Michael Walters celebrates a goal during the round three clash between Fremantle and West Coast at Optus Stadium on April 2, 2023. Picture: AFL Photos

FREMANTLE has ignited its season with a dramatic win against an injury-hit West Coast, finding its turbo button and clicking forward of centre to win Western Derby 56 by 41 points at Optus Stadium.

Inspired by Glendinning-Allan Medal winner Caleb Serong, the Dockers won 16.12 (108) to 9.13 (67), kicking their highest score since round 17 last season and leaving reigning premier Geelong as the only winless team after three rounds this season.

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The margin did not reflect the high drama at Optus Stadium, as the Eagles showed great resilience to hold on with one fit player on the bench after injuries to Luke Shuey (hamstring), Jeremy McGovern (hamstring), Jamie Cripps (ankle) and Alex Witherden (head knock).

When premiership forward Liam Ryan's match ended with a leg injury they were down to 18 fit players, with the dam wall bursting in the final quarter as the Dockers piled on the last six goals of the game.


While the Eagles' injuries allowed the Dockers to run over the top, both teams would have taken plenty of encouragement from the most entertaining Derby in years.

Serong was exceptional in the midfield, finishing with 35 possessions (16 contested), eight clearances and a game-high 12 inside 50s to win his second Glendinning-Allan Medal.

Small forward Sam Switkowski was the shot of life the team needed in the centre with 21 disposals, an equal game-high 10 score involvements and two goals, giving the Dockers the speed they have missed.

Michael Walters booted a game-high four goals in his first full match of the season after returning as the substitute last week, while ruckmen Sean Darcy and Luke Jackson gave the team a dominant advantage in hit-outs (69-16).

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That didn't convert to a defining midfield advantage, with the Dockers winning the centre clearances (14-10) and the Eagles squaring the around-the-ground stoppages (25-25).

The Eagles' ability to fight on under duress was admirable, particularly in the third quarter as they restricted the Dockers to one goal and cut the margin to eight points at the final change. 


They were best served by in-form midfielder Tim Kelly (33 disposals and five clearances), while Andrew Gaff (28 and four inside 50s) produced an improved performance as an accountable midfielder. 

Fremantle has put a focus on starting games fast and physical but failed to deliver in the opening two rounds. They were jumped briefly by the Eagles on Sunday but lifted to match them in the highest scoring opening quarter in Derby history.

Oscar Allen was the star early, flying for marks and kicking three goals, including two from beyond 50m, while Shuey was the dangerman in the middle with three clearances and two goal assists from six disposals coming off the back of the centre square.


Both teams played a frantic style that was handball heavy, using their runners and looking for the corridor, with Michael Walters' second goal cutting the margin to one point at the first break.

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The Dockers made their defining move in the second quarter, kicking four unanswered goals to open a 22-point half-time margin through the speed of runners like Michael Frederick, Switkowski and Walters, who all kicked goals.

The third term was a slog as the Eagles threw their best punch despite having only one fit player on the bench, drawing on all their grit and determination to win the quarter by 14 points and keep the game alive.


It always felt unsustainable, however, and the Dockers put their foot to the floor in the last term in what should prove a confidence-boosting win that shows the team a path to its best football.

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Jackson had three different roles for the first three centre bounces on Sunday, setting the tone for his first Derby as a Docker. He started as a ground-level midfielder at the first centre bounce, moved forward for the second, and then contested the third as a ruckman. He moved between the three roles and was more involved in the game as a result, finishing with 12 disposals, seven tackles and two goals, igniting the team four minutes in with a snap across his body. A number of potential marks went to ground on Sunday, but his increased involvement with time in the midfield was a big step forward.


Injury crisis returns to haunt Eagles
West Coast has endured more injury trauma than any club in the past two seasons, and so it could be again in 2023. Luke Shuey was on fire early but succumbed to a hamstring injury, while McGovern's setback appeared a bad one. Cripps was in hospital post-match with a broken ankle, while Witherden will need to be assessed after a heavy collision with Jaeger O'Meara that could result in him entering concussion protocols. Ryan had his knee strapped and was asked to play on for a while before being pulled out of the game. The club will be desperate to regain star midfielder Elliot Yeo, with key defender Harry Edwards a likely replacement for McGovern. Connor West, Greg Clark, Xavier O'Neill and Jai Culley could all get opportunities.


Third quarter backflip
The Dockers went away from what was working in the third quarter and were punished by a West Coast team that lifted its rating around the ball. The Eagles won the contested possessions 46-30 for the quarter, resulting in a 17-12 advantage in forward entries, also squaring clearances 13-13 despite the Dockers' ruck dominance. It was a quarter that concerned Justin Longmuir and would have served as a warning that things can go wrong quickly if the team stops competing at the source. Contested ball was back on level terms in the final quarter (35-35) and the only backflips happening were from Michael Frederick, who marked the last goal of the game with an aerobic celebration.


FREMANTLE      5.1   9.5   10.8   16.12 (108)
WEST COAST     5.2   5.7   8.12   9.13 (67)

Fremantle: Walters 4, Amiss 2, Frederick 2, Jackson 2, Switkowski 2, Brayshaw, Darcy, Schultz, Young
West Coast: Allen 3, Darling 3, Hunt, Sheed, Waterman 

Fremantle: Serong, Switkowski, Walters, Darcy, Aish, Ryan, Frederick
West Coast: Kelly, Gaff, Ginbey, Allen, Darling, Hurn 

Fremantle: Chapman (leg)
West Coast: McGovern (hamstring), Shuey (hamstring), Witherden (head knock), Ryan (knee), Cripps (ankle) 

Fremantle: Matthew Johnson (replaced Heath Chapman in the third quarter)
West Coast: Elijah Hewett (replaced Luke Shuey in the second quarter) 

Crowd: 56,090 at Optus Stadium