It’s Ross Lyon’s way or no play

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Fremantle coach Ross Lyon, hotting up just in time for the finals. (Slattery Images)

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Ross Lyon’s status as one of the AFL’s best coaches continues to grow. Yes, I know it’s only round one, but his Fremantle Dockers were very impressive, especially in the second half, in dismantling the West Coast Eagles in their season opener on the weekend.

The Eagles were the favourites and one of the pre-season fancies to win the flag.

It’s far too early to jump off them as they were missing key players in Nick Natianui, Daniel Kerr And Matt Rosa, and lost star forward Mark Lecras to another injury (this time a broken arm after missing all of 2012 with a knee reconstruction) but the Dockers made them look second rate, particularly after half time.

Fremantle are in Ross Lyon territory: in the zone and all on the same page. They were fanatical in their attack on the ball and the man.

As is part of Lyon’s mantra they were outstanding with their pressure both in attack and in defence, forcing the Eagles into numerous skill errors.

They were not at full strength either, missing probably their most important player in Aaron Sandilands.

Jonathon Griffin proved to be an able replacement, keeping one of the competition’s best ruckmen, Dean Cox, in check.

Lyon loves his role players and Griffin is one of those. Much like the Sydney Swans he also relishes the challenge of taking on players from other clubs and making them better. Griffin is one of those, having started his career with Adelaide.

Fullback Zac Dawson is another. It’s the second time Lyon has reignited Dawson after the pair joined forces at St Kilda, following Dawson’s delisting from Hawthorn.

Former Port Adelaide midfielder, Danyle Pearce has joined the Dockers this season and showed in one game that he has bought into Lyon’s way.

He has always been a fine outside runner but he also provided pressure and played his role like other Lyon favourites Matt DeBoer, Clancee Pearce, one of the most improved players in the competition, Tendai Mzungu and Michael Johnson.

Pearce and Johnson had been at the Dockers for a while before Lyon arrived but were marking time. Lyon has certainly made them vital components of the team in just one season.

The coach was honest with Pearce, who had been on the rookie list for a few years, saying he needed to lose some weight off his backside and work harder if he wanted to make it.

Clancee certainly has and is now close to one of the first picked.

Johnson was struggling off the field as well as on, but Lyon got him back on track and he is now of three tall defenders in an excellent defence which is fast becoming one of the best in the league.

Small forward Michael Walters is another who was told at the start of last year that he wasn’t fit enough to play. He was told it was up to him to present himself in a proper fashion otherwise his career could have been over before it started.

Luckily, the Swan Districts recruit wanted in, and by the second half of the season made the team and was causing havoc on the forward line.

He is now the X factor up front alongside Hayden Ballantyne, another Ross Lyon disciple of the highest order, Chris Mayne, who was runner up in the best and fairest last year and of course the pea in the pod, Matthew Pavlich.

The Dockers’ greatest player so far took some time to adjust to Lyon’s coaching and game plan, but come the second half of the season it all fitted beautifully.

Scoring goals, especially during Lyon’s most successful days at the Saints, was never his strongest suit, but this Fremantle forward line looks more potent by the minute, although another tall forward would be handy.

The Dockers have never made the finals two seasons in a row.

They certainly have the right coach to make that happen and his demanding ways and intensity will see him do everything in his power to ensure that happens.

Saturday was a great start.

Dan Lonergan is one Australia's most respected and versatile commentators. In more than 16 years on ABC Grandstand he has covered AFL footy (including four Grand Finals), cricket, tennis, and three Olympic Games, including London 2012 where he commentated 16 sports.
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