By Adam McNicol 04:47pm September 7, 13
FREMANTLE has emerged as a genuine premiership contender after invading Geelong's Simonds Stadium fortress and scoring a 15-point win in a gripping and fiery qualifying final on Saturday afternoon.
Having gone into the game as outsiders, the Dockers were 20 points down early in the second quarter, before they hauled themselves back into the contest with a five-goal run that handed them a four-point lead at the long break.
Ross Lyon's men then survived a torrid second half and scored the greatest win in their club's 19-season history, 12.15 (87) to 9.18 (72).
The result vindicated Lyon's decision rest a host of key players when Freo played St Kilda at Etihad Stadium in round 23.
After losing to the lowly Saints by 71 points, the Dockers brought back 11 key players for their clash with the Cats.
Saturday's game – the first final held in Geelong since 1897 – was littered with spot-fires.
There was no opening bounce after Cats forward James Podsiadly was handed a free kick for high contact from Fremantle defender Zac Dawson.
And the niggle continued even after the final siren, with Ryan Crowley exchanging words with Joel Selwood and midfielder Steve Johnson as the players were shaking hands.
It was only Fremantle's second win at Simonds Stadium in the club's history, and the Dockers became just the second team to defeat Geelong at the venue since round 21, 2007.
It was really obvious that it was a great effort and really pleased for the players that they created an opportunity," Lyon said at his post-match press conference.
"We want to be an 'anywhere, anytime' team and this is a significant challenge and they got it done today
"We get a week to review sharply, prepare really well and stay incredibly focused."
Midfielders Michael Barlow (32 disposals and three goals) and Nathan Fyfe (25 disposals, seven clearances) and defender Lee Spurr (28 touches, 10 marks) were among the heroes for Freo, who have earned themselves a week's rest and a berth in the club's first home preliminary final at Patersons Stadium.
Crowley was among a number of other Dockers players who played a crucial role in the result. He started on Geelong midfielder Mathew Stokes but gave his team a big boost by limiting the impact of Johnson after the Cats maestro had gathered 12 possessions in the first quarter.
Barlow was Fremantle's leading goal-scorer, while Matthew Pavlich proved dangerous at times but finished with 2.3 when he could easily have booted four or five goals.
However, Freo might be without Dawson for its preliminary final after he was reported for striking Podsiadly and also jumped in the air to bump Selwood in the head during the final quarter.
It was a case of history repeating for the Cats, who were also bundled out of last year's finals series by the Dockers.
Having lined up without key forward Tom Hawkins, who was a late withdrawal after suffering a recurrence of his back soreness, their forward line struggled so badly that Geelong finished with less than 10 goals for the first time since 2008.
"I didn't think it was our lack of scoring that was the issue," losing coach Chris Scott said. "We certainly had enough chances. We kicked a lot of points.
"It was the fact that the other way they were able to get some really easy goals, and in a low-scoring arm-wrestle that's very costly."
Andrew Mackie gave the Cats his usual great service from half-back, while fellow triple premiership players Jimmy Bartel and Joel Corey were solid performers.
Defender Cameron Guthrie, who was one of the late inclusions when Hawkins and Taylor Hunt (ankle) were ruled out, also played one of the best games of his career.
Paul Chapman started his 250th game as the substitute, and he put his stamp on the match when he entered the fray, but he and his teammates won't want to remember this afternoon.
When the game was on the line in the second half, Geelong badly missed the skill and leadership of veteran backman Corey Enright, who was subbed out of the game at half-time after suffering a knee injury.
Enright appears likely to miss the Cats' semi-final against Collingwood or Port Adelaide, which will be played at the MCG on Friday night.
Michael Barlow and Nick Suban celebrate at Simonds Stadium during the second term. Picture: AFL Media
GEELONG 4.6 6.11 9.13 9.18 (72)
FREMANTLE 2.5 7.9 10.12 12.15 (87)
Geelong: Podsiadly 3, Johnson 2, Corey, Vardy, Motlop, Duncan
Fremantle: Barlow 3, Pavlich 2, Hill 2, Walters, Ballantyne, Spurr, Sandilands, Mayne
Geelong: Mackie, Bartel, Corey, Guthrie, Taylor,
Fremantle: Barlow, Fyfe, Spurr, Mundy, Pearce, Crowley
Geelong: Hawkins (back) replaced in selected side by Walker, Hunt (ankle) replaced in selected side by Guthrie. Enright (knee)
Fremantle: Silvagni (soreness) replaced in selected side by McPharlin, Suban (ankle)
Geelong: Paul Chapman replaced Corey Enright at half-time
Fremantle: Tom Sheridan replaced Nick Suban in the third quarter
Reports: Zac Dawson (Fremantle) reported for striking James Podsiadly (Geelong) in the first quarter.
Umpires: Stevic, Pannell, McInerney
Official crowd: 32,815 at Simonds Stadium