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'The Dockers have stagnated': Freo's 2021 season in review

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Roar Guru
17th September, 2021
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1592 Reads

Welcome to Part 8 of my review of every single AFL club for season 2021.

Today’s side, the Fremantle Dockers, the long struggling side that makes what’s going on with the Gold Coast Suns at the moment look like a Christmas party.

Season 2021 was another disappointing season in which they missed finals. They have not made the final eight since 2015. It was Justin Longmuir’s second season at the helm. I’m sure the Fremantle faithful hoped they would take a bigger step forward.

Read on for my thoughts and musings about the Fremantle season.

Dockers coach Justin Longmuir talks to his team

(Photo by Jono Searle/AFL Photos/via Getty Images )

What worked

Their young midfield
The machinations surrounding Adam Cerra notwithstanding, Justin Longmuir would be ecstatic with how his midfielder is developing. I am of course referring to the players like Andrew Brayshaw and Caleb Serong, both of whom have been extremely solid for the Dockers in the early stages of their nascent careers.

Caleb Serong graduated from a defensively minded midfielder into an inside bull who can kick goals. His best performance came in a magnificent derby performance where he kicked a goal of the year contender and sewed up his first Glendinning-Allan Medal. Outside of that, Serong also revealed his durability, playing 22 games, kicking eight goals, and averaging 22 disposals as 5.3 score involvements and 3.3 tackles. Serong has gone from strength to strength since being drafted by the Fremantle Dockers in 2019.

Andrew Brayshaw has begun to reveal his leadership bona fides with multiple performances this year that put him in the frame to take the captaincy from Nathan Fyfe. He averaged 28.4 disposals, 5.9 score involvements and 4.7 tackles in a blue-collar season. The ascendancy of these two midfielders has dramatically reduced the burden on Nathan Fyfe and David Mundy, potentially allowing each of the players to extend their careers playing in less strenuous positions.

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Nat Fyfe of the Dockers

(Photo by Will Russell/AFL Photos via Getty Images)

Sean Darcy
Darcy gets his own paragraph. He took the pressure of being the main man in the Dockers’ ruck department in both hands and made it his own. With only some assistance from Rory Lobb, Darcy was expected to ruck effectively from the get-go. He was rated as above average for disposals with 16.6, hitouts (28.5), and marks (4.3). He was rated as elite in the key statistics of clearances (4.7), hitouts to advantage (10), score involvements (6) and contested disposals (9).

Darcy capped off a great season by signing another contract extension with the Dockers, spurning the Geelong Cats, who are in dire need of a solid ruckman. Darcy also leads what is an increasingly promising group of ruckmen under the age of 25 achieving career highs for hitouts, hitouts to advantage, disposals, goals, clearances and tackles across season 2021. In a year when it felt as if the Fremantle Dockers stagnated a little, the performance of Darcy was promising.

The Freo fortress
Fremantle was a side that knows how to play Optus Stadium to a fault. They have managed to create a near impenetrable fortress in the west where they became the top-eight side they aimed for at the start of the year. In fact, it took until Round 5 for the Dockers to record their first away win, indicating a clear weakness the Dockers have away from home.

What failed

The Dockers did struggle at times this year with their season being marred by multiple big losses away from home, as well as a malignant problem with the goal-kicking yips. In this section we will discuss what failed for the Fremantle Dockers.

Goal-kicking yips
In 15 of 22 games, the Dockers kicked more behinds than goals. Nathan Fyfe was emblematic of these goal-kicking woes, kicking six goals, 21 behinds, which is a dramatic improvement on the two goals, 12 behinds he was sitting on earlier in the season.

The Round 2 clash against the Giants and the Round 8 clash against the Bombers are illustrative of this problem. They kicked 11 goals, 21 behinds in the former and eight goals, 13 behinds against the Bombers.

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The Dockers look a bit dejected after losing

(Photo by Quinn Rooney/Getty Images)

Finally, there was the clash against the Cats at home in which the Dockers kicked a putrid three goals, 13 behinds to lose by 69 points. These instances illustrate the lack of clinical finishing that the Dockers will require if they’re to surge up the ladder in the future. Moreover, their inaccuracy is clearly costing them games as illustrated by the Round 8 clash against Essendon where they had several more scoring shots but were still unable to will themselves over the line.

Form away from home
The COVID world has required that sides be flexible in their approach to the fixture. However, both WA clubs have been comparatively lucky in that thanks to the COVID strategies employed by their state leadership, they’ve not had to spend as much time out of state as they normally would. However, the Fremantle Dockers only won three games away from home this season with an average losing margin of 37 points.

The Dockers will need to lower the gap between the best football they play at home and the worst football they play away from home. When you combine this with the goal-kicking yips problem they have, you can see that they lack the offensive edge to put teams to the sword. The Dockers have stagnated this year and it is their lack of offence that is to blame.

Questions that remain

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How long can their ageing stars continue?
Nat Fyfe, Michael Walters, and David Mundy are all the wrong side of 30 for the Dockers but still form an integral part of the side. Walters had a down season this year and it was noticeable in the lack of attacking verve the Dockers had. If Longmuir wishes to continue to push up the ladder, he will need to begin tactfully phasing these players out and bringing his younger talent to the fore.

Will Sean Darcy leave them come free agency?
Sean Darcy has been a wonderful find for the Fremantle Dockers, yet I cannot shake the suspicion he will go home to Geelong who are in desperate need of a ruckman when he hits the free agency in three years. The Dockers are on the way up while the Cats are on the way down and this will only become clearer over the next couple of years. However there are nine other Victorian clubs that will be eager to have a talent of Darcy’s ilk on their list and the Dockers will need to be wary of the big Geelong native going home.

Sean Darcy

(Photo by Daniel Carson/AFL Photos via Getty Images)

Solutions to the Dockers’ problems

Trade out Rory Lobb and Matt Tabener while they have currency
Yes, this might seem excessive, but each player is only getting older and will want to taste premiership success that Freo are not yet ready for. If the Dockers can find away to bring in the draft capital necessary to draft both Neil Erasmus and Jye Amiss it will set them up to contend in three years’ time very effectively. They also won’t have that pesky go-home factor that’s forcing Adam Cerra out the door.

Speaking of Adam Cerra…
Trade him to Melbourne for Luke Jackson if you can. If not, Angus Brayshaw and the next year’s first-round pick will be a good consolation prize. Brayshaw has shown he can reliably compete at the highest level, finishing third in the 2018 Brownlow. He has been forced out onto a wing by the obscenely deep Melbourne midfield but would thrive in the Dockers’ system. I am also backing the Demons not to have as good a year next year so the first-round pick could be a shrewd investment for the Dockers.

Move David Mundy to the half-back line and Nat Fyfe to the half-forward line 
Each of these players are closer to the end of their careers but they clearly still have something to give to Fremantle, just not in an inside midfielder role. David Mundy should move to the half-back flank and operate like the general down there, steeling the defence like Luke Hodge did at Brisbane. Nathan Fyfe is the same height as Matthew Lloyd, making him a solid contested mark down in the forward line and potentially allowing him to provide some increased goal scoring if he can fix his yips.

David Mundy celebrates a goal.

(Photo by Daniel Carson/AFL Photos via Getty Images)

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Best and fairest: Andrew Brayshaw
Andy Brayshaw has been a jet for the Dockers since being drafted in 2017 and he will cap off his exemplary season with his first (of potentially many) Doig Medals. If not him then Caleb Serong or Sean Darcy could also take it as well, but there’s a reason Brayshaw is being talked about as a potential captain for the Dockers going forward.

Letter grade: C-
The Dockers still lack key personnel in parts of the ground and need to take a patient approach with their young coach Justin Longmuir. The Dockers have stagnated somewhat, meaning I can’t grade them any higher than a C- but I have high hopes for the shrewd and intelligent approach they’re taking to their side at the moment and they can be a dangerous threat next year.

Way too early prediction
Seventh to 14th.

The Dockers have stagnated this season, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. But they will want to show more next season as Longmuir comes out of contract in a dangerous coaching landscape. I expect they may be on the edge of contending for the eight again and they could make it.

Well, there you have it Roarers. As always leave your thoughts in the comments below. Let me know if you agree or disagree with my ruminations on the Fremantle Dockers, and I’ll try to respond.

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