Why the Dockers win Western Derby 50

Derby No. 1. Paul Keating was there somewhere. Photo: Getty
Derby No. 1. Paul Keating was there somewhere. Photo: Getty

SURELY not … could I really have sat through 49 Western Derbies?

With the average AFL match lasting about two-and-a-half hours, and accounting for the odd one missed here or there – that means I’ve spent a little over five days of my life watching the Eagles and Dockers knock hell out each other.

(It probably stretches past six, if you add up the minutes spent watching Dale Kickett/Phil Read and Michael Gardiner/Matthew Pavlich tussle on Fox Footy and news clips…)

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From Paul Keating surveying the new grandstand at Subi like Caesar in the very first Derby, through the dreadful guernseys, the wild brawls, the razor-thin thrillers and the one-sided floggings – we’ve pretty much seen it all.

And in this, the most wildly unpredictable AFL season pundits can recall, it’ll be the purple side who’ll be merry come Saturday night.

Here’s why the Dockers take Derby 50:

5. Michael Walters

One can only imagine the fevered dreams Brad Sheppard will be enduring on Friday, but you’d suspect Walters will feature heavily – twisting, turning, flying, staying down. The Eagles’ Mr Reliable has bounced back well this season from a severe hamstring injury that cost him his place in last year’s flag. But Walters is on another plane. Expect the two speedsters’ battle to go a long way toward the outcome.

4. No Starsky to replace Hutch

Mark Hutchings’ hamstring niggle is a big blow to the Eagles. Hutch is unheralded, but vitally important to the Eagles as a defensive midfielder. With Sheppard likely going to Walters when he’s close to goal, Hutchings had been used to shut down the Freo gun on occasions when he’s in the middle. How the Eagles do opt to replace Hutchings will be fascinating to see come 4.20pm Thursday.

Mark Hutchings on ice. Photo: Getty

3. Tall timber replanted

Both Aaron Sandilands and Rory Lobb are listed as ‘test’ on the Dockers’ injury list. It’s hard to imagine Sandilands, at 36 and coming off a year out the game, coming straight back in at the top level. But Lobb looms as a more likely option to ease the ruck burden on Sean Darcy. You’d expect at least one of the two to return, and either would be a big hand in helping Fremantle combat Nic Naitanui and Tom Hickey.

2. They weren’t far away last time

The Eagles stormed out of the blocks in Round 4, booting the first five goals as the Dockers butchered it in front of goal. Freo got right on top in the final three quarters though, eventually going down by just 13 points in the worst game of footy ever played. But since that night the young Dockers have grown up a bit – with road wins against GWS and Collingwood, plus victories over Brisbane and Port Adelaide, giving them a sense that when they’re on, they’re good enough for anyone.

Is Sandilands a realistic chance of coming back?

1. They’re due.

Actually, they’re past due. They haven’t tasted Derby success since Round 3, 2015. If we’re to measure the hunger levels on Saturday night, Fremantle will resemble a recently returned Survivor contestant walking into Sizzler. West Coast’s motivation has been questionable all year. After a home debacle against Carlton on Sunday, the Dockers will question it relentlessly this weekend.

greig.johnston@communitynews.com.au