Front and square
Because of a finals campaign last year that comprised a ho-hum win at home over a hobbled Hawthorn and a meek surrender to Geelong at the MCG the following week and because – well, it is Fremantle after all – there was one team generally regarded as being susceptible to a tumble from the top eight in 2011.
This column had Freo in the eight, but only just, at the start of the season. Now we are reconsidering that on the back of a win over the Western Bulldogs on Monday night which, while hard to watch at times given the skill errors and the turnovers, was edge-of-your-seat stuff for the entire final quarter.
In the space of 30 pulsating minutes, Fremantle had the game won, then lost, then won again, to suggest that the dire pre-season prognostications might have been a touch premature.
And the heroes in purple were two of the more unlikely you would expect to find. Jay van Berlo, the until now unheralded younger brother of Adelaide skipper Nathan, kicked four goals, while the oft-maligned Kepler Bradley also kicked four and dazzled the 37,000 fans at Patersons Stadium with some rarely seen skills and athleticism.
It was the sign of a good team. Usual match-winners Matthew Pavlich and David Mundy (apart from an electrifying opening to the final term when he won some key clearances) didn’t do all that much. Nor did Stephen Hill or the club’s 2011 pin-up boy, Nathan Fyfe.
But the Fremantle is a team with sound structures. Ryan Crowley, Antoni Grover, Luke McPharlin, Paul Duffield, Matthew de Boer and Chris Mayne don’t get a lot of fanfare outside Western Australia, but they get the job done for Mark Harvey on a weekly basis.
The race for the double-chance this year is particularly wide open. Geelong, Hawthorn, Carlton and the Western Bulldogs have variously staked a claim. But why not Fremantle?
With three games of their next seven at the MCG (Richmond in round seven, Hawthorn in round 11 and Melbourne two weeks later), we will have a fair idea whether Fremantle’s gameplan stacks up away from the cauldron it has created at Patersons Stadium – every bit as intimidating as West Coast enjoyed a few years back – and at the ground where the important finals are played and won.
But for now, Harvey deserves tremendous praise for his work in transforming the AFL’s perennial underachievers into a potentially great side.