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Time for Sharks to Snap Derby Streak

By Jacob Landsmeer

It’s been a long time between derby wins for East Fremantle. Some 2,243 days to be exact.

6th June 2016 was a significant date in WAFL history, even if we didn’t know it at the time.

Rob Wiley’s East Fremantle defeated South Fremantle by 39 points on a damp WA Day Monday public holiday afternoon at Fremantle Oval, giving them a three-game gap inside the top five after 12 rounds of that season.

It continued a 13-game derby streak of matches won by the away side, a remarkable coincidence that no one could quite work out.

Malcolm Turnbull was Prime Minister. The number one song in Australia was ‘This is What You Came For’ by Calvin Harris and Rihanna. George Michael was still alive and TikTok was still a biscuit rather than a social media app.

Fast forward to round 16, 2023. South Fremantle has since dominated the modern-day Fremantle rivalry, winning 15 consecutive derbies by an average winning margin of 59 points.

The biggest of those was victories was by 145 points at Shark Park in 2017. Tim Kelly kicked seven goals that day for the Bulldogs, having played at then grand total of zero AFL games, the red and whites kicking 28 majors on a dark afternoon for the Sharks.

That was my first experience of a Fremantle derby as a broadcaster.

I’d experienced many as a fan before, the emotions ranging from the delight of a victory over the cross-town rival to the devastation of a loss to the arch enemy.

Driving home that night it felt like it might be a little while before the Sharks won another derby, but never in my wildest imagination did I think the boys from Moss Street would still be searching for an end to the streak in July of 2023.

The Fremantle derby is Western Australian Football’s oldest rivalry. It dates all the way back to 1900, dividing the town and often testing people’s allegiances on the wharf.

Even if you’re not an Old Easts or South Fremantle fan, you understand the rivalry.

There have been great games and unforgettable moments. Think of the 1979 Grand Final in front of more than 52,000 people at Subiaco Oval, the Sharks upset win in the 1992 Grand Final or Souths ruining the Sharks centenary celebrations in 1997.

What about South Fremantle captain Noel Carter’s famous point to win the game at East Fremantle Oval in 1983, or Easts upsetting the eventual premiership Bulldogs by the same margin in front of 11,051 fans in 2009?

The late great Percy Johnson always told the Sport FM audience of the halcyon days of the Fremantle rivalry, when the clubs shared Fremantle Oval and trained at opposite ends of the ground on weeknights, often exchanging barbs and more than once coming to blows.

Lately there have been no physical blows, just mental and metaphorical blows from South Fremantle to their beleaguered opponents.

Simply put, East Fremantle hasn’t fired a shot for many a year in their biggest game (s) of the home and away season.

It should be mentioned that South Fremantle have been an outstanding club for a number of years now, winning a premiership in 2020 and making a preliminary final or better every year from 2016 to 2021.

East Fremantle have been down the bottom of the ladder for that time, only returning to finals last year after failing to qualify from 2015-21.

However, the limp nature of many of their performances in derbies has been cause of much consternation for their loyal fans, who continue to turn up in hope of a different result.

So now comes the question everyone wants an answer to- why can’t East Fremantle beat South Fremantle?

For a long time you could mount a strong case that the Sharks simply weren’t good enough to compete with a far superior Souths side. You can’t make that argument anymore.

It’s now purely a mental hurdle for East Fremantle to overcome. The little voice on the shoulder that acts as a seed of doubt for a group of Sharks players, that bar captain Matthew Jupp and defender Cameron Eardley have not tasted success against their local rival in their careers.

Eardley squandered a chance to be the hero in 2022, missing a late shot for goal that could’ve ended the streak. His courage in this year’s WA Day derby clash at the WACA showcased his willingness to be up for the fight and atone for that error.

Sadly, it was lacking from many of his teammates on a wet afternoon. Too many excuses have been rolled by players and coaches out of recent times for derby defeats.

“It was a wet day, we would’ve beaten them if it was dry.”

“If the ball bounced left rather than right we would’ve won.”

“We don’t have to beat South Fremantle to win a premiership, it’s just another game.”

The time for excuses is over for East Fremantle. A once mighty club that for too long that has accepted mediocrity, threatening to finally turn a corner and attack an elusive 30th premiership.

The Sharks sit third on the ladder, having won their past four matches and heading for a second consecutive finals campaign.

South Fremantle is limping to the finish line in 2023, hampered by a pre-season salary cap punishment that cost them eight premiership points and no shortage of belief.

Looking purely at form lines and talent availability, it’s hard to make a case for South Fremantle. Looking at history, it’s hard to make a case for the other mob.

One team turns up and wins derbies, the other turns up and loses with a whimper.

The constant message out of the East Fremantle camp is that this clash carries no more significance than any other match in the season.

That diatribe needs to stop. This is a rivalry that means so much to East Fremantle people, whether past players, coaches and administrators or fans. Time and time again they have turned up to a derby, seen their team get belted and cop a torrent of banter and abuse from the other mob.

I’ve been blessed to work for Sport FM on our WAFL coverage since 2017, calling numerous big games and six WAFL Grand Finals.

However, I’ve called a grand total of zero East Fremantle derby wins. Should they suffer a 16th straight derby loss, I won’t call another Fremantle Derby for the station. Why should I turn up if one team continually doesn’t?

Right now, this isn’t a rivalry. This is a domination by one team over the other.

This isn’t just another game. East Fremantle, it’s time to snap the streak.

IMAGES: The West Australian.


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