It was round five of the AFLW season. The Dockers were unbeaten in 2021 after an unbeaten season in 2020 for which they were credited with nothing.
I was chatting to a friend of a friend at Fremantle Oval. “I think a netball style would suit the AFLW,” she said, “short passes, keeping possession.”
“Don’t think that would work for Freo,” I said, “too many of them are unreliable kicks. Pressure, run and chaos seems to work for them.”
Fremantle controlled the first half but missed many goal-scoring opportunities. And the Lions were trying something – a short-passing game that was troubling the home team. Brisbane controlled the ball in the second half and pulled off a great victory.
“Won’t do them any harm,” we thought. But it did. After thrashing the “developing” Eagles at Perth Stadium the Dockers were to scramble just one more win for the season. They had been exposed.
It wasn’t that Fremantle was way off. They were in a winning position late in every game except Saturday’s qualifying final – the team has spirit and courage and never gives up. However opposition teams were picking them apart
The issues were many and they were all on show in the final against Melbourne.
• Ridiculously poor starts. For the eighth time of the season the Dockers didn’t score a goal in the first quarter. At Casey Fields they couldn’t make use of a howling wind because they couldn’t get the ball.
• Beaten at centre bounces. Fremantle’s talent and trick filled forward line just didn’t get opportunities.
• A lack of precise ball movement – an inability to string a few passes together was cruelly exposed as Freo didn’t even score into the breeze.
• A strength that’s a weakness – the backline of the Dockers is admirable. The highest score conceded in 2021 was 6.5 (41) against Carlton and that was a win. They smother and tackle and scramble and take marks but when it comes to disposal they come from the “just kick the bloody thing” school. Very little is set up from defence, in fact many kicks go straight to the opposition.
After the cruel unfinished business of 2020 the Dockers now know where they stand – not as good as Melbourne, North Melbourne, Collingwood, Adelaide (despite beating them away) and Brisbane – but also not far away. There are things to do if they want to be around at the business end of 2022.
A team with Kiara Bowers in it will always be hard to beat, Gemma Houghton is a star, Steph Cain, Ebony Antonio and Hayley Miller can provide the run and kicking power required and Janelle Cuthbertson can hold her own against the best forwards. With some clever recruiting Fremantle can get the players to help Sabreena Duffy, Gabby O’Sullivan and Roxie Roux do things in attack.
The skill level in the AFLW will rise quickly over the next few seasons – identifying footballers will be the key for clubs wanting and needing to improve. Like Fremantle.