Dockers dig deep for Derby win

FREMANTLE has picked up its first win of Season 7 in the AFL Women’s with a heart-stopping three-point victory over West Coast at Optus Stadium on Thursday night. In a nail-biting affair, the Dockers trailed by three points at half-time, hit the front by five points at the final break, then survived against a determined Eagles outfit despite some late misses threatening to drop the four points. Fremantle coach Trent Cooper said he was satisfied to pick up the win.

“The girls have been working really hard and we’ve been really happy with some of the footy they’ve produced over the last three weeks,” Cooper said. They just crave that winning feeling and that’s what they deserve and, fortunately, we got that today.”

In those last five minutes, Isabella Lewis kicked a goal to draw the Eagles to within a point. While there might have been flashbacks to previous weeks where the Dockers had narrowly lost to the Western Bulldogs and drawn to Carlton, Cooper was impressed with how his players reacted. They would kick the last two behinds and win, 3.8 (26) to 3.5 (25), but the Fremantle coach conceded his confidence was “not great”.

“I’ve got really good confidence in the team, but just when you haven’t had that result,” Cooper said. The players were really strong, they were really steady. I’m not sure, but from where I was standing it looked like the players had belief and weren’t panicking at all.

Ange Stannett I thought was brilliant in those last few minutes, Hayley (Miller) was obviously great all day, but we just played with a bit of control and did well in those last few minutes considering there could have been a bit of panic, considering what’s happened the past couple of weeks.”

Having trailed the clearances, the Dockers made a crucial change to push a former W Medalist back into the middle which changed the tide, and not only won the clearances, but dominated the inside 50s.

“I think in the second half we were behind a fair way in the clearances and then Kiara Bowers played a different role in the second half, which was really effective for us, we turned the clearance numbers around and then from that I think the inside 50s for the second half were about 24 to nine,” Cooper said. So we dominated in that period, we didn’t quite get the scoreboard reward, but we definitely played with what I thought was a fair bit of control from that point on.”

The Dockers started Bowers forward in what might be seen as an unusual decision, but her role was to immediately provide an extra number at the contest. Cooper’s reasoning was that if it was just “any player” the Eagles might have left her opponent loose and not dragged into the contest, but given Bowers’ reputation as a premier clearance player, her defender would be forced to go with her too.

“We thought by Kiara doing that role it meant they either let her go, which is obviously very dangerous with Kiara being such a good player or it meant that we had a lot of space in front of the ball, which is what happened,” Cooper said. I thought Amy Franklin and Aine Tighe, they’re talls but they’re very athletic and they worked well with that space.”

Miller walked away with the best on ground medal for her four-quarter performance, picking up a game-high 26 disposals, as well as eight clearances, six tackles, five intercepts, six inside 50s and 458 metres gained in the victory.

“Every week she has built. Hayley isn’t a very patient person and she likes to perform at her best but we’ve been preaching to her just keep doing what she’s been doing and it’ll come,” Cooper said. She’s so competitive, so she likes obviously winning and playing well, and she’s felt probably the internal pressure rather than pressure from outside of that early on, but today absolutely she was back to her best. It was a really good performance.”

Young gun Franklin was another who caught the eye with the key forward beginning to find confidence and looking like the Gemma Houghton replacement long-term. The athletic talent is starting to come into her own and Cooper admitted that tall forwards always “take a fair bit of time” to develop.

“Amy’s a second-year player and we expect a lot of her, but today I thought she was fantastic,” Cooper said. Her competitiveness all day, she finished with 1.2 but just her work rate, her tackles, she did get that one high at the end but it could’ve been a match winning tackle as well if it was legal. Her intensity around the ball today was really good and exactly what we’re looking for.”

The win has got the proverbially “monkey off the back”, but Cooper knew that the work had just begun with a tough month coming up. The Dockers take on Melbourne at Fremantle Oval next Sunday, October 2 after a long 10-day break, before taking on both Adelaide and Collingwood which are crucial games if the Dockers are to play finals.

“It gives us the confidence that we’re on the right track, but we know we’ve got improvement in us,” Cooper said. “We kicked three goals and eight points today and it’s probably not actually the goal kicking, it’s probably a few things we could do better with our entries to get into better spots.

“The girls have been absolutely fantastic in taking in what we needed to do after that Geelong game, and like we said, we’re not going to fix everything at once but just fixing little things along the way, which we’ve done. We’ve got a big challenge next game in Melbourne as well, so we know that we have to keep getting better.”

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