Fremantle coach Mark Harvey goes head-to-head with The West’s chief football writer Mark Duffield.

Mark Duffield: What is achievable in 2011?

Mark Harvey: To try and maintain momentum, building on the previous year, really. To see improvement from individuals and then from the team. It is always a great challenge for a young group. They have had a taste of playing in finals and it is whether they can handle it again. If you have a look at the demographics of our team, you would like to think there is significant improvement just from maturity. The interesting phase for us is whether our younger players can go to the next level.

MD: Are you close enough to the top four to make a run at it?

MH: With new teams coming into the competition we have had one compromised draft already and we will have another compromised draft. It means there will be less depth on lists. So the answer is that if you have a good run and you can maintain your senior core of players, then that will hold you in good stead.

MD: Your pre-season and the players we haven’t seen out there. How concerned are you about that?

MH: I am not overly concerned because it is not as if we are going to be playing too many young players as we have in years gone by. The majority of our guys now have had some experience. There are certain players that will come up a lot quicker than other players. Their touch can be out a little bit but their intensity should be fine. There are others that may be a little bit behind in their preparation. That is the juggling act of selection moving into round one.

MD: We haven’t seen Mundy, Hill, Ballantyne and Fyfe. Where are they at?

MH: Fyfe and Ballantyne will probably play this weekend and we are still two practice matches plus the bye if we need to top up players in the WAFL. We are still three weeks away from getting selection criteria on some of the guys you are talking about. I would like to think all of those guys would play a game between now and round one.

MD: What has been Mundy’s issue?

MH: He had some soreness in his groin, nothing major, and he has been a little bit lethargic over the last couple of weeks, so we are just monitoring his training. We will see how he goes this week.

MD: And an update on Hill?

MH: He is running at full capacity now. It is just a matter of time as to when we introduce him at training, which would be just around the corner.

MD: Are his shins an ongoing management issue and something you think he will get past?

MH: A lot of younger players over the summer get growing pains. We have been more conservative with him based on that to make sure he gets ready for round one. We are mindful players have to be able to sustain playing for long periods of a season and also longevity of career.

MD: Did last year take a toll on a young squad, so many big games and two finals?

MH: It did. It is hard with structural injuries like Ballantyne’s. They have taken a little bit longer to come up over the pre-season, but I think when they train in rehab they get an enormous benefit out of that in different ways and methods that maintain a player’s fitness to a certain extent. Match fitness is always the interesting debate. Barlow was the other one that is a carryover from last year.

MD: So is last year a plus for you or does it have downside as you put a team on the park for round one?

MH: Everyone tries to get ready and there are different reasons why some are a little bit behind. I would like to think no matter who we have that when we play Brisbane that we will have a good enough side to be really competitive

MD: Twelve months ago a lot of people touted Adelaide as a big improver. They had a summer not dissimilar to yours, with a few injuries. Is there a danger that you will be so underdone that it takes four to six weeks to get up to speed?

MH: I think a lot of sides will have issues throughout the course of the season — with limits on rotations, and it is a matter of how you deal with that. If we have a challenging period early, it is up to the players we have picked to cover what is not available.

MD: That is a different phase of development to last year. Isn’t it when you had everyone up and flying?

MH: Yeah, a lot of our playmakers and Barlow was obviously the big surprise, though he played well in pre-season so everyone knew about him. We had (Des) Headland, (Paul) Hasleby and (Chris) Tarrant up and running too, and all of a sudden they are not there as well. We understand that we have lost some experience and we have still got some younger players that need to gain experience and to establish themselves in the team. We have picked some guys established from other clubs in (Jonathon) Griffin and (John) Anthony and (Nick) Lower.

MD: Why John Anthony?

MH: It is hard to find key forwards, if you call him a key forward. He had a good season and kicked 50 goals a couple of years ago. He gives us a different dimension and he has had a really good pre-season. We need to settle the forward line down so he knows who he is playing with down there. Over the next week or two, we would like to think we can get that to an area where he experiences that.

MD: Is Mzungu on track to be another mature-age draftee success story?

MH: He displays great skill on both sides and he can run. That holds him in good stead. He is still coming to grips with the game at AFL level. I reckon he can play a number of roles. The obvious answer is that he could maybe fulfil Roger’s (Hayden) role until he comes back. We have been trying him midfield and he has looked OK. From a running aspect, I think the game is going to be harder than ever because the demand will be that the players have to stay on longer.

MD: Have you worked out your strategy for rotating players with the new rules?

MH: The interesting strategy is who is the sub. What type of player. Then how many key- position players you have and whether you play one or two ruckmen.

MD: That is an interesting debate for you with Griffin and (Zac) Clarke, (Kepler) Bradley and (Michael) Johnson. What is your thinking at the moment?

MH: We haven’t settled on it but they are the two options that we have got and if there is an advantage to be gained during the year it is possibly just picking the right side, alone.

MD: What can be realistically expected of Michael Barlow?

MH: A lot of people will tell you that after this type of injury you don’t necessarily see the best of them in year one, like with a knee reconstruction. But this guy is so intelligent with the game and how to expose the game that it wouldn’t surprise me to see him get somewhere near what he was, straight away.

MD: Are we looking at round four or later for his return?

MH: Possibly. Now it is about him ramping up his training and running. The concern now would be soft tissue in and around the area, not the injury itself. If he has a hiccup with that, that will put him back a couple of weeks. We would like to think we would manage that quite well.

MD: How big a loss was Chris Tarrant and how disappointing was he to lose after Fremantle helped rebuild his career?

MH: It is interesting to listen to Collingwood on Chris Tarrant and how he has changed as a person and become a lot more professional and they have loved to have him back. I think that is a real tick for this football club. Putting him back to defence took a lot of pressure off him and with that came a complete change of attitude. I would have liked him to stay. Sometimes you manage a player and see him come out the other side you would have liked him to stay, but the environment of AFL football is changing and is likely to change more when there is free agency so I guess we have all got to get used to it. Where I come from there is a lot of trust and loyalty and that sort of thing because that is what I have been taught, but I understand the game is now quite different to when I was involved as a player.

MD: Can you replace Tarrant?

MH: We have got (Luke) McPharlin and (Antoni) Grover who are the elder defenders. I think we have recruited well. I think (Alex) Silvagni is going to come to the forefront in a key defensive post and we have got young (Peter) Faulks who may, when Grover and McPharlin move on. These two guys might fill the void.

MD: Have Collingwood changed the game with their press and will you head in that direction?

MH: I think everyone has a degree of zoning or a press and it is how far you go with it. There are teams that have young teams and it can be very hard for them to manipulate that situation and they can get exposed. Collingwood do it to the degree of St Kilda but what you will find is that a lot of teams will have worked on ways to beat the zone and if that is the case then the challenge for the heavy zoning teams is whether they continue it.

MD: Who would be the four teams you would name as the teams to beat at this stage?

MH: That’s always an interesting question for a coach because you come up against the other sides if you don’t name them. The obvious answer is Collingwood and more recently St Kilda, not that I take much notice of form in pre-season. They would be the obvious two. I think the rest of the competition, we’ll find out a lot more in a very demanding environment that is going to test everyone. It may well come down to sides meeting sides at the right time.

MD: Do you have any thoughts on Chris McDermott’s view that with (Aaron) Sandilands you are a top-four threat and without him you don’t make the eight?

MH: I guess you can label a lot of clubs that way, whether it be a ruckman or their marquee player. It is an easy comment to make. He got sore in that last final and we got blown off the park, so if that is what he is looking at he is probably right. But that is why we have got Griffin and developed Clarke along the way.

MD: Rhys Palmer, was the criticism of him last year fair or unfair?

MH: I think he was a young kid coming to terms with the injury he had and getting back to somewhere near what he was. He has had a really good pre-season and is somewhere near what he was prior to his injury. He will go back into the midfield. He has just been playing across half-back at the moment but he will go back into the midfield in a couple of weeks to see if he can re-establish himself in the starting midfield.

MD: A lot of players say there will be a premium on versatility because of the interchange changes. Do you agree?

MH: I agree. The real challenge, and we have spoken about pressing and zoning, is that if the players get fatigued quicker and it is harder to get up and down the ground that becomes interesting.

MD: hat do you sense about your players and their expectations of the year?

MH: I think they were disappointed with the way we finished because a lot of hard work had been done in the course of the year. There were injured guys in that time too that missed it and want to be part of it. While there are a lot of questions about what you did last year, we don’t worry about that. We break down a season and we play it out that way. The end result will be what it is but we do it as a gradual process.

MD: The second half of last year, when you had injuries but were still able to win 50 per cent of games. Is that a bonus for you this year?

MH: A lot of things change. You need your playmakers out there regularly. Right now we are playing a young team and you find out the hard way. If we have our playmakers out there regularly we will take on any side.

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