Fremantle’s brave call to sack Harvey pays off
Mark Harvey’s sacking and replacement with Ross Lyon raised many an eyebrow about whether loyalty existed in football anymore.
As we enter the halfway point of the AFL season, it is becoming apparent the Dockers made the right decision.
Lyon, unhappy with his contractual situation at St Kilda, disillusioned with the power of Chris Pelchen to override him in his role of Head of Football, negotiated multi-million dollar contract with the Dockers without his management team knowing.
Harvey, who still had a year left to run on his coaching contract at the Dockers was sacked, and Fremantle completed one of the most radical coups in its history as Lyon was instated as coach.
Lyon has been subject to masses of criticism as to how the situation was handled by all angles, including Fremantle fans who believed Harvey’s sacking was unfair due to the crippling injury toll he had suffered in 2011, at one point only having 25 fit players to choose from.
The history of the Fremantle Football Club is littered with great individual players, an exciting game style, and horrendous inconsistency. The Dockers have made the finals three times in their 17-year history, in 2003, 2006 and 2010. They were the tipster’s nightmare, as likely to beat a top team in front of their home crowd at Subiaco Oval as they were to get beaten by the worst team in the competition away from home.
Lyon has changed all this. No longer is it about the individual brilliance of Sandilands or Pavlich, nor about winning by considerable margins one week and then losing by bigger margins away from home the next.
The Dockers now provide a rigid, effort based contest and their defensive game style may be tough to watch at times, but has kept them in the contest in almost every game it has played this season, aside from games against Hawthorn in Launceston and West Coast at Patterson’s stadium.
The highest margin that Lyon has ever been beaten by as a senior coach is 61 points, by Carlton in 2010. Mark Harvey’s is 117 points, by Adelaide in 2009. Lyon has only been beaten by 60 points or more on three occasions in five and a half years as a senior coach, Harvey has lost by over 60 points 14 times, and two of those were by over 100 points.
Lyon’s defensive style keeps his teams in the game for long periods, and although it leaves them susceptible to low percentage due to lack of scoring, his methods took him within a different bounce of the ball of being a premiership coach in both 2009 and 2010 while at St Kilda.
Lyon’s game style has been described by Kevin Bartlett as “unwatchable.” Former Carlton great Marc Maclure stated that Lyon “destroys the game” commenting that Lyon went to Fremantle not because he loved the club but because “they offered him a lot of money.”
Lyon will always be subject to harsh criticism while coach of Fremantle due to the circumstances under which he came to the position, however he is regarded as tactically one of the best coaches in the AFL, and is renowned for getting everything out of his players.
Lyon demanded elite standards of his players, and made his expectations for “great conditioning and great skinfolds” well known. His buzzword of “effort” became one of the most used nouns in the vocabulary of Dockers players. In his first pre-season in charge of Fremantle, Matthew Pavlich took 20 seconds off his best three kilometre time trial, no mean feat for a 30-year-old known as an exceptional runner.
Michael Johnson lost five kilograms, Ryan Crowley nine, and both players are having stellar years. Johnson is second in the AFL for marks (83) playing deep in defence while Crowley has done great jobs as Fremantle’s number one tagger, his ability to take Brett Deledio out of the game against Richmond at the MCG had a major influence on the result going the Dockers way.
Clancee Pearce, who was likely to be delisted if Mark Harvey remained at the helm, trained throughout the holiday period before pre-season to earn his chance under Lyon. His hard work is paying off, earning a breakout season with the Dockers, averaging 18.6 disposals per game.
The Dockers sit six and five, 11th on the AFL ladder, however the three teams above them, St Kilda, Carlton and Richmond, have all played 12 games this season.
Crucially, the Dockers have been able to win games away from home, something they were incapable of doing under Harvey. Harvey’s interstate record was atrocious, with 11 wins and 33 losses in the 44 games he coached away from Pattersons’ stadium. In the five away games Lyon has coached the Dockers sit three wins two losses, losing to Hawthorn in Launceston and Sydney narrowly by 13 points at the SCG.
The Dockers record under Harvey in Melbourne is even worse, with two wins from 20 games. In his four and a half year tenure as coach of the Dockers, Harvey never won a game at the MCG. In Lyon’s first appearance at the MCG as Fremantle coach, the Dockers beat Richmond by 12 points in a game no one gave them a chance in. They broke a run of 10 straight defeats at the venue.
Indeed, it has taken Lyon two trips as Fremantle coach to Melbourne to collect as many wins as Harvey had in 20 opportunities. Lyon took the Dockers to a memorable 13 point victory over St Kilda in Etihad Stadium in round three, which began to raise eyebrows in the football community that the Dockers had potentially come of age.
The players and coaching staff have mentioned several times that the Dockers wish to become an “anywhere, any team” club, and a three and two away record in 2012 suggests they are well on their way to doing so.
The AFL is a business environment, and although the way which Lyon came to Fremantle is viewed by much of the football public as disloyal, Lyon is far more likely to bring consistency and finals appearances to a club that has had few throughout its history.
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