In VFL/AFL history terms, Fremantle is still a young club, having been in the competition for only 24 years (since 1995).
Ross Lyon has long polarised opinion. Even during his most successful periods at St Kilda and Fremantle, supporters and media pundits alike bemoaned his ultra-defensive gameplan but, due to its undoubted success, the knives were kept in the kitchen.
However, as the results dropped off, he has been subjected to increasing criticism of his gameplan, team selection and appetite to rebuild a struggling Dockers side. But, despite his poor run of recent results, Lyon deserves more time in the job to rebuild this side.
Firstly, there is criticism based on his game style. It is emphasises stopping the opposition, utilising strength in the clearances and stoppages, then counter attacking. For all of the unwarranted criticism, it has been extraordinarily successful at two clubs.
Lyon gets his players to buy into the philosophy and then execute it at all levels.
Lyon’s record as an AFL coach is truly imposing. He led St Kilda to three consecutive finals appearances, including two grand finals, which were both lost by narrow margins.
He then led Fremantle to four consecutive finals appearances, winning a minor premiership and reaching a grand final before the dropped off in 2016.
Over 240 games coached, he has a winning percentage of 62.3, which ranks up there with the best ever coaches in the game. The game will ebb and flow and there will be tactical shifts, but Lyon’s philosophy has held up for ten years. With some tweaks to offensive ball movements, there is no reason why it cannot work with the right group of players.
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The next section of criticism levelled at him is his inability to rebuild a team.
He took a great bunch of players who were underachieving at St Kilda and elevated them to within a kick of the premiership on two occasions. The list struggled after he left but the goal of the team is to win a grand final, not keep the side competitive after the window has closed.
He should not have to apologise for his attempts to win the flag. Had he been successful, then there would be no complaints even if the Saints had bottomed out in 2012.
After jumping ship to Fremantle, Lyon again took a group of highly talented, but ultimately underachieving players to greater heights.
The point of this is that Lyon has never had to rebuild a list, so we cannot write him off without giving him a chance. His emphasis on the ‘here and now’ in the midst of a premiership window does not mean he has no ability to regenerate the Dockers. The list still contains nine players over the age of 29 and hard decisions will certainly need to be made.
The Round 3 win over the reigning premiers, the Western Bulldogs, showed that, with the addition of some younger players and more aggressive ball movement, September action may not be too far away.
After a successful 2015 season where they made the finals, 2016 was quite a fall from grace. There are multiple reasons for this, such as injuries, loss of form and an ageing list that no longer had the hunger and mettle to push for the flag.
This season has started off poorly with two disappointing losses before the Bulldogs win. There will be pain ahead but over the last 15 years, Collingwood, Adelaide and Port Adelaide all took turns near the bottom of the ladder before rebuilding over several years.
Patience is required, and if the Fremantle board do not have the stomach for this, then they should be the ones to fall for showing a lack of insight.
The board know what they will get from Lyon in terms of coaching methods and gameplan. Hopefully, they share a common vision to allow Ross Lyon his deserved chance to regenerate Fremantle.