Exciting times as Fremantle finds its way
How things have changed. A couple of years ago, Fremantle coach Mark Harvey was asked what his club stood for. He struggled to give an answer. Now, it is obvious. The Dockers are young, energetic, confident, disciplined and believe they are on a path that will give sustained success.
Over the past two seasons, the Dockers have drafted 23 new players so, in the space of a couple of years, they have gone from one of the oldest lists to one of the youngest. On top of that, Harvey has been prepared to play three new additions. Of the 22 who played in last week’s win over the Hawks, half of them have been at the club for two or less seasons – amazing. And that, of course, doesn’t count the injured Michael Barlow, who swept all before him in the first half of the season, after last year playing with VFL team Werribee.
Harvey has put the club’s future in the hands of young men who are prepared to work hard, learn quickly and deliver on the football field. It’s an exciting time for the purple haze. But to do this, the coach has been prepared to make some hard calls on experienced Dockers. It’s not easy to drop favourite son Paul Hasleby for a home final, but that’s what he did. Also overlooked were veterans Des Headland, Steve Dodd, Byron Schammer and Ryan Murphy.
An example of the club backing itself and being prepared to cop criticism was the decision to bypass highly rated Perth boy Daniel Rich in the 2008 draft, and subsequently take the more immature-bodied Stephen Hill. In 2009, Rich won the NAB Rising Star Award as a Brisbane Lion, and plenty of critics whacked the Dockers. Hill played some encouraging games, but it was obvious he needed time to build muscle. Now, however, 12 months on, he is well and truly on the path to superstardom. His run and carry, smarts, long kicking and preparedness to push back to help out in defence makes him unique.
Mature-age pick-ups by the Dockers have also paid off handsomely. Barlow’s value as a 22-year-old has been obvious. Hayden Ballantyne, at 23, has been an astute pick. The cheeky goalsneak is second only to Matthew Pavlich for goals scored and leads the way with forward-line pressure. Alex Silvagni played VFL last year as a 21-year-old and was handy. Now, he is more than handy at AFL level. Someone saw something in him. Greg Broughton came into the defence as a 22-year-old last year and immediately looked at home. In his second season he has blossomed further. The Dockers’ development program must be good.
Many, including myself, thought taking 27-year-old Adam McPhee from Essendon was a poor decision. Maybe we were wrong. The competitiveness of McPhee takes him a long way. He is strong, athletic and has endurance. Harvey has harnessed these attributes to the max by playing him midfield and on the opposition’s best. He has frustrated and kept the likes of Chris Judd and Luke Hodge to ordinary games, so he must be doing something right.
Harvey has also settled his key defenders. For years, Luke McPharlin and Chris Tarrant were inconsistent forwards. This year, they have relished being left at full-back and centre half-back respectively and have delivered fine seasons.
Two priorities of the Harvey coaching plan are size and kicking. His midfielders are the biggest in the business. No one is bigger than Aaron Sandilands in the ruck, but the coach loves to rotate big bodies into the centre-bounce contests and around the stoppages. Matthew Pavlich, David Mundy, Michael Johnson, McPhee, Barlow, Anthony Morabito, Hill and Ryan Crowley are all more than 190 centimetres, with Pavlich and Morabito pushing 100 kilograms.
For years, the Dockers couldn’t take advantage of Sandilands’ ruck superiority. Now, with the bigger bodies, they do. And if you can’t kick well, your chances of selection are slim. Schammer sprays them, as does 2008 Rising Star Rhys Palmer, so they are on the outer.
It will be tough tonight for the Dockers. In fact, if they get within six goals of the rebounding Cats, they will have done well. Hopefully, we will see some positive traits of an emerging team. It would be great to see a fit Sandilands dominate the Geelong rucks. Pavlich playing a blinder in a final at the MCG would be something to remember. Hill and Nathan Fyfe’s dash and delivery along the MCG wings would be special. And another big scalp, say Gary Ablett’s, would complete McPhee’s season. Three seasons ago, the Dockers were a rabble without a cause. They are not any more, and the game’s better for that.