Pride on the line
While every Carlton Mid Derby is significant, the last time a match between Fremantle and West Coast had so much riding on it, the names Bell and Judd led their respective troops onto the ground formerly known as Subiaco Oval in round 21, 2006.
On that occasion, Fremantle entered Derby No.24 on the back of a seven-game winning streak that had propelled the side into fourth spot, while the Eagles were on top of the AFL ladder.
But both teams occupied their positions precariously, with four sides breathing down Freo’s neck, one game adrift and waiting to pounce on any slip up.
For West Coast, a loss could have meant losing top spot on the eve of the finals.
As history would have it, Fremantle comfortably accounted for its cross-town rival and wrapped up the club’s first-ever top-four finish a week later.
This Sunday, 24 July at Patersons Stadium, Matthew Pavlich and Darren Glass will captain their clubs in a massive Carlton Mid Derby.
For sixth-placed Fremantle, one game and percentage adrift of the fifth-placed Eagles, a win solidifies the club’s hopes of hosting another home final and keeps alive any chance of challenging for a top four spot.
Lose, and the logjam of teams outside the eight will be rubbing their hands together in glee.
West Coast’s own top-four aspirations, dealt a body-blow by St Kilda this past weekend, are also on the line.
A win by the Eagles will distance itself from the chasing pack and greatly improve its chances of a high ladder finish.
There are many factors that could be crucial in deciding the outcome of Sunday’s contest.
Fremantle will have to find a way to reverse what happened in round 8 this season, when West Coast had a 33-point win.
On that day, Mark Harvey’s team had few winners on the field.
David Mundy and Aaron Sandilands were two Freo Dockers that could have held their heads high.
But neither of those two will be out there this weekend, meaning others will need to lift.
Many Freo stars were well down in round 8. Greg Broughton and Nick Lower had 25 possessions between them in the first Derby of 2011.
That pair combined for 61 disposals in last Sunday’s win over Sydney at the SCG.
Another key this time around will be Hayden Ballantyne. The pocket rocket missed the round 8 Derby, and Freo missed his passion.
The last time Ballantyne played against West Coast he scorched them for six goals.
Don’t underestimate how huge this little man is to Fremantle’s chances of winning on Sunday.
An x-factor could be the recent return to action of Alex Silvagni, which will help combat the tall forward structure that West Coast employs.
Luke McPharlin and Antoni Grover have been magnificent all season down back, and Silvagni gives Harvey another option on the last line.
With Sandilands an unlikely starter, the onus of facing West Coast’s in-form ruck combo of Dean Cox and Nic Naitanui falls on Jon Griffin and Zac Clarke.
Griffin has answered the call from his coach so far in 2011, more than ably deputising for Sandilands.
Clarke played arguably the best game of his AFL career this past Sunday, with 12 possessions, six tackles, 13 hitouts and a goal crucial to his side’s success.
Griffin, Clarke and the Fremantle midfield must help reverse a 41-35 clearance edge that Cox and Naitanui enjoyed over Sandilands and co in round 8.
And Freo cannot afford another quarter like the second term it played against the Eagles earlier this season.
On that occasion, West Coast won the inside 50s (15-4), contested possessions (38-33) and clearances (12-7), kicking five goals to one for the term.
Harvey will be drilling into his men the importance of playing four quarters against a side that has employed the forward press as well as the Eagles have done this year.
If a match-winner looms for Freo, it could be in the brilliant hands of second-year sensation Nat Fyfe.
Antoni Grover stated in his media conference that Fyfe’s form was so good at the moment, it was almost a case of “kick it to him and he’ll mark it”.
Fyfe was inspiring against the Swans on Sunday and he was probably Freo’s best player in the round 8 loss to West Coast.
If Fyfe fires, Fremantle could be well on the way to regaining the Derby pride it surrendered earlier this season.
An equally important player to his team is round 8’s Ross Glendinning Medallist Matt Priddis.
Football games are won and lost in the middle and that’s where Priddis helped his side come up trumps last time.
Freo’s usual tagger Ryan Crowley was omitted from the team that played in Sydney, meaning if he fails to regain his spot, the job could fall to Matt de Boer.
De Boer has been excellent when thrown into a defensive-minded midfield role this year and could very well be called upon to do the job on Priddis.
All these questions and more will be answered on Sunday, when the pride of a divided football state goes on the line.