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AFL finals: Fremantle cut down to size ahead of the finals

Expert
3rd September, 2014
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3260 Reads

There is an adage in the AFL when it comes to a premiership that says to win one, you have to lose one.

While it is by no means a guarantee and often not necessarily the path to glory, it is nonetheless a hypothesis that does carry merit.

Fremantle was hoping that it would be the case this season.

MORE AFL FINALS:
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>>Hawthorn Hawks vs Geelong Cats preview
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>>North Melbourne Kangaroos vs Essendon Bombers preview

After many years in the football wilderness – and for much of that time being lampooned by opposition fans and the media – the Dockers made it all the way to the big dance last year.

Had it not been for some woeful inaccuracy in front of goal – 1.6 at half-time, two shots out on the full from Nat Fyfe and a horrible shank by skipper Matthew Pavlich – a 15-point loss may well have been a narrow victory.

Alas for the Freo faithful it was not to be.

It was time at that point for them to adopt the lament of many a sports fan – there’s always next year.

Fremantle has been thereabouts all season, having been in the top-eight after every round. The final home-and-away game was in effect an early final for the Dockers.

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Pitted against Port Adelaide at Paterson’s Stadium, whichever club that triumphed was guaranteed fourth spot.

The home side prevailed, albeit by just eight points, but it was enough to secure the double chance that comes with a top-four finish.

While the win was certainly not a pyrrhic one it did come at a significant cost.

Michael Johnson struggled through the match, looking far from comfortable.

The news got worse on Monday when the club ruled him out of the finals series, announcing that he would undergo surgery on a damaged disc in his lower back.

Given what lays ahead for the Dockers his absence may well be a mortal blow.

This Saturday the club plays its first match in this season’s finals campaign against Sydney at the Olympic Stadium.

The minor premier boasts a potent forward-line headed up by this year’s Coleman Medallist Lance Franklin who claimed the award for the third time on the back of a 67-goal haul from 19 games.

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His principal support acts have been Kurt Tippett (28 in 11) and Adam Goodes (24 in 17).

The problem for the Dockers is that trio all stand over 190cm – Tippett (201cm), Franklin (198cm) and Goodes (191cm).

The loss of Johnson is a blow that hits Fremantle hard.

At 195-centimetres tall, last year’s All-Australian defender would have been integral to Ross Lyon’s game plan with respect to the Dockers would nullifying the Swans’ plethora of tall forwards. At 196 centimetres, Sam Reid could be another in the mix.

Unfortunately for Freo, Johnson will be a spectator this weekend alongside Luke McPharlin.

The 192-centimetre, 2012 All-Australian full-back has been sidelined several times this season with calf problems.

The latest occurred against the Cats in Round 20 and it will see him miss the club’s opening final.

Ironically, he literally limped into last year’s finals series with a calf injury as well.

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Thirty-two year-old McPharlin has played just 13 games this season having missed rounds 8-10, 13-15 and 20-23 with injury.

Whenever he does return to the fold, Lyon and his match committee will have their fingers crossed that he does not go down again.

The absence of Johnson and McPharlin against Sydney – and potentially beyond for McPharlin – will really stretch Fremantle’s resources as far as tall defenders are concerned.

Alex Silvagni (192cm) was a late withdrawal against Port Adelaide, in favour of Garrick Ibbotson, with the Power opting to play just two tall forwards in Jay Schulz and Justin Westhoff.

He will demand selection this weekend.

The only other seasoned tall defender that the Dockers possess is Zac Dawson, at 197-centimetres tall.

Fremantle will be hoping that the forecast for a few showers in Sydney on Saturday afternoon is an understatement.

Beyond Saturday’s match against the Swans, if it is to win the premiership, Fremantle has potential match-ups against two other clubs with numerous tall forward options – Hawthorn (Jarryd Roughead, Jack Gunston and Matt Spangher) or Geelong (Tom Hawkins, Mitch Brown, Shane Kersten and Josh Walker).

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Without Johnson for the remainder of the season, and possibly McPharlin, Fremantle’s hopes of a tilt at another grand final have been greatly reduced.