In the 2022 AFL trade period, the Sydney Swans, coming off a Grand Final defeat, decided they didn’t need to contribute much in changing their list for 2023.
The result was a first-round exit to the Blues, which left a sour taste in the mouths of the Swans administration as if it was a wasted season.
Sydney didn’t make the same mistake in the trade period again, recruiting Taylor Adams, Brodie Grundy, James Jordan and Joel Hamling to improve on their weaknesses but it seems Fremantle has misread the room here.
Could the Dockers be falling victim to the same trap of sitting on their hands in the trade period and becoming irrelevant in the competition?
It feels like they have been in a never-ending rebuild starting from the back-end of Ross Lyon’s tenure at the club to Justin Longmuir’s first four seasons, finishing 12th, 11th, semi-final appearance to just 14th in 2023.
In fact, Fremantle has fewer games of experience than Hawthorn with 71.3 games on average compared to the Hawks’ 73.
Coming into Justin Longmuir’s fifth season in charge of the Dockers finals is almost certainly a must and relying on natural growth rather than fixing some positional needs is a big risk.
WA footy in general had one of its worst years in decades with the Eagles left feeling embarrassed, finishing the season wooden spooners and the Dockers’ season wasn’t too much better.
With the football, Fremantle were ranked 13th in the competition with Docker fans infuriated by the safe ball movement across the first of the season averaging 101 marks in their first four games.
The trademark of their 2022 season, where the Dockers won a final against the Dogs, was their secure defence, but not the case in 2023 with new skipper Alex Pearce feeling the heat on and off the field.
So, what is their brand? Is it defence? In the midfield, they were ranked sixth for clearances but when the midfield class of Andrew Brayshaw and Caleb Serong were quiet the Dockers seemed to become a one-trick pony being 14th in the competition for post clearances.
Since Fremantle legend Matthew Pavlich retired at the end of 2016 they have been searching for the next big thing up forward. The experiments of Cam McCarthy, Jesse Hogan, Rory Lobb and Matt Taberner haven’t been the blueprint with most of them exiting the club in an ugly mess.
Jye Amiss, at just 20 years of age, is turning into an exciting forward prospect winning Fremantle’s leading goalkicker award with 41 goals and only 25 games into his career but surely there needs to be assistance for the young man.
It seems there won’t be much help available for Amiss next year when the club decided to offload a truckload for Luke Jackson including pick 13 of last year’s draft, their first-round pick this year and a second-rounder for a ruck/forward rather than the other way around. Their first pick in this year’s draft is 34.
Only time will tell if Luke Jackson will be the player the club is hoping he will and no doubt he is a supreme talent. Everyone remembers the spectacular third quarter he and the Dees played in the 2021 Grand Final. But could Fremantle have used their coin and draft hand smarter?
The responsibility for goals will be on injury-prone 30-year-old Taberner, Josh Treacy and veterans Nathan Fyfe and Micheal Walters to share the load in what will be another strenuous season on the body.
Collingwood at the end of the 2022 season decided it was in their best interests to recruit a new core group of four players rather than the main star.
The results spoke for themselves as new recruit Bobby Hill won the Norm Smith Medal, Tom Mitchell proved his class in the biggest game of them all, Billy Frampton kept Harris Andrews to one intercept mark til three-quarter time and Dan McStay played his part in the first two finals.
Not only do the Dockers have an ordinary draft hand they have lost former first-draft pick Liam Henry to the Saints and underrated small forward Lachie Schultz, who has kicked an impressive 63 goals in the past two seasons. The calibre of players lost doesn’t grow on trees and may well affect the goal of making September next season.
There have been a plethora of players who have chosen to leave the men in purple in recent times which have certainly paused their premiership aspirations including Bradley Hill, Rory Lobb, Ed Langdon, and Blake Acres, to name a few.
There are many questions clouding the Fremantle Dockers for 2024. When will their year be when they can finally become ‘Flagmantle’ and when will they put all their chips in to contend and become a club the rest fears and respects?