In VFL/AFL history terms, Fremantle is still a young club, having been in the competition for only 24 years (since 1995).
As one of only three current teams not to have won a premiership, at least the Dockers have it over the two others (Greater Western Sydney and Gold Coast Suns) in that the club has been there on the big day, losing by 15 points to Hawthorn in 2013.
Ross Lyon was the coach of the losing side that day, having previously been coach of the losing side (St Kilda) in 2009 and 2010. In fairness, 2010 was lost in a replay after drawing the first grand final with Collingwood, so he lost the opportunity to be remembered as a premiership coach by one point.
Instead he was given his marching orders (along with the CEO) with one game remaining in 2019. Although contracted until the end of 2020, Lyon had coached over 300 games and 2019 was the fourth year in a row that they had failed to make the finals.
The AFL Record had stated it succinctly in their season preview of Fremantle: “Dockers need to start delivering” and they didn’t.
At times they looked potential finalists, but were never convincing enough to suggest 2019 was going to be anything except a lost year. The trade of the brilliant Lachie Neale to Brisbane was a huge blow to the club, and a masterstroke by Brisbane.
The Dockers have already started clearing the cupboard with the delisting of Hayden Ballentyne, Harley Bennell and Shaun Kersten and the retirement of Aaron Sandilands, and each of these has their own story.
Sandilands was kept on the list in the hope that if the Dockers could make the finals he would be a handy contestant. Still the third greatest game player and 18th greatest goal scorer at Fremantle, Sandilands is the tallest player in the league (equal with Mason Cox) and – at 36 – one of the oldest – but was restricted to six games for the year near the business end and the Dockers lost four of these.
Hayden Ballentyne, after appearing in Round 1, played only two more (also at the business end of the season) and both these were losses. Ballantyne finished his career as equal with Paul Duffield as the 15th greatest Docker game player, but was overtaken as a goal scorer during the year by Michael Walters, so now sits in third position on Fremantle’s top 100 goal scorers.
The trials and tribulations of Harley Bennell – recruited from Gold Coast in 2016 – have been well documented. He played a total of two games in four years at the Dockers and appears to be another example of the misplaced faith and patience Ross Lyon has displayed with his “troops”.
The club is not without talent. Elite players David Mundy, Nat Fyfe and Michael Walters were joined on the top 100 game players list this year by Ethan Hughes, Luke Ryan, Cam McCarthy and Adam Cerra and a new, more demanding coach will have plenty of material to work with in 2020.