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2022 Elimination Final, Fremantle v Western Bulldogs: The tale of a comeback

The first 28 minutes of game time:

Fremantle 0.1.1 – 6.6.42 Western Bulldogs

The last 52 minutes of game time:

Fremantle 11.6.72 – 2.6.18 Western Bulldogs

It was fitting to see a hectic week of finals end with a wild comeback that felt improbable at stages and then inevitable by the end.

This is how it happened…

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Every final this year is getting the ‘North Melbourne match review’ treatment, for lack of a better term.

Essentially, everything I do there is transported into September, with the obvious difference of looking at a game from both teams’ perspective instead of just one.

It replaces the Notebook in the $5+ spot for Patrons. Each review will be posted the morning after the game, with early access to Patrons until the evening when it becomes free for all.

Here are all the Patreon details and how to sign up.

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To set the scene for a comeback, first we must understand how the Bulldogs shot out to such a significant lead in the first place.

First QuarterFremantleWestern Bulldogs
Inside 50s1018
Contested Possessions3247
Uncontested Possessions4259
Uncontested Marks919
Turnovers2519

If the mark of a good team is being more than the sum of its parts, for much of 2022 the Bulldogs have been the opposite – getting by on talent alone, an all-star offensive midfield, not making the most of talented key forwards and middling defenders often hung out to dry by those ahead of them.

Fremantle on the other hand are the opposite. Just about every part of their – still very young – team is playing to their strengths. There are obvious areas for improvement which will come with time, but you can’t look at their style and claim the Dockers are under achieving.

Which is why it was a surprise to see the Bulldogs come out and batter Fremantle from pillar to post in the first quarter.

Contest, inside, outside – it was all on the Bulldogs’ terms. Both sides play a high possession style and it takes time for inexperience to adjust to how that works in a finals atmosphere.

Given only four Dockers had finals experience coming into the game – two of those with different teams – it was understandable to see the team look overwhelmed early on.

Their choices in possession – usually measured – were haphazard and low-percentage. Sometimes forced to be by the Bulldogs, but also unforced…

If the clip doesn’t work for you, click here to view

…and as a result they were picked apart, the Bulldogs scoring 27 of their 35 first quarter points via turnover.

Second QuarterFremantleWestern Bulldogs
Inside 50s1713
Contested Possessions4240
Uncontested Possessions6958
Uncontested Marks2015

Before the goal rush to finish Q2, the first sign of a change came in Fremantle’s uncontested game.

In the first quarter they were unable to hold onto the ball, but as the second wore on they established a foothold and neutralised the Bulldogs’ pressure.

It quickly became evident all the Bulldogs’ early success came from that pressure and forcing turnovers. Once the Dockers minimised it, the visitors had no other reliable avenue to goal.

Which is an enormous worry because, and here’s the kicker, the Bulldogs haven’t been a defensively minded team all year. So expecting them to maintain the same level of play without the ball for four quarters was, at best, wishful thinking.

Alarm bells went up when Andrew Brayshaw was allowed to stroll forward from a centre bounce and stick one in from 50…

If the clip doesn’t work for you, click here to view

…then a simple block and switch gave Caleb Serong all sorts of room to snap truly.

If the clip doesn’t work for you, click here to view

When Jye Amiss, running at a 100 percent strike rate of career games to mentions on The Shinboner, goaled after the siren it was a whole new ball game.

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Posts are coming thick and fast at the moment. If you’ve missed anything over the last week or so, here are links to catch up:

Sunday 4th: Qualifying Final Analysis: Geelong v Collingwood
Saturday 3rd: Qualifying Final Analysis: Melbourne v Sydney
Friday 2nd: Look Back/Ahead: Adelaide (14th, 8-14, 86.7%)
Friday 2nd: Match Analysis: Brisbane v Richmond, Elimination Final
Thursday 1st: Look Back/Ahead: Essendon (15th, 7-15, 83.2%)

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Third QuarterFremantleWestern Bulldogs
Inside 50s1715
Clearances610
Contested Possessions3041
Uncontested Possessions7157
Uncontested Marks2226

In the back half of the quarter, the Bulldogs fired their final shot as Fremantle continued to push.

As the Bulldogs’ defensive fortitude waned, they tried to ramp up the offence to create scoreboard pressure.

For the last time in the game, they had repeat inside 50s, and over the last eight minutes managed four scoring shots. The summary of those shots:

6:25 remaining, 30 metres out, slight angle: Tim English rushed checkside snap under pressure: Point
6:00 remaining, 15 metres out, on the boundary: Aaron Naughton left foot snap from the left pocket under pressure: Point
1:25 remaining, 52 metres out, near the boundary: Jamarra Ugle-Hagan from the left forward flank in open play: Rushed behind
0:45 remaining, 15 metres out, slight angle: Toby McLean snap: Point

The McLean shot was the only one close to high quality, and it got no reward.

Fremantle’s contested wins were gaining greater reward because they were able to transition it into their uncontested game.

By contrast, everything the Bulldogs got was under pressure – as that scoring shot summary showed – and they were unable to find the easy wins of Q1.

Everything started to feel a little inevitable at the final change…

Fourth QuarterFremantleWestern Bulldogs
Inside 50s187
Clearances118
Contested Possessions3827
Uncontested Possessions6247
Uncontested Marks3416
Tackles109

And so it proved.

The story of the Bulldogs’ season has been an inability to maximise their assets. Playing an offensive style, with plenty of offensive talent, their two final quarter scores came from a hit-out bouncing through for a behind, and a Roarke Smith hanger.

Meanwhile the story of Fremantle’s season has been knowing exactly what you’ll get from every player, every week. It was all on show in the last quarter:

Strong defensively: Allowing only two goals from the Bulldogs’ last 27 inside 50s.
High possession: 29 more disposals and 18 more uncontested marks in Q4
Forward half side: 11 more inside 50s in Q4
Burgeoning midfield: 11 more contested possessions in Q4

If the theme wasn’t obvious by this point, talent needs system to succeed at this time of the year. Fremantle have it, and plenty of room to improve over the next couple of seasons.

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