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Soup of This Day #337: An Easy Town

September 27, 2013

Eliza, standing alone but as part of something greater, and fixing all with a resolute gaze. Game on baby. She’s tipping the Dockers to hang the Hawks out to dry in Saturday’s 2013 AFL Grand Final – Photo: Longworth72, 2013. Image cropped by Longworth72.

Before the 1st bounce last Saturday evening I knew the Freo Dockers were going to win through to their 1st Australian Football League (AFL) Grand Final.

This might sound arrogant or maybe knowledgeable in that after-the-fact kind of way that most people don’t like, but it isn’t like that – I’m a humble guy, grateful for all of life’s victories and not at all the sort of bloke to take them for granted. Hell, I’m a Fremantle Dockers fan – Early on in that school you learn to take absolutely nothing for granted, except that if you do you’ll get hurt worse.

It’s just that as the Freo players lined up on a Saturday night at Subiaco Oval almost a week ago I got the vibe that this was the Dockers night. Strangely, that feeling wasn’t derived from watching the warm-up or from any other serious analysis of form. Instead, I got my premonition of glory from the way the 2 teams fronted up for the playing of the Australian national anthem.

The Sydney Swans approached that pre-game ceremony like a line of can-can dancers taking a break from the high-kicking lark – They stood there with arms around each other’s shoulders, literally and figuratively linking themselves together as a team. This is not an unusual practice – It can be seen often when sporting outfits line up – At pre-match ceremonies and at critical moments throughout the contest, such as penalty shoot-outs. In this way a team is projecting solidarity – We will not be divided, they seem to be saying, and you must fight us as 1 – Sort of like taking on the Voltron Lion Force of the far universe in full Voltron mode.

Sidebar: None of the Voltron lions has a ‘bathroom facility’ according to Wikipedia. This is despite each lion being the size of a destroyer class ship and the whole being roughly equivalent to an aircraft carrier in size. An aircraft carrier without a single toilet is just poor planning – No wonder they were always in the @#$%.

Sydney though didn’t look like Voltron on this occasion, and I don’t just say that because they had ready access to bathrooms at Subi. They just didn’t look willing – Instead of projecting strength in unity, they almost looked like they were clinging to each other, bracing for the battle ahead.

The Dockers by contrast didn’t have arms around each other. They stood in a line but apart, each player standing alone, his arms resting at ease in front. The strange thing is though, that this lack of physical connection didn’t make the Freo lads look like they were divided and wracked with disunity.

No, it just made them look up for football war.

Maybe it was the direct stares, promising wrath and ruin, or maybe it was that those 22 guys were standing with all of the ease of a fully-charged Voltron Force lion. Either way I watched that anthem being played out and right then figured the Dockers for the win. For sure I didn’t crow about it, or even announce it quietly, but I knew that when you have clear eyes and full hearts that you can’t lose.

Except if you’re Mitt Romney.

Mitt has an AFL connection by a couple of degrees of separation – 1 of his 2012 campaign support acts was soft-rocker Meatloaf. Meatloaf performed at the 2011 AFL Grand Final. Neither of those things worked out well, unless they were meant to be comedy acts, in which case they were @#$%ing awesome.

I also had meatloaf for dinner the other night. It had a whole boiled egg in the middle. Make of that what you will but I liked it.

Last Saturday and the Dockers too were hard-boiled in the centre. And pretty much everywhere else on the ground as well. This is how the Dockers play under coach Ross Lyon – Like in their anthem line-up, the focus on the field is on individual roles within the team – Each with its own responsibilities. What Rosco expects is that the player assigned to a role will take on those responsibilities and respond accordingly.

Take for instance the defensive press on opposition ball-carriers.

When an opposition player has the ball, a team can try to generate pressure by double-teaming or triple-teaming the ball carrier. This is a risky move – Yeah, you’ve got 2 or 3 on to 1, creating a localised advantage for your outfit. This might win you the ball because applying pressure can lead to errors and maybe turn-overs.

It might also cost you too, because if that 1 opponent can move the ball away from the lopsided encounter then his team has 1 or 2 players who do not have a direct opponent covering them. Sure you might be able to then swarm the next ball carrier in the sequence but sooner or later you’re going to run out of defenders and the bad guys will end up with a fairly unimpeded path to a goal.

This kind of mass attack is generally therefore a desperation thing – The clock might be running down and you need the ball pronto. It’s also usually a temporary strategy – There are very few teams that can sustain that kind of effort for a decent length of time. The Dockers though have made a subtle modification to this kind of intense defence that makes it possible to apply sustained pressure on the opposition ball carriers for long periods of the game. How they achieve this is pretty much represented in that line-up standing for the anthem.

They trust each other to do a job without needing to be propped up.

That job might be to attack the ball carrier and if it is, then the other Docker players will lay off, allowing the chosen attacker to harass, corral and hopefully dispossess the opposition of the ball. And if somehow that opponent gets the ball on then the next ball carrier in the chain will get harassed, corralled and dispossessed of the ball. And so on.

It’s a sequential swarm and it makes for an intense brand of footy.

Take that 2nd Preliminary Final: The Dockers were up against an outfit known for its defensive prowess and its potent midfield run.

That mattered for nought.

In the 1st quarter the pressure from Freo resulted in 11 scoring shots to 3. About the only aspect of that in Sydney’s favour was that the Dockers didn’t capitalise fully on the scoreboard and so led by just 8 points at the 1st break, 2.9 (21) to 2.1 (13). Which was a worry – Sometimes a team will be made to pay for that kind of wastefulness.

Not Rosco’s Dockers.

If the 1st quarter had been about blowtorch pressure then it was 1 of those dinky little kitchen models you use to caramelise the sugar crust on your crème brûlée. The 2nd quarter saw the Dockers fire up the serious industrial oxyacetylene torch – The kind that can instantly evaporate your crème brûlée into nothingness.

The numbers tell the story – Freo booted 5.2 for the 2nd stanza. Sydney managed just 0.1. That last stat is not that bad in terms of efficiency as the Swans had just 1 possession inside their attacking 50m zone in just over 29 minutes of footy – At least they scored from it.

In truth Sydney just couldn’t get that much of the ball and when they did they were closed down so ruthlessly and relentlessly that their rare disposals were often in panic and invariably into the arms of a purple-clad Docker, waiting to pump the Sherrin straight back into the hot zone. If you’d never seen these teams play before and knew nothing of their histories then, based on that quarter, you’d have been forgiven for picking the Dockers as the reigning premiers, rather than the Swans, who hold that honour.

Instead of defending champions at the highest level of the game, the Swannies looked like terrified amateurs, outfought, out-thought and overwrought. The Dockers meanwhile looked like 100 angry men playing some of the finest finals football you’ll ever see.

And maybe they’re not done yet.

Tomorrow is the last Saturday in September. That’s Grand Final day in the AFL and this year that will mean the Fremantle Dockers taking on Hawthorn in the last game of the season. There’s been a lot of factors analysed, written about, re-analysed, over-analysed and projected around this game. Form guides will have been poured over, experts consulted and bookie’s odds calculated.

And I’ll be ignoring as much of all of that as I possibly can.

Forget the science – For at roughly 12:15pm Australian Western Standard Time (+08:00 GMT) the Dockers will line up opposite the Hawks for the Australian national anthem. Then we’ll find out all you need to know about how they stand.

Let’s go Freo!

An Easy Town

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