Power to the purple
Buoyed by their exhilarating season, the young Dockers show no fear, writes Jay Clark.
Paul Duffield senses the same buzz in the change rooms before every Fremantle game.
The experienced defender sees the eagerness on the faces of his younger teammates and feels the excitement.
Not only is his club heading down the right path, building a talented outfit through the draft for the first time in its success-starved 16-year history, but the Dockers also have produced some of the most exhilarating, tuck-the-ball-under-your-arm-and-go-for-it football seen this season.
It is a brand of play that gives fans goose bumps as Stephen Hill and company show no fear, tearing from one end of the ground to the other.
Such hype is something the Dockers have not managed well in the past, their empty trophy cabinet a constant reminder of previous failings.
But the start of a new era has brought new methods and attitudes, driving a seemingly stronger culture.
Duffield, 25, views this season as the first signs of reward for the club’s hard work.
“We’ve worked hard to get the younger guys pointed in the right direction and also keep their feet on the ground,” Duffield, part of the Dockers’ leadership group, said.
“Fremantle is traditionally not a successful club, but we’ve been intent on breeding some more success just by winning more games.
“There’s some guys in our group who have played for a period of time and in ’06 we did play finals and had a pretty good season, but we struggled to remain consistent.
“These younger players come from different backgrounds and aren’t part of that history, so they aren’t burdened by any of that.”
Against Geelong tonight in their MCG semi-final, the Dockers face what many regard as impossible — a mighty opponent on the rebound at a venue several of Fremantle’s youngsters have never seen before, let alone played on.
But in the minutes counting down to the match, Duffield once again expects a sense of purpose to descend on the Dockers’ rooms.
Meritorious victories against Carlton and Hawthorn in the past fortnight proved they deserve their place on the AFL’s big stage.
“Before the Hawthorn game there were probably a few nerves on all fronts, to be honest,” Duffield said. “Between the guys we obviously haven’t played too many finals, and it’s probably a good thing that the guys are feeling that way.
“But ‘Harvs’ (coach Mark Harvey) is really good at keeping a clear focus.
“The message before the game was really precise, and that keeps our younger players pointed in the right direction and not overburdened with too much information.”
More than anything, Duffield said, the Dockers had a willingness to “attack the game” and a fierce desire to win … “and that is what is showing at the moment”.
Regardless of tonight’s result, it won’t change the obvious conclusion that this season has been a defining step forward for the Purple Army.
Finishing sixth with 13 wins has been rapid progress, especially considering about half the team has played fewer than 50 games.
Duffield conceded that last summer he “would not have believed” the club would taking a shot at only its second preliminary final.
But, in a turnover that has produced 23 new faces since 2008, there were pre-season signs that Fremantle’s fortunes were about to change.
Duffield saw new zip around the ball, a freedom to run into space and consistency in training. There was a new commitment to tackle and pressure.
“It’s something we felt we weren’t very good at and needed to improve, and we still need to improve it,” he said.
Belief began to swell within that the Dockers could “match it with the good sides”, and it snowballed.
“I always felt our improvement was going to come from these young players,” Duffield said. “They don’t have any fear towards the AFL at all.”
THE BABY DOCKERS
Fremantle midfielder Paul Duffield on his young teammates:
Stephen Hill, 20
Games: 44. Goals: 28
Pick 3 2008 national draft
“Electrifying speed when he is up and going and certainly a very exciting player. Can’t keep up with him at training.”
Nick Suban, 20
Games: 37. Goals: 13
Pick 24, 2008 national draft
“Quite vocal and very instructive. Evolving leader and classy player. He’s physical but he uses the ball well.”
Matt DeBoer, 20
Games: 36 (2 at the MCG). Goals: 11
Pick 19, 2009 rookie draft
“A wrecking ball is a good description. All heart and soul the way he tackles and attacks the game.”
Greg Broughton, 23
Games: 31 (2 at the MCG). Goals: 4
Pick 73, 2009 rookie draft
“Really intelligent footballer. Just gets to the right spots at the right times. Physically very tough, throws his body on the line and uses it well.”
Anthony Morabito, 18
Games: 22 Goals: 13
Pick 4, 2009 national draft
“He has certainly got the traits of being a really athletic and powerful player. We love his size and strength, though he is still working out how to use those qualities.”
Nathan Fyfe, 18
Games: 17 Goals: 13
Pick 20, 2009 national draft
“Has great hands and reads the play really well. Super-competitive and desperate to improve himself.”
Alex Silvagni, 22
Games: 14 Goals 4
Pick 24, 2010 rookie draft “Great judgment and is fiercely determined to never be beaten. Works super-hard and still finding his feet at AFL level, but just so competitive.”
Michael Walters, 19
Games: 12 Goals: 2
Pick 53, 2008 national draft
“Elusive and brings a real element of skill to our side, as he’s a really good left-foot kick. Been fantastic over the past few weeks playing his role in the forward line.”
Dylan Roberton, 19
Games: 12 Goals: 2
Pick 49, 2009 national draft
“Exceptional endurance. Probably the best runner at the club earlier in the season. Smart user of the ball as well.”
Jesse Chrichton, 19
Games: 6 Goals: 2
Pick 48, 2009 national draft
“Shows good composure under pressure. Learnt a lot playing on Cyril Rioli in Launceston.
* Hill, Suban, DeBoer and Broughton have all played two matches at the MCG, the others are yet to play there.