Disclaimer: I’m a West Coast Eagles fan, so figure that into your assessments when considering my objectivity. However, for the purposes of this prediction, I’m calling that the Eagles will be the best performed of all the expansion teams.
While Fremantle Football Club’s birth certificate reads 17 July, 1994, history will look back on September 16, 2011, as the day the Fremantle Dockers arrived as a legitimate force that commanded respect.
The day it appointed Ross Lyon as coach.
It had shown flashes of a club attempting to be bold to make its way in the game. Trading its number one draft pick in 2001 to secure the services of Trent Croad and future All-Australian Luke McPharlin is one example of a club attempting to be bold.
The early years of the Fremantle Football Club are marred by what have since been viewed with the benefit of hindsight as shoddy recruiting. This scribe cannot remember a club who re-drafted so many players after establishing careers over east. Peter Bell. Heath Black. Brad Wira. Adam McPhee. And that was compounded by letting quality players such as Andrew McLeod, Phil Matera, Matthew Lloyd and Scott Lucas slip through its fingers.
It had taken steps towards legitimacy, with the restructuring of the brand to shed the green and red a masterstroke.
But rarely has a club been so ruthless, in the way it targeted Ross Lyon in early September of 2011. It was a ruthlessness rarely seen down at Fremantle Oval. Members, seemingly conditioned to act shocked and dismayed, threatened to microwave their memberships in staunch support of their fallen adopted son, Mark Harvey. Former coaches and players slammed CEO Steve Rosich and president Steve Harris for the calculated and merciless disposal of the former Essendon champion.
It was a sign of a club finally maturing. It fit the bill of an AFL club that had what it took to make it. Decisions like those are ones that transform a club, and for the Fremantle faithful, it is one that is set to pay dividends. By Round 1, 2012, Fremantle had knocked off the reigning premier with the best coach in the land steering the ship, and the club was on its way.
Purple haze all in my eyes
Don’t know if it’s day or night
You’ve got me blowin, blowin my mind
Is it tomorrow or just the end of time?
– Jimi Hendrix
No matter the position on the ground, if you have the football, looking up or downfield against Fremantle is the equivalent of running into a thick purple mist, one that suffocates the life out of you.
A few teething problems arose, as is wont when a new coach assumes the reins. But those who witnessed the Elimination Final in 2012 soon realised that, if the Dockers can replicate that maniacal pressure for four quarters and 26 weeks, it could be the tonic to deliver a long-awaited premiership to Fremantle Oval.
It is the game plan that makes Lyon the best coach in the land – not only for the plan but what he uses to emulate the plan. Not once did Fremantle have their best side on the park. Their skipper, Matthew Pavlich, missed large chunks of the season with achilles trouble and suspension. Towering ruckman Aaron Sandilands also had his injury woes. But the impact both players had late in the Qualifying Final against Geelong point to their importance.
What Lyon has at his disposal is arguably a better all-round side than what he had during his golden years at St Kilda, because the bottom six players are simply more rounded and more effective. Lee Spurr’s game at Simonds Stadium is a testament to that.
It’s interesting to note that one similarity both the Dockers’ inaugural side and the current team share is that both had two players who had experienced a Grand Final. In 1995, Stephen O’Reilly lined up in a back pocket with the 1994 Grand Final loss to West Coast as a young Geelong backman fresh in his mind, while the side’s skipper, Ben Allan, was not only part of the Hawthorn 1991 premiership, but took home the best and fairest also. I
f the side gets to the big dance, it will look to Zac Dawson (St Kilda 2009, 2010×2) and Danyle Pearce (Port Adelaide, 2007) for guidance.
The year 2013 presents Fremantle with its best chance to take home silverware. There is a possibility that they will take on their 2006 nemesis Sydney in a preliminary final, but the vast expanses of Patersons Stadium should prove too much for the beleaguered Swans.
The Dockers’ time is now. There are no ghosts of Grand Finals’ past to haunt them. With ageing stars such as Pavlich, Sandilands and McPharlin in tow, there is every possibility that the Purple Haze will descend on the MCG for the last Saturday in September. They certainly have the game plan, and the cattle, but whether they have the temperament remains to be seen.
But if they do pull it off, tens of thousands of fans adorned in purple will be jubilant. They would rule the state. A lot of water has to pass under the bridge of course, but if the final bell rings with the Dockers in front, they would have the perfect excuse to kiss the the sky.
And for twenty years in the making, no one would begrudge them of that.