How fabulous Freo and fantastic Frederick unlocked the Dees at last

Flagmantle, anyone?

If Fremantle’s stirring win over Melbourne on Saturday afternoon wasn’t their best ever home-and-away win, it’ll take some beating. Certainly, it’s their finest win yet of a season which was already building nicely, and now looks on the spit of something seriously special.

No team has been able to do what the Dockers did to Melbourne, on their home turf at the MCG no less, in 12 months. No team has dominated out of the centre, or so relentlessly picked apart the most miserly backline ever constructed.

Heroes were everywhere – and not all of them were obvious. Brennan Cox, an intercept king this year, turned lockdown tall to completely nullify Ben Brown; James Aish turned to tag Clayton Oliver after half time and all but shut him out of the game; Rory Lobb might as well have been Max Gawn for the day, taking towering marks all across the ground.

But of course, it was the Dockers small forwards who did the bulk of the damage, and nobody more than Michael Frederick.

I’m going to steer away from calling what he did ‘magic’: partly because there’s an annoying trend where mercurial non-white players are always described as ‘magic’, partly because it suggests some element of fluke to what he did. That doesn’t do Frederick credit at all: he was footy IQ writ large.

Whether it was using the stand rule to full advantage by sprinting around the man on the mark and shooting through a goal to bring the Dockers to the brink in the third term, or his no-look tap to set up a Lachie Schultz goal just a a few minutes later, or the countless little moments in between, it was genius. When combined, they made the Dees’ defense, all but impenetrable for everyone else throughout their 17-game winning streak, look thoroughly inept.

It wasn’t all Frederick, though: Travis Colyer’s speed and ferocious pressure left the Dees jittery all day, while Griffin Logue, originally stationed forward to keep May accountable, provided a focal point once Matt Taberner went down injured, allowing Lobb to roam free . Michael Walters proved he’s far from a spent force with a classically crafty game, roaming from half-back to half-forward and using his footy smarts to great effect.

In defense, the Dockers’ clean ball use and patience shone throughout. They racked up the marks and constantly shifted the play from one side of the ground to another, forcing the Dees to run themselves ragged. Luke Ryan (14 marks), Heath Chapman (14), Cox (12) and Hayden Young (10) refused to buy into the Dees’ desire to have them kick long to contests, and eventually, cracks opened up.

Of course, it all started out of the middle. With Oliver, single-handedly dismantling the Dockers in the first half, hardly firing a shot under the Aish tag, the Dockers swarmed. It’s been a long time since Max Gawn had his colors lowered in the ruck, but the hulking Sean Darcy was absolutely magnificent, with both his tap work and ferocious follow-up sensational.

The Dockers won the clearances by 14 after half time, the inside 50s by 9, kicked six goals from clearances and won the first seven balls from the center in the third term, when the match turned. This just hasn’t happened to Melbourne all year.

It’s such a credit to Justin Longmuir that he was able to identify and pick apart just about all the Demons’ strengths. Intercept marking in defence? Neutralized. Midfield dominance? flipped. forward targets? Unsighted in the second half. There has been no better coach in the AFL up to this point in 2022.

Michael Frederick of the Dockers in action.

Michael Frederick of the Dockers in action. (Photo by Dylan Burns/AFL Photos via Getty Images)

How often would you have seen the Demons fail to neutralize a long ball to the hot spot in the first ten rounds? They did it twice in the final term, with Lachie Schultz kicking two goals to cap off a superb game.

Let’s give Melbourne some credit, too: it might have been a different story had Steven May not been concussed in the first quarter, or Christian Petracca not hardened one of his dirtiest ever days. It’s hard to not assume Petracca is carrying an injury of some sort, given his station almost permanently inside 50 in the second half when the Dees were crying out for a midfield spark.

But it shows just how fragile even the best sides in the competition can be. No May meant more ground balls for the Dees to have to defend, rather than simply having him mark or spoil everything that came his way; and they couldn’t cope. No Ed Langdon meant a role higher up the ground for Charlie Spargo, which didn’t work. A down Petracca meant more responsibility for the likes of Tom Sparrow and medi-sub Luke Dunstan; they were crushed out of the center after half time.

It’s absolutely the loss the Dees needed to have, and ends any possible nerves striving for an undefeated season. They will recover, and they remain the team to beat.

But it’s probably fair to say it’s no longer their premiership to lose.

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