Fremantle’s transformation is complete
Freo recruit Lachie Neale in the NAB Cup (Slattery Images)
This is weird. I’m confused by feelings of respect and admiration for Fremantle, a side that was once the laughing stock of the AFL. But not anymore.
The Dockers have undergone a transformation of Extreme Makeover proportions over the past 24 months.
The result is: a win-loss record that has only been bettered once before in club history, a seventh-placed finish that gives them a difficult but doable run in the finals, and an external perception that is worlds away from what Fremantle used to represent.
They will not win the flag this year, but they now play a brand of football that is capable of delivering one. Given where they came from, this is an achievement in itself.
Let’s start from the start. There were two key moves that shifted the image of the seaside club away from the bad, bad Freo of old – the Freo that has been ridiculed and dismissed from day dot.
The first was the superficial redressing of October 2010 – a new logo, a new set of guernseys and the abandonment of green and red. Fremantle is purple and white. Three chevrons across the chest. Simple, classic, effective. Boom.
Gone was the anchor and the bad feng shui and the jokes that it was keeping them stuck at the bottom of the ladder. That was easy.
But the hard part was living up to what this new, confident image was trying to say.
What made people change the way they thought about Fremantle was an audacious move nearly a year later, the likes of which have rarely been seen in the AFL bubble.
Ross Lyon to Freo? The thought had never even crossed anyone’s minds.
And yet the Dockers hierarchy pulled off a stunning coach poach in September last year that set them up for a climb up the table in 2012.
What is Lyon known for? An unabated focus on defence, often to the point where his teams are unwatchable.
That has been true of the Dockers for much of this season. It is obviously the reason for their success this term.
Fremantle’s best season on record was 2006, when they finished third with a 15-7 record and a percentage of 109.83.
That’s one more win than 2012, but you’d take the current Freo vintage any day of the week.
Their greater percentage (115.67) stems from Lyon’s ‘big squeeze’ philosophy, which makes it near-impossible to put a big score past them.
But over the last nine weeks Lyon’s grinders have added potency in attack to the mix. The Dockers have won eight of those games, and on eight of those occasions has their score surpassed 90 points.
Only a fool would completely write them off ahead of their elimination final clash with Geelong at the MCG on Saturday. They know how to restrict free-flowing sides.
Yes, the Dockers are up against it. But remember that the last time they took on the Cats, they were four-point victors.
It was at Patersons Stadium in round one this year – so at a different ground, and nearly a lifetime ago. However, this was no mere win – this was an epic, epic battle against the reigning premiers, one that will live long in the memory for both sides.
And this new Freo outfit is in form and fearless.
Fremantle is no longer a dirty word. They can upset the apple cart this September and beyond.
The rebrand and the head-hunting of Lyon were statements of intent from the Dockers, that they no longer want to be the office joke.
Now when you think of Fremantle, you don’t think of abhorrent guernsey designs, or that embarrassing blonde mop-topped surfer mascot (he’s probably still around though), or an ingrained losing culture.
You think of a club that once had lost its way, but has now found legitimacy. You think of a side that plays strangling, suffocating football.
And you certainly don’t think your side is going to have an easy time against them. Geelong included.
Vince Rugari is an Adelaide-born journalist who cut his teeth on the sporting graveyard that is the Gold Coast. He fancies the round ball and the Sherrin, and used to be a handy leg-spin bowler before injury curtailed a baggy green push. He is a Port Adelaide fan by birth, as painful as that has been recently. He's now sports editor of The Area News in Griffith, NSW.
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