The purple army travels east
Victoria is about to be hit by a flood of a different kind this week as thousands of Dockers faithful hop onto planes, trains and automobiles to make their way across the Nullarbor to see the rarest of sights.. a West Australian side contesting an AFL final at the MCG.
Mark Harvey’s charges have been the surprise packet of the AFL this season, with most football experts predicting a bottom eight finish for 2010 after another disappointing season last year.
Not only did the Dockers defeat some of the powerhouses of the competition in the 2010 home and away season but Harvey’s controversial decision to rest several key players for the Round 21 clash against Hawthorn in Launceston proved a genuine masterstroke.
Harvey was pilloried by many pundits for his decision to go into the match with what amounted to a Dockers reserves side when the club still needed to win one of its two remaining matches to secure a coveted home final.
Everyone, especially Harvey, knew what would happen on that cold day in Launceston; a rampant Hawthorn overcame the Dockers by more than 100 points.
They returned to Perth with their tails between their legs ahead of a must win-match against Carlton at Subiaco Oval.
Harvey was proven to be a football genius when his boys got over the line by one straight kick, securing the home final they so desperately desired and a second crack at Hawthorn in front of a parochial crowd in the second elimination final.
The build up to the match was enormous, with a crowd of more than 42,000 swelling Subiaco Oval on a bright and sunny Saturday afternoon in Perth.
The oval’s inadequate facilities were shown up again on game day with many patrons missing crucial parts of the match lining up for food or a much needed toilet break.
However, none of that mattered when the final siren sounded with the home side notching up a comfortable 30-point win over the Hawks, who may as well have left their players on the tarmac fuming alongside mouthy club president Jeff Kennett when his plane was delayed from Melbourne on game day.
Mark Harvey was again a hero, responding when questioned about whether his initial decision to rest players against the Hawks in Round 21 had been vindicated:
“You know what? I don’t actually have to talk about it. It is more what other people said that you should have a look at.”
Enough said really.. and now to focus on the next challenge, possibly one of the greatest in the AFL, the Dockers must beat the reigning Premiers Geelong at the MCG in the second semi-final on Friday night.
Not many gave them a chance against the Hawks and few would again be willing to publicly state they could beat the Cats, especially at a ground the Dockers will see for the first time since Round 20, 2009 when they train at the MCG this weekend.
Things have been a bit tense down at the Cattery since their last gasp loss to Saint Kilda in the second qualifying final last weekend.
An umpire’s decision to award a free kick against the Cats in the dying minutes proved the difference between a week-off and a tussle with the Dockers.
The loss prompted Geelong Coach Mark Thompson to issue a warning to his players that their spots were under threat if they didn’t perform.
“Ultimately, if players don’t get the best out of themselves early in games and we know there is someone else who is prepared to put their hand up, we’ll play them.”
As thousands of members of the purple army pack their anchors and head across to Melbourne this week, Dockers ruckman Aaron Sandilands is receiving “around the clock” treatment for a knee injury he sustained in Saturday’s win over Hawthorn.
The giant ruckman is widely considered the best in the game and his influence, despite being dulled by injury, is a major part of the Dockers success.
Even if Sandilands spent most of the game in the forward line and the Dockers midfielders pumped the ball in his general direction, Geelong defenders would need either the ability to fly or a cherry picker to get anywhere near the ball.
Fremantle skipper Matthew Pavlich is confident it will be alright on the night.
“We’re not preparing to have anything but Aaron Sandilands at 100 per cent.”
There’s also the small matter of retiring veteran Paul Haselby who was controversially dropped for the first final against Hawthorn in favour of youth and pace.
Once again, Harvey was vindicated for his decision but will he be swayed by sentiment and bring in the experienced campaigner for the clash with the Cats?
Pavlich, Haselby’s business partner and friend, said it’s important to give the team the best opportunity to win.
“Sentiment in these games doesn’t necessarily take the forefront position.”
All will be revealed in good time as Dockers fans walk into the MCG on Friday night.