Footy Fix: How Freo (nearly) Collingwooded Collingwood – and exposed the Pies’ hidden Achilles heel


When Bobby Hill goalled to put Collingwood 25 points up on Fremantle with under eight minutes remaining, there was only one team in the AFL you’d have given a prayer of catching a lead that substantial that late in the game: Collingwood themselves.

Bobby Hill marks and goals and it’s a long way back for the Dockers now!

???? Watch #AFLFreoPies LIVE on ch. 504 or stream on Kayo:

— Fox Footy (@FOXFOOTY) May 24, 2024

Indeed, so confident was I that the game was done and the injury-ravaged Magpies were on their way to a famous win on the road that I began writing this article, praising Harvey Harrison’s three goals, Joe Richards’ superb positioning at half-forward and the superb efficiency of the Magpies’ system to be missing Jordan De Goey and Tom Mitchell and still rattle on goals galore from stoppages all night.

And as it turns out, I was wasting my time. Because Fremantle were about to Collingwood Collingwood.

Or… half do it, I guess.


— 7AFL (@7AFL) May 24, 2024

The Dockers utterly dominated those last seven minutes and 45 seconds, banging on four goals, dominating at the coalface, playing the sort of electric, nothing-to-lose footy only teams on death’s doorstep play.

Everything Justin Longmuir tried, even throwing Alex Pearce forward in a desperate bid to stretch an already short Magpies’ defence, worked.

For the Dockers to complete such a comeback, having had just one inside 50 in the first 20 minutes of the final quarter, against the team that has iced close games like no team the game has ever seen over the last two years, is scarcely believable even if you watched the whole thing – and it’s worth the most thorough of autopsies to discover how the hell they did it.

This is that autopsy.

It doesn’t get any closer than this ????

Watch the nailbiting final minutes of #AFLFreoPies, thanks to Omo Australia.

— AFL (@AFL) May 24, 2024

The first of those four goals came from the unlikeliest source for Freo all night – a centre bounce.

Having lost that count 5-1 in a poor third quarter that saw the Pies grab the game by the throat, it’s still not exactly the play you’d imagine a centre square goal to be result: Caleb Serong grabs the ball at ground level, dishes quickly to Andrew Brayshaw, who quickly and under pressure hoofs the ball towards Freo’s forward 50.

The key in transforming it from the sort of play that nearly always gets turned over, and into a Dockers goal, was Sam Switkowski. A pressure forward by trade who had been a sporadic presence at centre bounces on Friday night, Switkowski lined up next to Nick Daicos at the bounce, the idea surely to ensure the Pies gun was unable to make one of his famous getaways through traffic without ferocious heat coming his way.

Here, it works because Switkowski’s skills as a crumbing goalsneak are perfectly suited to rove the loose ball, ride a Daicos tackle, and handpass wide to Jeremy Sharp, who all night has racked up stats holding his ground on the wing. His careful kick finds Bailey Banfield right on 50, who has benefitted from being slightly too late to Brayshaw’s high ball to influence, and has been able to sneak out the back after his opponent, Isaac Quaynor, flew and spoiled but couldn’t clear the danger area.

But the most shocking thing about the whole play was what happened next: wasting no time, Banfield wheels onto his left foot, fires from 50, and flushes it.

It’s the sort of goal the wayward-kicking Dockers just don’t kick, a stroke of brilliance that keeps the flame flickering faintly: from four goals in eight minutes, the equation is now three in seven minutes and 12 seconds.

Everyone knows by now how the second goal came about, but it’s worth first noting how the ball got inside Freo’s 50 once again in the first place: Sean Darcy takes the ball out of the ruck against part-timer Billy Frampton, gives to the bypassing Serong, and watches him blast a kick inside 50 that looks scrappy but is more calculated than that. It’s not a high ball, removing the risk of Darcy Moore coming in to intercept, and is the kind of chaos ball the Magpies in particular have built a colossus around these past few years.

The Pies gather the ball, but the result of Serong’s kick is pressure, and youngster Charlie Dean cracks: looking to spot Steele Sidebottom out on the back flank, his kick sails too wide and out on the full by millimetres. Freo and Sharp will have a third consecutive inside 50.

Once again, Sharp refuses to blaze, hitting up the hard-leading Brayshaw, still 50 out from goal but perhaps within range. Not that he thinks so – he looks to pass to the pocket, and the ball goes off hands for a boundary throw in. Still, that’s just where Freo would want the ball.

Next comes the moment that turns the game: Lachie Sullivan, in his fourth game, does everything the Pies are trained to do in these situations, keeping the ball tight, allowing the tackle to envelop him… and as he gets up, for reasons known only to himself, he returns the ball not to umpire Matthew Nicholls, but instead to Nick Daicos.

“He didn’t hand the ball back to me, he handed it to a team mate. He’s not allowed to do that.”#AFLFreoPies

— 7AFL (@7AFL) May 24, 2024

Is it a free kick by the letter of the law? Yes. Is it an overzealous interpretation of the strictures of the rules without considering the spirit behind which those rules were set in stone? Probably yes too, but the die is cast in any case. Sean Darcy goes back, drills the goal, and suddenly Fremantle have belief.

The margin is 13 points. Six minutes and 18 seconds remain. Having kicked two goals in 90 seconds, it is well and truly game on, as a crowd resigned to defeat begins to swell again.

The Pies are masters of this situation, and the next two minutes go by with lashings of their usual game-saving ferocity.

A Hayden Young hack inside 50 from the centre bounce is spoiled away from Josh Treacy, Sullivan comes from nowhere to smother a Nat Fyfe kick from that resultant spillage, Brayden Maynard goes in harder than Brayshaw for the next loose ball and gets it to Nick Daicos, who wins a free.

John Noble breaks away from a stoppage inside defensive 50 with dash and dare, refusing to blindly hack and backing his speed to get into space, and then kicks spectacularly to Joe Richards on the half-back flank to avert another danger.

But eventually, as the Dockers continue to up the pressure and the fatigued Pies, short men on the bench due to Mason Cox and Brody Mihocek’s injuries and with zero big men to aim at down the line as the final option, finally break.

It’s Scott Pendlebury who errs: taking the ball hemmed in on the boundary, he decides against kicking long knowing he has nothing to go to, tries and fails to baulk through Jaeger O’Meara and Banfield, and when all else is lost must hack anyway, only under pressure and far enough inside the boundary for the Dockers to pounce on it.

Fremantle and Collingwood players react to their draw. (Photo by Paul Kane/Getty Images)

And pounce they do: Heath Chapman grabs the loose ball and immediately makes a beeline for the central corridor, the Dockers throwing caution to the wind. A trademark Fremantle chain of handballs is next: Chapman to Brayshaw to Corey Wagner to Switkowski, the final handball in the chain a poor one that would have resulted in a turnover had Switkowski not been infringed by a desperate but poor Crisp tackle.

He, like Sharp, lowers his eyes and spots Brayshaw right on 50, whose kick is notable: it’s long, but to the forward pocket rather than the hot spot. The reason? Presumably to make a boundary throw-in and another stoppage likelier than a rushed behind if the Pies get fists to it. The Dockers want to lock this ball in.

As it happens, the Pies’ concern with their lack of height in defence tells: as the ball goes towards the leaping Treacy and Luke Jackson, both Moore and Dean sprint back desperately trying to spoil, only succeeding in overrunning the ball as it is tapped in front of the contest – and leaving their opponents unguarded in a suddenly dangerous space.

The effect is instant, and as soon as the ball remains in play Freo pounce. Jye Amiss gives to Banfield, who gives to Young, the latter’s opponent in Pendlebury leaving him free to try and influence the handball to him. And the laserlike left boot of the Dockers young gun makes no mistake on the snap.

Normally, the Pies would have impacted one of those handballs, or forced the ball out of bounds in the first place. Are they slipping?

Three minutes and 22 seconds remaining, and one thing is clear: the Magpies are in the uncomfortable position of having to save a tight game, rather than win one. The hunters are becoming the hunted – and they don’t like it much.

A holding the ball free kick from the ball-up lets the Dockers win another centre clearance, Darcy giving to Ryan for him to pump it long inside 50, only for a classic Magpies moment: Darcy Cameron, having sprinted off his opposite ruckman after he won the free, takes a telling contested mark inside defensive 50.

Cameron gives to Brayden Maynard, who from the back pocket goes long and up the line, only for the Magpies to once again have their aerial weakness shown: with Cameron engaged by Darcy and no Mihocek nor Cox competing as well, Chapman can fly next to the two ruckman and take the intercept mark virtually uncontested.

He does what Brayshaw hasn’t done all quarter, what Ryan should have done instead of blazing: he picks his spot, keeps his kick inside 50 low, and tries to hit a chest.

The ball clears the leaping fingers of Quaynor by a matter of millimetres, and sliding in for the ball, sent forward as a last-ditch Hail Mary, is Alex Pearce. He of four goals in his career, one since 2015.

A captain’s moment if ever there was one. Pearce would later dedicate the goal to his late friend and former Docker Cam McCarthy, and said he knew McCarthy would have owned the moment: but he surely couldn’t have split the middle as coolly and as calmly as the defender did here.

Alex Pearce!

One point game!#AFLFreoPies

— 7AFL (@7AFL) May 24, 2024

In fact, so nerveless was the kick that it puts Fremantle’s season long set-shot woes to shame.

There is one point the difference. The Dockers are all over Collingwood like a cheap suit. And one minute and 49 seconds remain.

Still, the Pies are vulnerable: in moment after moment, they show none of the dare they would normally display when trying to take a lead, and none of the coolness that they usually exhibit having snatched one. They know this is their game to lose, and that they’re one mistake away from losing it.

Sullivan spoils a ball he could and should have marked. Bobby Hill tries to guide a ball over the boundary line and to safety in the forward pocket, for which he would have surely been penalised had the ball not evaded him and left two Dockers defenders, Ryan and Brandon Walker, on hand to repel with Hill having taken himself out of the picture. The Pies’ structure crumbles to once again let Freo surge through the corridor. And worst of all, Quaynor grabs Switkowski around the neck to concede a free right near the centre circle.

“Three critical errors in the last minute-and-a-bit cost Collingwood the win.”@Adamcooney17 spots some errors from a few Magpies that led to Jeremy Sharp’s game-tying behind.#ArmchairExperts

— 7AFL (@7AFL) May 24, 2024

Switkowski gives to Wagner, who again bangs it as long as he can: his lack of distance on the kick actually works out, because Moore, the Pies’ loose man, is a kick further back, waiting for the next one to be long and high and in his direction.

But the Dockers have a plan: walk it in. Young Wil Parker, on as the sub, overcommits in his attempt to spoil, letting the ball out the back with Banfield goal side. Freo have the overlap.

Maynard leaves his man, Sharp, to try and force a mistake: Banfield waits, perhaps a fraction too long, to give it to him, with Steele Sidebottom rushing in too. Still, Sharp has a second to straighten, compose himself, guide the ball smoothly down onto his right boot… and miss.

Scores are level. 44 seconds left.

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It’s at this moment when a switch seems to flip in the Magpie minds. Their attacking mentality, their refusal to give in, their ferocious hunt and will to win from hopeless situations, returns now that at least half a victory has been snatched from them. Having tried to hold on, the Pies can now once again try to win.

Moore gallops out of the goalsquare for the kick-in and belts it long and to a one-on-one, in open space on the wing with most everyone else still stuck in the corridor. It’s a good enough pass to Harvey Harrison that Brayshaw is forced to infringe attempting to spoil.

Harrison gives to the running Lipinski – exactly the sort of overlap that has been so conspicuously absent since the start of Freo’s run – and his kick is a corker, off the outside of his right boot inboard to find Nick Daicos infield. Daicos wheels, goes, and bangs it long, where Freo’s defence is scrambling to set up.

Walker neutralises the one-on-one with Bobby Hill, the pack converges, and a ball-up is the result. You can bet your life the Pies’ usual gambit of flooding numbers around the ball and keeping it in at all costs won’t be in effect here.

Now it’s Fremantle desperately holding on and the Pies surging – business as usual, then. And seemingly knowing they can’t win it, the Dockers move to shut down the game, Serong grabbing the loose ball from the stoppage and letting Lachie Schultz smother him in a tackle with minimal effort to break it.

12 seconds remain.

As the ball bobbles around inside 50, Lipinski’s effort could well have won it for the Magpies, rising tallest to tap a loose footy into the central corridor and inside 50. If the first player to get to the ball is a Pie, they probably score.

It’s Jaeger O’Meara who gets there first, immediately getting wrapped up by Harrison, and with one arm pinned and his only option a desperate kick off his non-preferred foot, O’Meara allows himself to be taken to ground as the Pies plead – unsuccessfully – for holding the ball.

Siren. It’s another draw.

So, what can we learn from all that unfolded in those frantic final eight minutes?

Well, for starters, that Freo can be unstoppable if they can control the stoppages. They dominated the territory in that period off the back of commanding centre bounce win after commanding centre bounce win, allowing repeat inside 50s, giving their defence a chance to set up high and intercept panicked kicks coming out, as Chapman in particular did to great effect.

It’s also clear that the Pies are far, far less comfortable holding a late lead as they are trying to create it – though the loss of Mihocek and Cox in attack meant safety-first options weren’t really available to them. It would be hard to describe their late fadeout as anything more than circumstantial – were it not for how good and dangerous they looked anyway from the very second Sharp’s point tied the scores.

The equation is simple for rivals then: the Pies are vulnerable if you can spot them a 25-point lead and win every centre bounce in the last seven minutes. But even then, you’d better hope for a much-maligned former rookie nailing a 50-metre goal, a technical, controversial free kick, and a long-time key defender in the game’s most inaccurate side absolutely flushing a set shot to bring them within reach.

Freo nearly Collingwooded Collingwood on Friday night – but it seems impossible for anyone else to do it quite the way they did.

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