Fremantle coach Mark Harvey wasn’t making excuses but it has been part of the club’s reality this year that injuries have hit hard. After Fremantle’s 41-point loss to St Kilda on Friday night, Harvey was not shying away from the fact that managing a long list of returning players has been difficult.

The likes of Aaron Sandilands, David Mundy and Michael Barlow have been out of the side for sustained periods. And in recent weeks, as the club has fought to maintain its position in the top eight, it has been the victim of several damaging final quarter fade-outs.

Fremantle had trailed the Saints by just three points going into the last quarter, only to concede the last six goals of the game. It lost the clearances 11-6 and the critical inside 50, 16-5 and did not kick a goal in the last term.

“We have brought in a number of players over the past few weeks who have had sustained periods out of the game. Whether we like it or not, that can compromise what we do in the last quarter. You can see it as an excuse, but I am just talking facts,” Harvey said after the loss.

When Harvey talks about managing returning players, Barlow is one of his keys. The gun midfielder played just his sixth game this season after badly breaking his leg in round 14 last year.

“I feel really good, game days are no issue,” Barlow said.

“During the week I feel a bit sore everywhere, but we are managed really well, so we don’t do too much, especially with a six day turn around, but game day is fine. I am probably not where I want to be after last year but that will come with match practice.”

The 23-year-old burst onto the scene last year and despite playing just a handful of games this year, was among Fremantle’s best against St Kilda.

“It was pretty brutal. We were happy with the first three quarters, with the intent and purpose, and it was reflected on the scoreboard. In that last quarter, well they are a pretty good side and they started kicking away and shutting the game down. It was really important to start the quarter well, and we just couldn’t,” he said.

“It’s probably happening too much for us at the moment, where we are playing well for the first three quarters and then just letting it go in the last. That final quarter was just disappointing, how we couldn’t get our hands on the ball and we were just chasing tail.”

In what he described as a “fierce, physical” contest, Barlow grabbed 26 possessions, half of them contested, laying seven tackles and winning five clearances. He was instrumental in the middle and one of the key reasons why Fremantle fought back from a 17 point deficit at quarter-time to control much of the second and third quarters.

“We were encouraged during the week to just take the game on. At quarter-time, ‘Harvs’ was happy with how we were taking the game on. We had turned the ball over a few times, me included, but taking the game on was the emphasis during the week rather than playing it safe. We stuck to our guns in the second and third quarters and it really worked for us. We were able to put a lot of pressure on them and we were able to force them into turnovers. But in the end we just couldn’t get enough of the ball, St Kilda are masters at that.”

The loss is a blow to Fremantle’s hopes of maintaining its spot in the eight. Freo have a difficult run home, facing Carlton, North Melbourne, Collingwood and the Western Bulldogs in the final month of the season. But as Barlow points out, they can continue to control their own destiny.

“We can’t rely on other results. We have to put a few wins on the board in the next few weeks. I think it’s our first chance to have an eight-day break in the lead up to the Carlton clash, hopefully that will reflect in a full four-quarter performance next week,” he said.

“It was just disappointing we couldn’t get that result because it would have given us a lot of confidence going forward,” he said.

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