Fremantle stared humiliation in the face in front of their biggest home crowd before conjuring a stunning fightback to steamroll the Western Bulldogs in an epic elimination final.
A weekend of finals classics looked like ending with a flat outlier when the highly fancied Dockers found themselves down by 41 points midway through the second term and still searching for their first goal entering time-on in the quarter.
Fremantle were absolutely ambushed and their parochial 58,982-strong Optus Stadium crowd shocked into silence by the ferocity of the eighth-placed Bulldogs in a lopsided opening 50 minutes.
Jye Amiss celebrates a goal with David Mundy, Heath Chapman and Hayden Young. Credit:Paul Kane, Getty
Captain Marcus Bontempelli was as devastating as he was stylish and Toby McLean seemed intent on making up for lost time with a spirited start. Jack Macrae was providing creativity and link through the middle, while Josh Dunkley provided the extra hard edge required in the clinches in Tom Liberatore’s absence.
Bontempelli led from the front, goaling in the first two minutes as the Dogs, dominating all facets, set a sizzling early tempo. His second major – following Caleb Serong’s costly switching turnover – was followed by another to Cody Weightman and the visitors were up 5.5 to 0.1 at quarter-time.
The Dockers were getting out-hunted, out-tackled and their disposal was horrid.
They stemmed the bleeding in the second quarter before launching their magnificent fightback courtesy of a supreme lift in their midfield.
Leigh Matthews trophy winner Andrew Brayshaw and the prolific Serong got right on top, while the home side’s forward line stopped misfiring. Four unanswered goals to Michael Walters, Brayshaw, Serong and inspirational second-gamer Jye Amiss sliced the gap to 15 points at half-time and Fremantle maintained that momentum after the break.
Bit by bit, and armed by a suddenly full-voiced crowd, they ate into the Dogs’ lead, then pinched it – for the first time all night – from then when Griffin Logue converted a goal following a 50-metre penalty at the eight-minute mark of the fourth stanza.
Roarke Smith got one back against the grain, slotting the goal after latching a wonderful mark, flying magnificently for an athletic, sideways grab over Brennan Cox.
Nathan O’Driscoll, who overcame a leg injury scare earlier in the game, sealed the miracle and booked a date with Collingwood in next week’s semi-final when he nailed a ripper from a tight angle after being rewarded for his crunching tackle on Dunkley.
DARCY LEARNS HIS LESSON
Fourth-gamer and first-time finalist Sam Darcy missed an early opportunity to goal when he unwisely played on from a goal-line mark and kicked a behind with his hurried snap.
Moments later he made amends.
The 19-year-old son of Bulldogs legend Luke Darcy proved too tall for opponent Heath Chapman when he marked Dunkley’s re-entry in almost the identical spot.
This time, the 205-centimetre ruck-forward took a measured breath, went back and slotted the six-pointer around his body to pile on the first-quarter pain for the Dockers.
SONNY TURNS THE TABLES
Silky-skilled Walters entered the elimination final having slotted nine goals without a blemish from his past five matches and is a career 65 per cent converter in front of the sticks.
Inexplicably, his radar went completely awry early on Saturday night, epitomising Freo’s woes.
Walters should have equalised Bontempelli’s opening goal after taking a tumbling mark in front of Bailey Williams, but sent his set shot sailing out on the full.
Shortly after, Walters earned a free kick which he barely scraped through for a behind.
He missed a sitter in the second term as the Dockers were still searching for their drought-breaking first major.
“Sonny” Walters finally ended the run of outs when he notched Fremantle’s first major after earning a free kick against Ed Richards, and the Dockers, finally, were away. His radar rectified, Walters proved a pivotal figure in the comeback, snapping his second in the third term as the deficit continued to be carved into, and then his third as Fremantle pushed clear in the fourth.
Fremantle: Brayshaw, Cox, S. Darcy, Serong, Walters, Young, Chapman.
Bulldogs: Bontempelli, Dunkley, Macrae, Keath, McLean, Daniel.
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