Versatile McPhee brings plenty to Dockers’ cause
After returning to the west, the former Bomber is proving a valuable addition at Dockerland.
Adam McPhee’s return to the MCG tonight marks his fourth finals appearance in a journey that began with Fremantle and detoured to Essendon before going back this season to the Dockers.
In a 10-year career he has had coaches stick by him, fans ”losing it” at him, while his own determination to succeed won him All-Australian honours in 2004 – the same year ”Smokey” won the Bombers’ best-and-fairest award.
After seven years and 142 games, he left Windy Hill via the pre-season draft, accepting a three-year deal with the Dockers instead of the two years tabled by his old club.
Former teammate Mark McVeigh – a fiercely loyal Bomber – accused McPhee of disloyalty when he jumped ship and returned to Fremantle at the end of last year.
In the build-up to this year’s round-two game between the teams, McVeigh said it was ”disappointing” and ”a real surprise” McPhee departed, leaving the Bombers with nothing in return. The game at Etihad Stadium was a dirty day for the reborn Docker – who fumbled his way through 10 disposals and was jeered by Essendon fans at every opportunity. At least he had the last laugh with a win on the day.
McPhee, 27, uprooted his family and moved west with his mind set on establishing himself in the side’s midfield.
A shoulder operation and ankle problems interrupted his pre-season, but he only missed the round-21 game when half the team was rested for the final home fixture against Carlton.
Collingwood premiership captain and football commentator Tony Shaw told The Age that McPhee could be ”fairly erratic” and no doubt felt the wrath of frustrated Essendon fans.
”He plays with great aggression and great competitive spirit, but sometimes you just don’t know if the brain is catching up with the body,” Shaw said.
Nonetheless, coach Mark Harvey would be pleased, according to Shaw, to have another player he can hand a defensive role to against players such as Carlton skipper Chris Judd and Hawthorn’s Luke Hodge. ”He’s got good speed, he’s got a good motor to go with these blokes and he knows how to play defensive side of the body and not give away free kicks, so he’s doing the job. It’s a good part of your armoury to take into a finals series and get someone to do those jobs.”
Judd’s errant elbow in round 13, which split Matthew Pavlich’s cheek, was viewed by some as a frustrated, albeit badly timed and misplaced reaction to McPhee’s niggling tactics.
Others, including columnist and commentator Robert Walls, said the Blues failed to protect Judd from McPhee, who’s harassment and negative tactics were not sufficiently policed by umpires.
Debate raged externally about McPhee’s tactics, but Fremantle assistant coach Todd Curley said this week his hardness, experience and versatility made him a valuable addition to a young, developing team. ”We’ve got Pavlich, [Aaron] Sandilands, [Antoni] Grover and [Luke] McPharlin in that [28 to 30] age bracket and there’s a bit of a void in the mid 20s, not a huge amount of players. David Mundy  has been fantastic for us this year and Paul Duffield , but there’s a bit of void between those players and our young players. We’ve turned over a lot of players in the last two years, so to get ‘Smokey’ to come in – a player with his experience who prepares as well as anyone in the game – it’s great for our young players to learn from him.”
McPhee’s relationship with Harvey, who spent eight years at Windy Hill as an assistant coach, was a significant factor in his decision to return to the club that gave him a start.
McVeigh might not be convinced, suggesting a strong relationship with Harvey was ”a bit of a smokescreen” in McPhee’s decision, but Curley believes otherwise. ”His relationship with ‘Harvs’ was pretty important … ‘Harvs’ was obviously keen to get him and he was keen to come across, so that relationship had a lot to do with him getting here and he’s fitted in really well.”
Against Richmond in round 15, he took 13 marks and against Hawthorn in last week’s elimination final there were further signs his old spring and strength in marking contests was back.
Regardless of the knocks on his ability, he’s given the Dockers what is asked of him. ”His versatility has been fantastic for us,” Curley said. ”From day one he’s played back, midfield and forward for us, and whatever the side needed – not only in particular games, but particular quarters – he’s been able to bounce between defence, midfield and attack depending on the state of the game.”
Tonight, he’ll spend time in a midfield tagging role, trying to limit one of the Cats’ ball-winners, Gary Ablett, Joel Selwood or Paul Chapman.
Recent history and Curley’s comments suggest he’ll also be thrown back or forward – wherever there’s a need. ”He’s not doing the [tagging] roles all the time, which allows him to stay pretty fresh and play good footy,” he said. ”Obviously, he’s had jobs some weeks, but then he’s released to play forward in his own right or as a defender, and that’s helped him stay up.”