Why I left Fremantle: Palmer
Rhys Palmer has detailed the relationship breakdown with former Fremantle coach Mark Harvey that pushed him to accept a lucrative offer from the AFL’s fledgling club, Greater Western Sydney.
Palmer, now settled into the Giants’ plush new surrounds at Breakfast Point, said his frustration grew to breaking point, with communication lines disappearing as he battled to win his way back into the Dockers team last season.
He said his 2008 NAB Rising Star award and starring western derby role in just his second AFL game that year were now distant memories and he would take his place with the Giants with plenty to prove.
Palmer told thewest.com.au that after winning 24 possessions in a round-23 loss to Collingwood last season he was treating Fremantle’s final game for the season against the Western Bulldogs as the match which could rekindle his fire.
But an untimely 6cm tear to an adductor at training on the Wednesday before the game ruined that chance.
Being dropped for both derbies against West Coast this year after being overlooked for two finals in 2010 had already scribbled some writing on the wall. So when GWS came calling as the strongest of several suitors, Palmer made the tough decision to leave the club he loved, with the support of manager Colin Young. The Dockers didn’t make a clear contract offer to him, but Palmer said telling chief executive Steve Rosich and football operations manager Chris Bond that he would play for the AFL’s newest club was one of his life’s hardest tasks because of the opportunity he had been given at Fremantle.
He said missing a year of football because of a knee reconstruction early in the 2009 season had ruined the promising start to his career and he felt that no matter how hard he tried, he could not prove to Harvey that he could get back to his best.
His worsening relationship with the coach ultimately helped trigger his call to leave.
“It was really good at the start, like a father-son combination for a few years,” Palmer said.
“He always rode me hard, but things definitely changed and I wasn’t his No.1 boy anymore as I might have been in the first couple of years.
“That’s fine because you have to prove yourself every year, but the little things I was trying to do that got me to where I was obviously weren’t impressing him anymore.
“He felt there were a few things in my game that I needed to work on and I totally agreed with him. But sometimes you just felt that no matter what I did, it wasn’t right and there wasn’t a meeting point in the middle where we could talk about it.
“The communication wasn’t good, but I think he could still be a really good coach because of his knowledge about the game.
“I don’t hold a grudge because everything happens for a reason.
“I knew how quickly things could change and you’re always only one game away from being a good player. But in the end it was a horrible season not only for me but the people I work closely with who back me week in, week out.
“I thought I’d play for Fremantle for the rest of my life, play 200 games and be involved in their first premiership. It just didn’t fall into place how I would have liked it to and how I thought it was going to happen.
“The thing that hurt the most was knowing I was giving so much and getting little in return.
“To leave a powerhouse club, all my mates and my family as well was a massive decision. But I felt that I had to move on and I think I made the right decision.”
Palmer said the departure of former Fremantle teammates such as Byron Schammer, Steven Dodd and Paul Hasleby had also left him feeling on a career knife edge as he drifted outside of the Dockers’ inner circle. Lessons learnt from mentor Shane Woewodin’s surprise trade from Melbourne to Collingwood just two seasons after he had won the 2000 Brownlow Medal also left a lasting message.
He described his dual lines of communication with coach Kevin Sheedy and assistant Mark Williams at GWS as “probably the best I’ve ever had”. And he admitted the distractions that came with having family and friends in Perth were also no longer an issue. It meant his focus on football had gone to a new level.
Palmer said he had no ill-feeling towards the Dockers. He shared an off-season trip to the United States with former teammates Stephen Hill and Greg Broughton before joining others on a Fremantle players’ trip.
But living at Breakfast Point with his Giants teammates had already refreshed his mind and body ahead of his AFL rebirth.
“Obviously it’s all gone really quickly and I haven’t really had time to stop and think about it much,” he said.
“I remember when I first got to Fremantle it was a dream come true, but the older boys were all saying it would go that quick.
“That’s what’s sort of happened.
“But to be given this opportunity over here, it’s going to be something special and something that I’m really excited to be a part of. We’ve got a few NSW country boys but apart from that everyone is from different parts of Australia.
“We’re all here as one and we’re growing as a big family and that’s the best way to describe it. We eat together every night and it feels like I’ve already got a couple more mums and dads over here.
“We hang out with the coaching staff as well after the footy hours. We’re all mates and then we get to go and play footy together as well, so there’s a good vibe around here.
“It doesn’t come along too often when a new team is entering our great competition.
“We saw the Gold Coast take off this year and now to have another AFL side, the Greater Western Sydney Giants, is a great moment not only for the AFL but for us who will be a part of it. I get to start again pretty much. I get to prove myself to the young boys, the coaching staff, to myself and my family to show that I can still play this great game of ours.”
The cut-throat nature of the elite level of the game means that not all teammates get along famously and Palmer admitted that could cause an issue with all Giants players virtually living on each other’s doorstep.
But he was yet to see a problem.
“Obviously I’ve been in a lot of teams over the years and not everyone gets along,” he said.
“But that’s one thing I’m still waiting to see across here. Everyone’s getting along and I’m sure it’s going to work. We’re going to be a powerhouse.”