For Fremantle Dockers legend Peter Bell, the heart says Freo but the head says Hawthorn.

The 34-year-old, who retired from AFL at the end of 2008, would love nothing more than to see his beloved Dockers lift the AFL premiership cup.

But as the finals get under way this weekend, he believes the experienced Hawks are in better form and should get across the line against their younger opponents.

“I think it’ll be a really close game and I’m really hopeful that Fremantle will win,” he said. “But I just think Hawthorn are going pretty well at the moment and I’m expecting them to win in a very close game.

“It’s always difficult to come to Western Australia and win so Fremantle are right in the game, but I just expect Hawthorn to be a little bit stronger at this stage.”

Bell is one of the only Dockers to boast a premiership medal on his mantlepiece. He played 163 games for Fremantle, but won his two flags with North Melbourne, placing him in a unique position to judge the side’s chances in the finals.

He made special mention of the “exceptional” football that is served up on a frequent basis by Hawthorn’s playmakers, such as superstar Luke Hodge and Sam Mitchell, while Lance Franklin and Cyril Rioli have been in deadly touch in the forward line.

As has been well-documented, the Dockers will be short of players with finals experience – especially now that Paul Hasleby has been dropped – come Saturday afternoon while the Hawks still boast several players from their 2008 premiership win.

But Bell did not think the youngsters would suffer from a bad case of stage fright in the pressure cooker that is post-season football.

“I’m expecting them to be really fired up and definitely have the mental capacity and intensity required,” he said. “I think their young players are exceptional talents, (although) it’s better to have finals experience than to not have finals experience.

“… They should be really excited and they will be intense and passionate about the game and that’s why I’m expecting such a close game.

“… I don’t think many of the players or any at all will be overawed and I’m really expecting them to play well.”

Bell expected seasoned stars such as Matthew Pavlich, Aaron Sandilands and Luke McPharlin to have quiet words with some of the younger players ahead of the game to calm some of their nerves.

“I’m not sure there will be any fears from the young guys, just a bit of the element of the unknown,” he said.

Bell hopes to see Pavlich play the bulk of the game in attack – “that will mean Fremantle are in control of the match” – while the onus will fall on the likes of David Mundy, Stephen Hill and Anthony Morabito to ensure the side will benefit from Aaron Sandilands’ “likely ascendancy in the ruck”.

The team will “sorely miss” the injured Hayden Ballantyne but Ryan Crowley – “he’s been out for a while but he’s a clean winded athlete who doesn’t lose much condition” – could offer a different forward line threat in Ballantyne’s absence.

Although Bell is tipping Hawthorn to advance on Saturday, he still had doubts about their ability to play in front of a sell-out crowd at Subiaco Oval.

“In the back of Hawthorn’s mind there will be that element of doubt having to come to Subiaco Oval with 40-odd thousand screaming Fremantle fans into an environment and a stadium that the Fremantle players are very, very comfortable with,” he said. “It’s a very difficult stadium (for visiting teams) to win games of football in.”

As to how the Dockers can stop the influence of Franklin, Rioli and Burgoyne in attack, Bell has a couple of ideas.

“They’re exciting players and they’re all match-winners in their own right,” he said. “With Buddy Franklin you’ve really got to stop supply to him so that will come down to how much pressure the Fremantle midfielders are putting on the Hawthorn midfielders.

“Obviously it’s a lot better if Buddy Franklin gets his kicks up on centre wing and he’s pushed that far up, if he’s gonna get the ball. Fremantle will much prefer him to get the ball up high on the ground.

“Cyril Rioli is a freak. You’ve just got to stay close to him, maintain body contact but he’s gonna do some freakish things. He’s that sort of player and I’m expecting Shaun Burgoyne also to get some really close attention. He’s a quick player, a powerful player and he’s got sublime skills, so I’m sure he’ll have someone paying very close attention to him.”

If only it was that simple.

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