Courage under fire
Deep into the final term of Sunday’s Carlton Mid Derby, Fremantle were all but defeated.
All that was left in the tank was one surge at stealing the most unlikeliest of victories.
That Mark Harvey’s men dug deep into the reserves to come within a matter of inches of winning speaks volumes of the courage this group possesses.
Already reeling from a season in which the club’s physio room at times could have been confused for the neighbouring Fremantle Hospital, the loss of ruckman Jon Griffin in the third term should have been a fatal blow against West Coast’s imposing ruck duo Dean Cox and Nic Naitanui.
Harvey has often said, echoing the thoughts of his mentor Kevin Sheedy, that a lot can be found out about a player when they are thrown onto the big stage in the face of adversity.
That’s exactly what happened to Zac Clarke in his 15th AFL game, when he suddenly found himself thrust into the role of lead ruckman against the Eagles’ twin towers.
Clarke didn’t beat his opponents, but he provided the contest his team needed to have any chance of staying in the game.
The 21-year-old laid 10 tackles and gave his midfielders a look at the ball at the stoppages.
The stats will show that Cox had 42 hitouts and won the Ross Glendinning Medal, but don’t sell Clarke’s effort short on that.
Freo has unearthed a player that will play a significant role going forward – if he isn’t doing so already.
The stunning comeback at the death was orchestrated by a young man who had struggled to wield an influence all day.
Nat Fyfe burst into life, taking the game on at every opportunity to provide Stephen Hill and Chris Mayne with goals and then kicking one himself after a 50m penalty.
The 19-year-old has shown he has the potential to be the best player drafted since Chris Judd and Luke Hodge in 2001.
That’s a big call, but the stats don’t lie, and neither does what he has produced on the field every week.
Ironically, the shortest man on the field came up short when the opportunity presented itself to win the match.
In fairness to Hayden Ballantyne, the kick was beyond his range and the fact he got so close says a lot about how big his heart is.
Ballantyne didn’t stop trying for a second on Sunday, and the sight of him sprinting his guts out to chase opponents he had no chance of catching was inspirational.
Without him last Sunday, it’s unlikely Fremantle would have ever got close enough to even have the chance at a shot after the siren to win the game.