Kids key to Fremantle challenge
Fremantle is in new territory this season. It may not have won the flag, but in the big picture, the club came further than any other in 2010.
It belted Hawthorn in a final with a talented young list that plays tough, no-fear footy.
For that, the Dockers have gained, perhaps for the first time in a chequered 16-year history, respect from the footy world.
This is a club that in the past has relied on inconsistent types who beat up on struggling teams at home, but went missing when it mattered.
That trend went out the window last year as it played kids, defended hard across the ground and learnt to win away games.
But the respect that was hard won can be very easily lost.
Naturally, the expectations upon Fremantle rise this season.
Anything less than a finals appearance will be seen from the outside as a backward step.
Last year, the club took the competition by surprise – actually by storm – winning six of its first seven games and eight of its first 10.That won’t happen again, as rivals have woken up to the truth; and that is the Dockers have some seriously good young players.
Yes, Aaron Sandilands is the premier ruckman in the game whose monster frame should give the Dockers an edge at every stoppage.Matthew Pavlich can turn a game in any part of the ground, another from whom we expect big things on a weekly basis.
However, save for long-term injuries, what will determine the club’s fate is not the performance of its superstar contingent.
That will only get Freo so far.
The key factor is how the young guns, the ones who got under the guard last year, handle the extra attention that is inevitably coming.
Stephen Hill is one of the game’s most exhilarating talents, but he can expect a tag every match.
Likewise, Nathan Fyfe, Chris Mayne and Hayden Ballantyne will be worn like gloves.
Those three were crucial in helping the Dockers score a goal 28.6 per cent of the time they went inside 50m last year – ranked second in the AFL.
Former Pie John Anthony has been added to the forward mix but has found it tough this pre-season.
Down back, the departure of Chris Tarrant, and the man who engineered his move into defence – former assistant coach Chris Scott – are massive losses.
Dylan Roberton and Alex Silvagni must take up the slack.
Making things tougher is many key playmakers have suffered niggles and interrupted pre-seasons, adding to a mounting injury toll.
Best-and-fairest David Mundy had groin soreness from overtraining, Hill missed the bulk of January with shin issues, while Matt de Boer (hamstring) and Byron Schammer (thigh) also are under clouds.
Add to that Anthony Morabito (knee, season), Michael Barlow (leg, two months) and Roger Hayden (foot, two months), Tendai Mzungu (knee, 10 weeks) and the depth is already being tested.
But where this club once might have put its eggs all in one basket, gambling on big trades, it now has a long-term view.
It’s a strategy, which, since 2008, has netted 34 new players under recruiting guru Brad Lloyd.
But given he looks to have been on the money with most of them, short-term pain or not, Fremantle’s future might just be brighter than it’s ever been.