Fremantle’s Luke McPharlin is in his 11th season of AFL football. And in a remarkable quirk, he may well end up playing on a rookie three months his senior during tonight’s semi-final against Geelong at the MCG.

In a key match-up, McPharlin is likely to play on James Podsiadly, the former VFL star and Geelong fitness trainer who turns 29 today and has been this season’s most inspiring story.

“He’s had a terrific year,” McPharlin said. “That will be another great challenge. They’ve got some good forwards down there.

“Our careers are quite a contrast, given this is his first year and he’s been terrific. Playing finals football with Geelong is a great journey for him, but we’ll work very hard to get on top of him and his team on the weekend.”

The contrast is not only with the players but with the clubs. Geelong is searching for a fourth successive grand final and third premiership in four years — an ambition that suffered a setback with a surprise loss to St Kilda last Friday night.

Fremantle has played just five finals in its relatively short and difficult life, and last Saturday’s victory against Hawthorn was just the Dockers’ second successful September outing. McPharlin has played in all five Fremantle finals.

More than half the Geelong side have played in a dozen finals or more and have two flags to their name. “It hasn’t been easy over the years,” McPharlin said, “just trying to get a team together that will be competitive.

“I’ve been around a fair while now, and to only have played in five finals isn’t enough.

“I’m feeling very fortunate we’ve got a side together that looks like it could be a finals prospect in the coming years.” Given this is just the third finals series Fremantle has managed in its 16-year history, McPharlin admits there were times when he wondered if success would continue to elude the club.

“At different times I might have thought along those lines, but when the season is up and going it’s very much about each game each week. There were times in September when guys are playing finals football and you’re not a part of it that you did wonder.”

During those moments, McPharlin claims he had no regrets about leaving Hawthorn, the 2008 premier, to come home at the end of the 2001 season after just two years and 12 games.

“It’s been such a long time since I’ve left Hawthorn, and there’s been such an enormous turnover of the playing group, a lot of the guys I played with were not there, including the coaching stuff.

“It didn’t really feel like I had any strong link with them when they did win their flag. There were certainly no feelings of jealously for not being there. I’m a Fremantle man and I’m happy to be here. Our time will come.”

Like Paul Roos from a previous generation, the big question with McPharlin is whether he should play at centre half-forward or centre-half back given that he is such an important player to the Dockers.

“I don’t mind,” he said. “I think I’ve probably played my best football in defence, but given the different circumstances of a game, I like the idea I can be thrown forward at different times.

“I think it’s important to have a bit of versatility in the game these days, knowing I can play forward at times and play well is good for the team. But I think ultimately my best football is in defence.”

Fremantle set up its season with a round three victory against the Cats in Perth that made the football world sit up and take notice of the Dockers as a serious force.

Victory tonight would ultimately confirm how seriously they should be taken.

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