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The decade that was: Fremantle Dockers

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Roar Guru
29th November, 2019
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After a horrid 2009 season that resulted in a bottom-three finish, Fremantle bounced back with a strong start to the 2010 decade, advancing to the semi-finals before a heavy defeat from Geelong.

The Dockers appeared on track to make back-to-back September campaigns in 2011 before a horror capitulation saw them lose their final seven games of the season. This would result in the shock sacking of coach Mark Harvey after 39 wins from 97 matches. While Ross Lyon was still contracted to St Kilda, the Dockers sensationally announced him as their new senior coach.

Fremantle would have immediate success under Lyon, with the Dockers winning their first ever interstate final in 2012, knocking off Geelong at the MCG. A semi-final loss to Adelaide would put an end to a promising season, but Fremantle would bounce back with a 16-and-a-half-win campaign in 2013.

In a qualifying final against Geelong at Kardinia Park, the Dockers stunned the Cats by 15 points, setting up a home preliminary final against Sydney. The Dockers advanced through to their first grand final in club history, however were defeated by Hawthorn in a scrappy contest in front of over 100,000 spectators.

Another 16-win season in 2014 resulted in another top-four finish, however Fremantle would bow out of September in straight sets. The following year, the Dockers would have a dominant campaign, finishing the regular season on top of the ladder for the first time. A home preliminary final against the Hawks gave Fremantle the chance to set up a dream Western Australian grand final against West Coast, but the Hawks would pull off an upset.

After their deflating exit from the 2015 finals race, the Dockers fell from grace the year after, winning just four matches for the season and finishing in 16th position. Fremantle would win eight matches in each of the next two seasons, but a nine-win campaign in 2019 would spell the end of Ross Lyon’s tenure at the Dockers after 96 wins in 184 games.

Former Dockers forward and ex-Collingwood assistant coach Justin Longmuir was announced as Fremantle’s seventh senior coach heading into the 2020 decade.

Justin Longmuir

Justin Longmuir is the new coach of the Dockers. (Photo by Kelly Defina/Getty Images)

Best wins

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Elimination final, 2012 – Geelong 11.14.80 defeated by Fremantle 14.12.96 (MCG)
A sensational resurgence in the back half of the 2012 season saw Fremantle rise from 13th on the ladder at the end of Round 14 to seventh, setting up a tricky knock-out final against the reigning premiers Geelong at the MCG. A stunning start to the match saw the Dockers kick the opening eight goals of the contest, and while the Cats would do their best to get back into the game, Fremantle held on to record their first ever finals win outside of Perth. Captain Matthew Pavlich was the hero for the Dockers, kicking six goals.

Qualifying final, 2013 – Geelong 9.18.72 defeated by Fremantle 12.15.87 (GMHBA Stadium)
Same opponent, different year, different stakes. A year after they upset the Cats at the MCG, Fremantle would again be scheduled to play Geelong, this time in a qualifying final at GMHBA Stadium. Seen as rank outsiders by many, the Dockers recovered from a 20-point deficit early in the second quarter to lead at both half time and three-quarter time. In a tense final term, Geelong were held goalless as Fremantle powered away to pull off one of the most memorable victories in the history of the club.

Preliminary final, 2013 – Fremantle 14.15.99 defeated Sydney 11.8.74 (Subiaco)
The win against Geelong set up Fremantle’s first ever home preliminary final, taking on the reigning premiers Sydney. In front of the biggest crowd the Dockers ever played in front of in a game not involving West Coast at Subiaco, the Dockers proved far too good, leading by 43 points at the final change. Fremantle would go through to their first grand final in club history against Hawthorn.

Worst losses

Round 9, 2012 – West Coast 11.18.84 defeated Fremantle 5.6.36 (Subiaco)
After a promising start to life under Ross Lyon, Fremantle would be found wanting in their first Western Derby under the former St Kilda coach. After a scrappy opening half that saw both sides kick a combined five goals, the Eagles would run away with it after half time, keeping the Dockers to both their lowest score ever at Subiaco Oval, and to their lowest score in a Derby at the time. Lyon would be criticised for his over-defensive style of play in the aftermath of the match, which eventually led to a more attacking game style that would take the Dockers into the finals that year.

Semi-final, 2014 – Fremantle 11.17.83 defeated by Port Adelaide 15.15.105 (Subiaco)
Looking to avenge their grand final defeat against the Hawks a year prior, the top-four Dockers would suffer a loss in their first final of 2014, forcing them into a knockout clash with Port Adelaide at home. A 31-point lead late in the second quarter was quickly erased by the Power, who kicked 13 of the final 18 goals of the game to run out convincing winners, sending Fremantle out of the finals in straight sets.

Round 22, 2018 – Geelong 24.14.158 defeated Fremantle 3.7.25 (GMHBA)
As a frustrating 2018 campaign came to a close, the Dockers would face a daunting trip to Geelong to take on the Cats in the penultimate round of the season. With three of the first four goals, Fremantle started brightly, but things quickly turned south for Ross Lyon’s men. The Dockers conceded a VFL/AFL record of 23 consecutive goals after quarter time, kicking only five behinds after the first break. It resulted in Fremantle’s largest defeat in the history of the club.

Moments that shaped the club

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Ross Lyon’s appointment
After a bitterly disappointing finish to a 2011 campaign savaged by injuries, Fremantle sacked coach Mark Harvey with one year still remaining on his contract. In one of the biggest footballing stories of the decade, St Kilda coach Ross Lyon – who also had a year to run on his contract – resigned from the Saints before becoming the new head coach of the Dockers, only a few days after the Saints’ loss to Sydney in an elimination final.

Ross Lyon Fremantle Dockers AFL 2017

(AAP Image/Julian Smith)

In a move that would change the persona of the club, both Lyon and the Dockers were criticised for effectively stabbing Harvey in the back following a 97-game tenure. The coaching change would have immediate success for Fremantle, with Lyon taking Fremantle to a club-record four consecutive years of September appearances, including their first ever grand final.

Move to Burswood and Cockburn
Early in the 2015 season, it was announced that Fremantle would be moving to a new facility in the Perth suburb of Cockburn. The state-of-the-art centre was opened in 2017, with the Dockers moving both their administration and training facilities from Fremantle Oval. The Cockburn Aquatic and Recreation Centre features modern technology, allowing Fremantle to train on a football oval that can automatically adjust to the dimensions of other stadiums around Australia, with 6000-square-metre dedicated to the Dockers, three times the size of their old facilities at Fremantle Oval.

The construction of the new Perth Stadium in Burswood also saw Fremantle move their home matches after 17 years of playing at Subiaco Oval. The 60,000-seat stadium was opened in 2018, with Fremantle and West Coast setting a record for the biggest home-and-away attendance for a game in Perth when they met in 2019. After two seasons playing at Optus Stadium, the Dockers have a 14-11 record.

Ross Lyon’s sacking
After four years of decline following a run of on-field success, relationships between coach Ross Lyon and Fremantle’s board became strained, especially after Lyon was the target of a sexual harassment claim made by a former club employee in 2019. With one game remaining in Fremantle’s 2019 campaign, Lyon was sacked after 184 matches as head coach. CEO Steve Rosich also departed the club on the same day, after reports of conflict over the key directions of the club. Former Fremantle forward Justin Longmuir was announced as the new coach of the Dockers heading into 2020 following key assistant coaching tenures at both West Coast and Collingwood. Replacing Rosich in the CEO position after 11 years was Simon Garlick.

Best 22 of the decade

Back pocket – Lee Spurr
A mature-age recruit from Central Districts in the SANFL, Spurr played 120 courageous games across seven seasons with the Dockers, finishing in the top ten of the Doig Medal four times, including a top five placing in Fremantle’s grand final year of 2013. A knee injury ended his career in 2018.

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Full back – Zac Dawson
The reliable defender spent majority of his three-club AFL career at Fremantle, playing 89 games after crossing from St Kilda alongside Ross Lyon at the end of 2011. Dawson was named joint player of the finals in 2014, retiring from his 166-game career in 2017.

Back pocket – Michael Johnson
Played 160 games in the 2010 decade, finishing in the top ten of the club best and fairest four times, including two top-three placings, one of them coming in Freo’s successful 2013 campaign. That year, Johnson also made the All Australian side. Johnson retired at the end of 2018 having played the equal fourth most games in the history of the Dockers.

Half back – Paul Duffield
The running defender played 126 of his 171 career games during the 2010 decade, forming an integral part of the Fremantle back six. He would represent Australia in the 2010 International Rules series against Ireland, before hanging up the boots at the conclusion of the 2015 season.

Centre half back – Luke McPharlin
One of the best players to pull on the purple guernsey, McPharlin played 105 of his 256 games during the latest decade, winning All Australian honours for the only time in his career in 2012. He finished in the top ten of the Doig Medal four times between 2010 and 2015. McPharlin was a key member of Fremantle’s grand final campaign in 2013, but injuries in his final two seasons would force him into retirement. Equal with Michael Johnson, McPharlin sits fourth for the most amount of games played by a Docker.

Half back – Garrick Ibbotson
Maligned at times, Ibbotson played 142 games across the 2010 decade. His 2015 campaign would be the best of his career as he reinvented himself as an intercept defender. He would earn selection in the All Australian squad of 40, but missed out on making the team. Ibbotson retired somewhat surprisingly at the age of 29 following just ten games in the 2017 season.

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Wing – Stephen Hill
The smooth-moving Hill has been a constant on the wings of Subiaco Oval and Optus Stadium across his 184 games in the decade. In his second season at the senior level, Hill was awarded the AFL Coaches Association’s best young player of the year award in 2010, before playing a key role in Fremantle’s rise up the ladder during Ross Lyon’s early tenure at the Dockers. Hill is also a Ross Glendinning Medallist for being the best player on the ground in a Western Derby. Hill has finished in the top ten of the Doig Medal eight times across the decade, including consecutive top three placings between 2014 and 2016. Quad injuries have restricted the veteran to just 16 games in the last two seasons.

Centre – David Mundy
The Dockers veteran has been one of Fremantle’s most storied players throughout the 2010 decade, finishing in the top ten of the Doig Medal every single year, winning it once and coming runner-up on three occasions. A Ross Glendinning Medallist, Mundy earned All Australian selection after a standout 2015 campaign, while he also came equal-ninth in the Brownlow Medal. It resulted in him taking over from Matthew Pavlich as the club captain in 2016, a position he held for one year. Mundy has played 208 games since the start of the decade, becoming the second Docker to reach the 300-game milestone in 2019.

Wing – Bradley Hill
The younger of the Hill brothers, Bradley joined Fremantle at the end of 2016 after winning three premierships with Hawthorn. The hard-running midfielder played 54 matches in three seasons with the Dockers, winning the Doig Medal in 2017 before claiming a podium finish in 2019. Despite having two years remaining on his contract, Hill requested a trade back to Victoria at the conclusion of 2019.

Half forward – Michael Walters
The extremely talented Walters endured some tough Ross Lyon love at the start of the decade, barred from participating in training with his teammates and sent back to train and play with the Swan Districts side for being overweight and unfit at the beginning of 2012. It would be the wake-up call Walters needed to realise his potential, quickly becoming an integral part of the Fremantle side. Walters is a five-time leading goal-kicker for the club, including in Fremantle’s 2013 grand final year and their maiden premiership season of 2015. He has also finished in the top ten of the Doig Medal six times, with a runner-up placing his best effort in 2019 after a brilliant campaign. With 259 goals, Walters has kicked the second most amount of goals by any Docker this decade.

Centre half forward – Matthew Pavlich
The only man to kick more goals than Walters during the decade. The greatest player in the history of the club played 140 of his club record 353 games during the decade, winning one of his six best and fairest awards during the 2010 era, while he won Fremantle’s goal-kicking award in 2010 and 2012, in addition to the six he had already claimed. Pavlich was captain of the club right through to the end of 2015 before handing the role to David Mundy, with Pavlich retiring at the end of the following year.

Matthew Pavlich Fremantle Dockers AFL 2016

(AAP Image/Tony McDonough)

Half forward – Michael Barlow
Drafted out of country Victoria at the age of 21, Barlow made an incredible start to his AFL career in 2010, averaging just under 28 disposals per game from his debut season. A horrific broken leg in Round 14 of that year would end his fairy tale start, with the midfielder returning to play a pivotal role in Fremantle’s resurgence under Ross Lyon. Barlow was handy around goals, booting 81 during his time at the Dockers. He finished in the top ten of the Doig Medal on five occasions, before form and Lyon’s preference to play the youth resulted in Barlow being delisted at the end of 2016 after 126 games.

Forward pocket – Hayden Ballantyne
Another mature-age draftee, Ballantyne didn’t take long to make a name for himself as not only a pest for opposition defenders, but an extremely valuable goal-kicker for the Dockers. The pint-sized Ballantyne made the All Australian side in 2014, a year in which he won Fremantle’s goal-kicking award with 49 majors. Ballantyne also became just the second Docker in club history to win the AFL Goal of the Year award with a superb solo effort against Geelong in 2011. After adding just three games to his career total of 171 in 2019, Ballantyne was not offered a contract heading into the 2020 decade.

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Full forward – Matt Taberner
The Dockers’ quest for a second key forward to pair with Matthew Pavlich during the 2010 decade was well known, and while Taberner hasn’t exactly become a household name across the league, he has been a dependable goal-kicker when on the park for Fremantle. Since making his debut in 2013, Taberner has played 71 matches for 75 goals, placing him ninth on the list of the top ten goal-kickers for Fremantle this decade.

Forward pocket – Chris Mayne
Made a name for himself as one of the league’s most accurate goal-kickers during the decade, kicking 176 from 150 matches for Freo in the decade. Mayne won the club goal-kicking in 2011 before falling just four votes short of claiming the Doig Medal in 2012. It was one of five top ten finishes in the club best and fairest count for Mayne, who left the Dockers at the end of 2016 having kicked the fourth most amount of goals by any Docker during the decade.

Ruckman – Aaron Sandilands
Who else? One of the most iconic figures in the history of the Fremantle Football Club, Sandilands enjoyed a great first half of the 2010 decade, before age and injury started to decline a brilliant career, resulting in his retirement at the end of 2019. Sandilands was at the peak of his game as he entered the decade, winning his third consecutive All Australian selection in 2010, before being named in the team for a fourth time in 2014. The following year, the 211cm giant won his second Doig Medal after runner-up finishes in both 2010 and 2014. Injuries restricted Sandilands to just 136 games and 51 goals for the decade, and he hangs the boots up as one of the most decorated Dockers of all time.

Ruck rover – Nat Fyfe (captain)
Arguably one of Fremantle’s best players in the history of the club, Fyfe’s career began at the start of the decade, and it didn’t take long for him to assert himself in the best 22. In just his second season, Fyfe came runner-up in the Doig Medal, winning the award in consecutive years in Fremantle’s grand final year of 2013 and again in 2014. The latter year saw the midfielder named in the All Australian side for the first time – a feat he would replicate a season later in 2015, a year in which he would create history by becoming the first ever Docker to win the Brownlow Medal. In 2017, Fyfe took over the Fremantle captaincy from David Mundy, and after a sublime season in 2019, he became just the 15th player in VFL/AFL history to win multiple Brownlow Medals. He was also named captain of the All Australian side, with a third best and fairest award rounding out a remarkable year from the Freo star.

Nat Fyfe

(Photo by Daniel Carson/AFL Media/Getty Images)

Rover – Lachie Neale
The small midfielder was a bargain selection for the Dockers at the 2011 draft, picked up with selection 58. Neale would go on to win two Doig Medals in 2016 and 2018, while he is a three-time recipient of the Ross Glendinning Medal for being the best player in a Western Derby. After 135 games in seven seasons, Neale departed the Dockers after requesting a trade to the Brisbane Lions.

Interchange – Nick Suban
A strong-bodied midfielder, Suban was a semi-regular in Fremantle’s best 22, featuring in the Dockers’ grand final run in 2013. Suban played 134 games and kicked 50 goals for Fremantle in the decade, before he was delisted at the end of 2017 as Ross Lyon opted to play more kids.

Interchange – Ryan Crowley
The hard-at-it tagger was one of Fremantle’s most reliable players during the early part of the 2010 decade. In 2012, Crowley won the club best and fairest, finishing fourth the year after. Controversy dogged Crowley in the latter stages of his career, suspended by the AFL Tribunal for 12 months after he tested positive to a banned substance following a game in 2014. He was delisted after 110 games and 60 goals in the decade.

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Interchange – Matt de Boer
A rugged midfielder capable of pushing forward to be an offensive threat, De Boer was a regular member of Fremantle’s best side in the early stages of the 2010 decade. After 121 games in the decade, De Boer lost his spot as the Dockers started to play more youth, and he was eventually delisted at the end of 2016.

Interchange – Danyle Pearce
Following 154 matches for Port Adelaide, Pearce was one of the first players to switch clubs under the AFL’s new free agency rules at the end of the 2012 season. He quickly became a damaging member of Fremantle’s side, playing all 25 matches in the Dockers’ grand final year of 2013. He would manage 104 games and 51 goals in his time at Freo, finishing in the top ten of the Doig Medal twice, before retiring at the end of 2018.

Sports opinion delivered daily 

   

Are the Dockers placed better or worse going into the new decade compared to ten years ago?

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It’s hard to gauge. Fremantle entered the 2010 decade on the back of three consecutive years without a finals appearance. Fast forward to 2020, and the Dockers will be looking to end a four year September drought. Things can change quickly though, and a new coach always brings an air of optimism.

Justin Longmuir will have the best player in the game at his disposal as he begins his senior coaching journey, and with Fremantle slowly but steadily improving over the last few years, I expect the purple haze to continue making inroads as they start the new decade.