Maybe, just maybe, once in a season a pivotal set of remarkable moments unfolds in an individual game that contributes to an unforeseeable and even unfathomable victory. It’s the type of extremely rare event that gives life to the “never give up” mantra or the “Its not over until the fat…. I mean… the positive body image portraying gender neutral or non-binary identifying individual sings.” I know the world is in weird and unchartered waters on so many fronts but the universe is delivering to Fremantle like UberEats to that positive body image representative.
With unrivalled regularity our beloved Fremantle Dockers more often than not find eventful ways to avoid closing out seemingly straight forward and simplistic deals. To borrow the royalty free Purple Reign boys coined term, Dockery, has become second nature to the point where we seemingly seek it out as a place of refuge.
As a believer in the notion that you create your own reality and as an exponent of positive affirmation, the recent events surrounding the Fremantle Football Club have caused confusion. How is it possible that anti-Dockery has monumentally manifested in a deep Dockery embracing environment? The only plausible explanation is that there is a glitch in the Dockery matrix.
For the sake of the exercise, rewind back six weeks to round eleven. We were on the end of 45-point belting at the hands of the top eight entrenched Port Adelaide Power. We turned in yet another woefully inaccurate goal kicking performance to close out the round in 11th place on the ladder with five wins and six losses. Admittedly we were on an equal points footing with the 9th placed Essendon and the 10th placed GWS but our percentage was vastly inferior. We were still 4 points and 12% out of the top eight.
Seven days later we took on and lost to the ladder’s second rung occupying Bulldogs at Optus Stadium. While it was on some level an honourable loss, it was the scene of the disastrous 90 seconds of soul-destroying injury carnage, which understandably had an overwhelming dark season ending feel to it. After Griffin Logue was concussed earlier in the match, Nat Fyfe dislocated his shoulder while Brennan Cox and Sean Darcy suffered different degrees of hamstring complaints. Darcy escaped serious injury but sadly it was season over for Cox.
While amazingly the results weren’t entirely as diabolical as the sense of dread suggested, losing Nat Fyfe, Darcy, Cox and Logue for any amount of time, in the words of the great Ross Lyon, isn’t ideal.
So, at the end of round twelve, despite the loss, we remained in 11th position as the 9th placed Bombers fell to Richmond while the 10th placed GWS enjoyed a bye.
Our inability to genuinely trouble the top eight sides continued but in round thirteen we picked up a morale boosting and valuable win against the 13th placed Gold Coast Suns. This time we leapfrogged Essendon who rested up with a bye and GWS who got out of their game with just 2 points after drawing with the 18th placed North Melbourne, the first of a host of fortuitous results for Fremantle to say the least.
We watched on from the side-lines in round fourteen as it was our turn for the bye and unfortunately Essendon and GWS took advantage of it. They both won their games which sent us back to 11th place which seemed to restore a recent order.
For rounds eleven through to fourteen, Fremantle, Essendon and GWS treaded water. It was like we were three bar flies with a mortgage on our own bar stools. Occasionally we’d sit on the wrong one but at the end we remained in our rightful places.
Round fifteen was upon us and as the great David Letterman used to say, “hang on to your wigs and keys” because this is where it starts to get interesting.
It was off to Victoria combatting the covid climate and a coach culling Collingwood. Now usually we’d face the Pies at the MCG for their home game but in these turbulent and troubled times of uncertainty, the game was moved to Marvel, a venue we had an almost flawless record at against the ferocious prison bar protectors.
Now sure it was a continuation of the beating of the bottom ten trend but it wasn’t just the win against the odds, it wasn’t just the all-inspiring sense of season restoring Fyfeless victory! No siree, it was so much more. It was the beginning of a continuous chain of unthinkable favourable factors that were to fall Fremantle’s way.
When we turned off the lights and shut the round fifteen gates, we had moved to a position of ladder supremacy over our bar fly buddies, Essendon and GWS. The former fortunately fell agonisingly 11 points short of ladder leaders Melbourne while the latter suffered a shock loss to the lowly placed Hawthorn, leaving us to reoccupy 9th position.
While those results handed us a much-welcomed boost, on the other end of the scale Richmond didn’t have a prayer against the Saints. The Tiges hit the half way point of what has so far been a highly uncharacteristic four successive game midseason capitulation. They may have had a healthy 8.5% advantage but that is all they had over us.
It’s often pessimistically said that if everything is travelling sweetly, you’ve either overlooked something or the heat is just around the corner. Our eternal optimistic manner clouded our judgement causing us to momentarily forget WA has a man in charge whose favourite pastimes are power driven lockdowns and strutting in late to press conferences! There was a rumour someone somewhere in the state almost sneezed and next minute we were playing our home game against Carlton, firstly in Tasmania, then at Kardinia Park in Geelong before finally settling on the MCG.
But before our game got underway on the Saturday afternoon, there was a pivotal contest earlier in the round that was going to be incredibly impactful to us regardless of the result.
We couldn’t have written a round sixteen Thursday night opening game script any better. Richmond is in a catastrophic freefall from grace. The Gold Coast Suns travelled to Victoria to play the reigning premiers at a Victorian venue where the Tiger fans refuse to go, the apparent soulless Marvel Stadium. In their history they had barely won outside of their home state yet somehow, they tamed the Tigers by 10 points doing us Freo folk a ridiculously valuable and unexpected favour.
With that unlikeliest of results banked in our back pockets we looked towards the sky to see if the stars were actually aligning.
So armed with pent-up motivational grudge inspired knowledge of what Carlton did to us earlier this year and what Jack Newnes did to us last year, we reached back into the Ross Lyon bag of clichés to revisit the ‘Anywhere Anytime’ philosophy ready to dish out our own case of the Blues.
There is a religious saying, “God helps those who help themselves!” What…. is the Fremantle football club made up entirely of Atheists? We’ve had Jeff Farmer on our team, the Purple Jesus! How, after everything that had bizarrely transpired for us, after results we had no control over kicked in to keep our season alive, after the bullying and the belting they gave us earlier this year, could we put in such a demoralising performance against an average at best Carlton side? Given the enormity of what was at stake, how we weren’t ready to fire at the opening bounce, will forever be one of the many great Freo mysteries.
The alarm clock didn’t go off and wake us fans up, it sadly wasn’t a literal nightmare. Fremantle actually hit the front in the final term but the petrol tickets were spent. The Blues ended up 16 points in front at the final siren but it still to this day in many fan’s minds remains a game we lost rather than a game Carlton won.
It felt again like the end of the 2021 road. We’d blown up our own game and wasted an array of unthinkable external results. Then when we looked up and saw that the top placed Melbourne Demons had gone down to our drinking buddies, the Giants, there was a feeling of emptiness.
So, when the round sixteen results were finalised, they saw the Giants nudge into the eight. It pushed Richmond down into their once familiar 9th position and it left us to languish in a purgatorial 10th place, our fingers slowly slipping from the ladder rungs of finals contention for yet another season.
If there was still that faint glimmer of unrealistic hope for us it came in the form of Richmond’s continual capitulation and a suddenly wavering West Coast. While it was framed as a well-timed strategic breather in the West, the Eagles were shown up against the Bulldogs in round fifteen and then humiliated by the Swans in Geelong week later.
But this is why our horrible loss to Carlton in round sixteen still hurts our hearts. Had we won we’d be sitting in the eight, 2 points ahead of GWS in 9th, just a couple of percentage points behind West Coast in 7th and a game and 8% clear of a rejuvenated and rampaging Saint Kilda. The Carlton loss could well end up haunting us for evermore.
The fact is the universal law of opportunity only stretches so far and surely now it had grown irritable, annoyed at us for not taking its rare offerings. Surely it had reached its limit of generosity?
Not so fast!
For the third successive week Fremantle was on the road in round seventeen, this time making the unenviable journey down to the Apple Isle to take on a 17th placed Hawthorn team, a current outfit that is a shell of its former glorious self. Yet, in our history the closest we had ever gotten to beating them from 10 attempts in Tasmania was a 9-point loss way back in 1997.
Considering the diabolical, disheartening and seemingly season destroying loss to Carlton seven days earlier and our overall record against now an enigmatic Hawks, Freo fans confidence levels understandably weren’t high. I mean the Hawks bowled over our finals position rivals, GWS, just two games ago.
However, the club wasn’t shying away from their intentions as coach Justin Longmuir was honest and upfront declaring, they still harboured hopes of setting themselves for the September scene.
But when the ball bounced Saturday morning, for most of us fans it was about looking for a competitive performance and the possibility of breaking our Tassie ducks against the Hawks. To simply be a Fremantle supporter, you are effectively the epitome of the eternal optimists but even the most optimistic extremist had to have doubts over the prospect finals were still possible.
When the final siren blared, we had knocked over the Hawks in the island state. There was a feeling of achievement but also a sense of loss as it was difficult not to revisit the Carlton game with disenchantment feelings of “what ifs’ and “if onlys”.
We beat the Hawks, but so what, we thought! The Giants were going to dispose of the Gold Coast Suns, Richmond were going to put an end to their rot and destroy Collingwood, especially after Jack Reiwoldt publicly stated, “Good luck if you’re playing us in the last 7 weeks” and the West Coast Eagles had already banked the 4 points from the upcoming Monday night game against the cellar dweller, North Melbourne.
It was Sunday morning in WA when we flicked on the tv to somewhat masochistically tune in to watch GWS expectedly cast aside the Suns to strengthen their place in the top eight, all while thinking, that could have been us.
However, to our eyebrow raising of interest surprise it appeared early on there was a strange collaborative event unfolding. It was the ‘loss to the Hawks’ Giants who had turned up and the Suns were rising over the Eureka Stadium horizon.
Could this actually be happening? Was the universe still partnering the purple? Or was it mocking us, prolonging the seemingly inevitable, punishing us for the lack of gratitude we showed by our efforts?
Whatever the case it was difficult not to let out half a fist pump in the confines of our own homes when the Giants eventually fell painfully short by the narrowest of margins. “All heil the Sun Gods” were the cries from the Freo faithful.
We regained composure and some sense of perspective knowing that Richmond couldn’t possibly make it four losses in a row. They would surely pour a bucket on the barely flickering flame of our purple hopes by seeing off a Collingwood team we had knocked over just 14 days ago.
Sadly, the game was going to the disappointing script. The universe had finally abandoned us and who could blame it. Richmond had the Pies on toast at three quarter time holding a commanding near on four goal margin. Like a West Coast fan seeing their team behind by any margin at the same stage of a game, we walked out. But just as we arrived at the audible limits away from the TV commentary…. we heard the cheer of a Collingwood goal.
Surely not? They couldn’t, could they? Its not possible! It’s amazing what the slightest glimmer of hope can do for the human spirit. We turned and Usain Bolted it back to the screen just in time to see the Pies kick another. This had to be the Universe toying with us, like when you childishly drive your car forward several times just as someone reaches for the door handle to get in.
But it wasn’t! Somehow defying all logic and belief, Collingwood rose form the dead to kick 7 goals to 1 in that final quarter to win by 16 points. It continued Richmond’s almighty collapse and they were an indistinguishable blur as they fell past us on the ladder down to 12th.
The reality set in that these ridiculously unpredictable results just meant that we would finish in the top eight at the end of this round. We’d be in 8th place and our unethical colleagues up the road would take the gift of a Monday night home game against North Melbourne to remain above us. Or would they?
At this point, knowing what unfolded Monday night, I am literally stating I have no idea what is happening. Everything is out of control; everything is out of kilter. That glitch in the Dockery matrix comment earlier in this article may actually be more than the figure of speech it was intended.
In one of the most spectacular Mondays in AFL history, especially if you’re a North Melbourne or Fremantle fan, the struggling but rebuilding Kangas hopped over to Western Australia up the ladder and planted one massive kick between the collective eyes of the West Coast Eagles.
Forget finals position calculations for the moment, this single event potentially knocked the earth off its axis. The West Coast home deck against the likely wooden spooners… this is their wheelhouse. This is when they do their best work, they beat their chests before beating on the little guys to stamp their authority and ownership on their justified, until now, flat track bullies tag!
After falling over the line against a strangely out-of-sorts Richmond by 4 points in round thirteen, this protected Eagle organization has lost three on the bounce, a fitting term considering Monday’s night loss to the magnificently ferocious Kangaroos.
More importantly though for us purple people, it was simply another unbelievably bizarre result that has happened to fall favourably for us. It ensured that we somehow finished round seventeen in seventh place, on an equal points footing with West Coast but with a superior 2.5%.
Saint Kilda’s late charge is looking ominous as they knocked over the Brisbane Lions to climb into 8th place to be equal with West Coast and us on 8 wins. However, they’re about 10.5% short of us and a bit less of the Eagles.
This has been one of the most extraordinary periods in Fremantle’s history for obvious reasons. Coach Justin Longmuir always had the belief we could still potentially make it even when it appeared hopeless. I personally was scratching my head wondering if he’d been hanging out with West Coasters because he must be smoking something! But no one, not even JL himself, could have seen these results coming. Maybe one or two but not the boat load of them that have genuinely all been enormously advantageous to us.
But while we bask in the deserved dose of fortuitousness, the reality is we’re still a long way from locking down a 2021 finals berth. Quite simply our one notable victory this year was against the Swans. Apart from them and Adelaide, who were momentarily in the top eight at the time, all of our wins have come against sides outside the top eight.
Our run home starts with Geelong, then to Sydney, followed by Richmond before we have to combat the mighty Brisbane Lions. The now much anticipated Derby is our second last home and away game of the season and we close it out against the Saints.
As it currently stands, we have four of six remaining games against top eight sides. We are vying for that 7th or 8th place with at least half of those teams and we have Essendon putting its hat in the ring as well. Quite simply it’s going to be incredibly tough.
The brutal reality is we are currently in the top eight through largely no fault of our own. Just five weeks ago the mere thought of making the finals was, for most Freo fans, absurd. We have won three of our four games in that time but it has been the external results we couldn’t control which have propelled us into contention.
It’s a weird feeling as a Fremantle supporter because rarely do our beloved Dockers get the rub of the green. This club has conditioned us to be romantically sceptical and, as such, the host of unbelievably favourable results kind of feels like we’ve taken lollies from a shifty looking guy in a van with blacked out windows!
As much as we’re all on board the top eight tilt, and as hot as the burning desire to just make the finals is in all of us, there is still that little voice in the back of my mind saying the Universe is playing the very long Dockery game on us!
But when all the marvelling is complete, when we’re done with the ‘how did it all happen’, the fact is, our 2021 destiny is back wholly and solely in our hands. The universe cannot continue to assist us, it’s now up to us. Our 2021 life relies on our will to take advantage of the most remarkable opportunities that were forwarded to us.
Could the closing stages to this strange football season be our very own version of Kramer’s bet on Papa-Nick? Time, as it always does, will tell. Forget the past, leave the future be, trust the process and focus on the now.
Our 2021 season starts Thursday night against Geelong.