Discipline Destroys The Demons
It’s fair to suggest that for most of us purple people, the win against Melbourne in Cairns on Monday night was largely an independent thrill. It was the ever welcomed experience of unconditional joy derived from, on the surface, an inconsequential victory. However, there was more than met the eye to Monday night’s result because to some of us, unlike the held views of the late great Tony Greig, or at least the parodical Tony Greig, a grudge is actually more than a place to park your car.
Now we say the win was unattached and inconsequential but the reality is it was only meaningless in terms of 2020 season finals. It was the Greater West Sydney Giants who put the nail in what was an improbable finals campaign for us a couple of rounds ago. But for the lifelong purple army sideline soldiers, the purple purists among us, those with the memory of purple elephants, this was the extremely rare opportunity we had been waiting for and we were not about to let it slip.
The victory Monday night finally saw the conclusion to a twenty three year successful squaring of the ledger. We bided our time and played the long game. As excruciatingly painful as it was watching the sand fall through a twenty three year hourglass (or rather a 200,028 hourglass) we were unwavering in our patience, we expressed monastic discipline and consequently the dedication to the cause paid off. Quite simply it was the righting of a wrong, the relieving of a heavy burden and the healing of the deep mental scars.
Let me take you on a journey, back to the 30th August 1997.
In just our Fremantle club’s third year in the AFL, our beloved purple team sat a game out of the eight. A single set of 4 digits were standing between us and debut finals glory. The scenario was simple, win the final game of the home and away season and we see September action for the first time ever. Lose and we are potentially banished to the wilderness for years to come.
With so much to play for, so much to win and everything to lose we set off across the Nullarbor preparing for the gladiatorial contest against the Melbourne Demons. It was a battle that would play out at the AFL’s equivalent of the Colosseum, the mighty and currently very empty and echo-ey MCG.
Could this platoon of purple paratroopers, the formation of Freo fighters overcome the adversities, the obstructions, the external desires and do the unthinkable? Could the Neesh take this band of largely WAFL misfits to September in just three years?
As we were led by the Neesh, the great Gerard “Mr Fremantle” Neesham, a man decades ahead of his time, the chance at creating and living Docker folklore had us in a euphoric state. We were a part of this Fremantle football romance which was unfolding right before our very eyes. This was about to become a “where were you” moment that would be etched into the reminiscent scrolls.
At 2.10pm on that fateful day the sherrin cannoned into the turf, setting off a heavy burden creating chain of events we would end up carrying for decades to come.
Melbourne, had the 1997 wooden spoon sewn up for weeks and their supporters had made the annual pilgrimage to Thredbo several rounds before that. Their nearest opponent, Richmond, just one rung above on the ladder, was a spacious four wins clear. It was a cellar dweller existence that had the Dees in danger of dying of loneliness. They were so isolated that in today’s climate we could suggest the 1997 Melbourne Demons were the pioneers of social distancing. They had nothing to win, nothing to lose and nothing to play for.
With that being the case, this seemed a Fremantle formality, a walk in the MCG park. The first quarter validated those assumptions as we enjoyed a two goal lead at the first break.
From that point things took a deeply concerning turn for the worse. Gerard Neesham may well have been a man ahead of his time in the admirable true sense and meaning of the term, but the reference was obviously lost in translation as the players suddenly got ahead of themselves as well.
In the second term the Dees stepped up and ambushed the head wobbling Dockers to turn a two goal deficit into a 9 point lead at the half. There had to be warning signs and flashing lights going off everywhere inside the Freo change rooms .
What the hell is happening! The Dees had gone off script, they were supposed to be sluggish, stand-offish even disinterested. They’d won just three games for the season and we’d beaten them by the best part of ten goals with a leg in the air earlier in the year.
The problem with getting ahead of yourself is first realising it and second, reining it back in. The other issue compounding that problem is that it’s exceptionally dangerous to become mentally flippant when there is a Wiz on the opposing team! Unless he is your teammate, the last thing you want whether you’re switched on or not is an ignited Wiz!
That is exactly what occurred. A six sausage roll display from Jeffery “the Wizard” Farmer left us Harry Potter’ed! The nine point margin at half time ballooned into that very six goal blow out at three quarter time.
Jeffery Farmer, the superstar forward, was single-handedly tearing apart the team he would soon join. Meanwhile another Jeff, our ruckman, Jeff White, was winning a game for the cellar dwelling team he would, in the following years, come to lead! Combine all that with the fact the wooden spoon guardians were destroying the finals bound Dockers and I’m not sure there has ever been a more ironic premiership quarter in AFL history!
The spark returned as we headed into the final quarter as the desperate Dockers threw caution to the wind. Unfortunately we were kicking into a howling breeze and the wind threw caution straight back in our faces! The fight returned for the final twenty minutes but it was one of those very familiar cases of too little too late. We kicked five goals in the final term but the Dees added six.
When that final siren rang, the cash register ch-ching was music to the ears of any Prozac peddlers. Devastation set in with an almighty thud that was detected on the Richter scale. That type of loss would always be tough to deal with in any situation but when you come crashing down from the potential highs and likelihood of playing your first ever finals campaign, it was nothing short of demoralising.
That single loss had massive ramifications. It sadly signed the termination of Gerard Neesham, even though he was given an insulting one year extension, the equivalent of the band-aid. It also started the coaching rot and revolving door. Before our club went on to break the finals duck in 2003, we saw Damian Drum come and go, Ben Allan care take and the arrival of Chris Connolly in 2002. It was in Connolly’s second year we finished 6th and got our first taste of September. We were beaten in an Elimination final by Essendon so a short taste, but a taste none the less.
While we probably assisted Melbourne on that dreadful day, we’re not going to fess up entirely to the blame. The record on paper shows the Wooden Spooning Dees ruined the Docker finals debut dream. It’s been a 23 year hurt that has lingered and up until Monday night just gone there had been no cure. Twenty three years it took for the chance to square the ledger by knocking them out of a finals berth….. I for one feel reborn.
For those among us that are prone to extreme exaggeration and who remember and dwell on largely insignificant and irrelevant moments in time, such as yours truly, Monday night we exercised our Demons.
While obviously to some extent a tongue in cheek and opportunist article, the victory on Monday night was incredibly purposeful.
This is purely assumption based but it feels there has been a fundamental change in 2020. Our previous twenty five year history has been littered with sporadic mind boggling victories along the trail of head scratching and bewildering losses. We have had a knack for occasionally winning the unthinkable and often losing the unquestionable. Quite simply we have struggled to win and have often lost the games that the banking of four points should have been a formality.
Now in 2020, while we managed to beat St Kilda who were in the top four and Collingwood who were clinging to the top eight at the time, our four other wins against Adelaide, Hawthorn, Sydney and now Melbourne were all bottom eight dwellers and we were literally robbed against Carlton, which would have made it seven victories and five against the lesser half. In my mind, given where we’re at as a club, only beating the bottom sides isn’t the negative that it may appear to be. To me it’s a rectifying of a previous unflattering trend, an eradication of a bad habit if you will.
Winning the games you should be winning is a vital step. From a rebuild perspective it validates the game plan and presents the team’s young stock a further tick of approval. It’s an award of a pass mark for the first stage. While the plan will evolve and the line up will inevitably be tinkered with and altered, the question is will the combination stand up to scrutiny in years to come? We obviously don’t know but we’d have to say probably. The fact is though, to use a pharmaceutical industry analogy, the rebuild has passed the early phase one trial with flying colours.
That is what Monday night really gave us. It further confirmed our beliefs that the progress is very real. The players are highly competent, there is substantial intellect in the coaching box and watching the post-match footage of the great JL getting around every single player, there seems an ultra-important cohesiveness.
For a now 26 year old club, the success of which is one single losing grand final and just seven finals campaigns, to tick over 51,000 members is absolutely astonishing. It’s simply a testament to the resilience and loyalty of Fremantle football club fans. Make no mistake, if our club gets it right and builds meaningful and sustained success…… hang on to your wigs and keys, they’ll be hanging from the Optus Stadium rafters.