell for the Cats, for whom no season has ended this early since 2006. Certainly it was for Matthew Scarlett, who took his final bow. The Dockers' celebrations were subdued. It was not hard to think that they were catching breath doubly spent, in their exertions this night and in disbelief that they pulled off the impossible. Now, they will go to work on a miracle.