For a decade, the most arresting sight at Fremantle games has been how unusual but powerful Nat Fyfe and David Mundy look at stoppages.
Midfielders are built in their mould now – tall, athletic types who might have been centre-half forwards in a less imaginative era – but they didn’t used to be, and Fyfe and Mundy were among the first in a wave.
Now the sight of them serves as a warm reminder of how unique they once were.
For the past few years, it’s been a reminder without any edge, a requiem for a midfield that used to be fearsome but was gradually undone and made irrelevant by the lack of competence around it. Fyfe and Mundy were still doing fine work, but it was enveloped by the meaningless that swallowed up their team.
It’s been four years since Fyfe played in a final. He’s too much of a champion to be defined by a lack of team success that one player out of 22 can only have so much impact, but this Freo meaninglessness threatened to be the second paragraph of his football obituary.
For Mundy, it was more dire. Fyfe is 27, he has time. At 33, Mundy’s career was looking like potentially ending with four consecutive years of irrelevant games.
Finally though, their context has given them a canvas again. Now their size, the odd sight of two 190-plus-centimetre rampaging midfield bodies, winning the ball at stoppages above their heads and crashing into and through opposition limbs, is propelling their team towards a real purpose.
The Dockers, suddenly, are just a good team. The defence is strong, with Joel Hamling and Alex Pearce able to stake a straight-faced claim as the best key defender duo in the competition right now. Luke Ryan is the mandatory intercept marker, while Nathan Wilson and Adam Cerra provide the class by foot.
The midfield is balanced, with the brawn of Fyfe and Mundy on the inside complemented by the outside dash of Bradley Hill and Ed Langdon. Rory Lobb is a more mobile ruck than they’ve had, and more of a natural resting forward. Michael Walters is a star.
The forward line is complicated, but ‘complicated’ is a giant step up from what it’s been. Jesse Hogan and Matt Taberner fluctuate from game-to-game, looking like All Australians in tandem against Greater Western Sydney, then call-ups from the reserves against the Bulldogs. It’s a promising sign, though, for Fremantle that they were able to withstand anonymous performances from Taberner, Hogan and Cam McCarthy and still escape with a win against the Dogs.
That escape was largely thanks to Brandon Matera, who is suddenly looking like an elite small forward, with a work-rate to go with his ball-in-hand gifts.
This team makes sense. They’re well-structured and they compete. Their positioning and ball movement has order, and they play as though they have a plan. They will not beat themselves.
With that background, the talent of Fyfe and Mundy can be properly enjoyed again without lament.
They are thriving – Fyfe back in Brownlow form, Mundy revitalised by a shift back to the midfield (the lesson as always – if your best players can play in the middle then they should probably play in the middle).
Every week Fyfe does things that no other player can. Against the Bulldogs he rose airborne on the flank to win a contested ball, smashing immediately into two opponents who wrapped him up in the air, but he somehow snuck a deftly-timed handball between their bodies to a teammate at perfect height.
Mundy is bruising on the inside, smooth on the outside. He plays with force, then with grace. Mundy in stride, like Fyfe in the air, is one of football’s best sights.
Against the Bulldogs Mundy was everywhere in the most important moments, kicking two vital goals in the third quarter – both dead straight flowing kicks from the top of the arc – to redirect and determine the flow of his 300th game, a meaningful game in a season now full of them for the Dockers.