Ross Lyon: Q & A
What sort of knowledge did you bring across about Fremantle’s list at the end of last year?
From the outside it’s always difficult to gain intimate knowledge, but you know some strengths and weaknesses. Once you get in the door you see the calibre of person and their work ethic on a day-to-day basis. So it’s been really exciting to see how hard they work … they’re so coachable and there’s a real willingness to learn.
What do you see as the main strengths of this group?
I’m still figuring that out at the minute. We haven’t played an AFL game for four points, so under extreme pressure is when we really find out about each other. They have a really good work ethic, they’re young and enthusiastic, they’re vibrant and keen to build great teamsmanship with the aim of becoming a great team.
Do you have a philosophy on whether you shape your game-plan around the strengths of your group, or mould these players to suit the game-plan you want to implement?
I think it’s a combination of both. You want freedom within structure. You have structures set up that provide plenty of possibilities and alternatives and options, depending on what the opposition’s doing. And you let that great talent, like (Aaron) Sandilands and (Matthew) Pavlich and those guys, express themselves within that.
Your record for getting the best out of players that might be deemed middle-tier in terms of ability, do you think that has been a strength in your coaching career?
A lot of judgments are made externally on lots of things, some accurate and some inaccurate. But certainly there were some really good stories previously of players playing their best football and really improving. Some of the so-called less fashionable people making really strong contributions, like Robert Eddy, Andrew McQualter, Clint Jones, those types of guys. I’m really proud of that and that’s the aim here.
Really we just want everyone to be the best they can be and provide an environment that allows them to grow if they work really hard. We talk about being what you want to be.
A few names for you: Paul Duffield, Garrick Ibbotson, Michael Johnson. Do you think those guys have reached their potential as AFL players?
I’m just coming in to know them. Certainly they’re at a stage of their career where they need to take responsibility for the Dockers on game day, our performance. They’re six, seven, eight-year players who on perception have got really good football talent and have had really good years and some average years. We’re just looking to make sure that they have a good year, all of them, and then we’ll collectively be better.
Garrick Ibbotson was rehabbing after three operations, but he’s been in full football for a long period. And Paul Duffield and Michael Johnson have had really intense, hard-working pre-seasons.
A lot of players have spoken this pre-season about adjusting to your game-plan. What sort of demands have you put on them in terms of learning structures and how you want them to play?
I really coach the basics – compete really well, when we’ve got it really go quickly and try and score, and when they’ve got it try and get it back off the opposition. I’m pretty basic, I just coach the three phases of the game – contest, pressure and use. I’m sure they’re getting their heads around it.
Do you have aspects of your game-plan that are tailored around Patersons Stadium and the dimensions of that ground?
A lot of people talk about that. I’ve had a lot of really good results at Patersons Stadium. It’s not about the size of the ground, it’s about the ball and your opponent and where they are positioned.
How about on the road? Fremantle has won three of its last 28 in Melbourne. Do you have any thoughts on why the club hasn’t been successful there?
I didn’t even know that number really. It’s not something that I’ve focused on because it’s not a part of my experience here. We’re really determined to put great effort in wherever we play. It’s not a great number is it, three out of 28, and you’re right – it’s pretty hard to be successful (with those results). All I know is great teams win anywhere, any time, and that’s what we aim to do.
Is there anything you plan to implement from your experience at St Kilda regarding travel routines?
I think there’s some subtleties. Obviously there might be some things there we can adjust, but at the end of the day it’s about mental toughness and delivering under pressure.
That’s what we’ll be focusing on. But there’s a lot of work that goes into that, you don’t magically turn it on, you’ve got to work hard Monday to Friday every week and then that will give you your best chance.
Zac Dawson. Has there been any value from your perspective in having a player here who has played under you before and understands you as a coach?
He gets my humour maybe? It was an opportunity and our list management took Zac. Is it any benefit for me? He might have had opportunities to explain some of the methodology to some of the players if they weren’t sure, but it’s not something that I’m focused on.
Is he in your plans for round one at this stage?
Zac’s got to make himself in my plans. I thought his NAB Cup one was very, very good, so he needs to do that NAB Cup two, NAB Cup three, NAB Cup four to pick himself. I think that’s the great misnomer. At the end of the day players pick themselves, not so much match committees. It’s not hard to see good players.
His extra understanding of how you coach, can that be an on-field asset for the team early on?
I don’t think so. I think we’re in trouble if we’re relying on Zac on game day. I think he’s just part of the 22 and if we’ve done our job correctly as a coaching panel, by the time the ball’s bounced against Geelong, we’ll pretty much have an understanding of what everyone’s meant to do in different situations in a game.
On injury management, have you delved into what happened last year with the injuries and conducted any formal review?
I know the club’s put a lot of time and energy drilling into the injury concerns of the club and we certainly haven’t put it all down to bad luck. We’re not accepting it’s bad luck as much as there would be an element of that, and we’re just working to improve our systems and preparations to get on top it. It certainly casts a shadow still now that we’re working through.
Can you give us a few examples of things that you’ve implemented as a result of the review?
Just some changes in responsibilities, and some different types of meetings and sharing of information. We’ve had consultants coming in and making some recommendations on some techniques, and removing some complexity. Getting a real synergy between all departments helps the player.
Fit and available seems to be a mantra this pre-season. How do you ensure a player as valuable as Aaron Sandilands plays as many games as possible?
I think we just come in on general terms don’t we. Obviously he’s a key player and there’s opportunities to rotate them in and out of the team. Is that feasible? I don’t know. I think it’s easy to do that when you’re 18-1 as opposed to 10-9. That’s something, try and share the workload, get other people going through the ruck, time forward, time on the bench. He’s just the obvious example, but those methods apply to everyone.
Is there still a temptation to play Aaron in the ruck for long periods given his dominance?
He’s our No. 1 ruckman with Jon Griffin, and we’ve got Kepler Bradley and young Zac Clarke. He’ll spend a fair bit of time in the ruck, that’s what we pay him to do.
Has much changed for him this pre-season physically with his strength and weight?
He’s like the other guys, he’s hit all the parameters and standards, he’s worked really hard. There was a lot made of his toe and he basically hasn’t missed a session. There was a slight tweak of a hamstring at one point, but other than that, you can see why he’s made it as an AFL player – he’s a really hard worker and he prepares really well. He’s an official part of the leadership group, so clearly he models a lot of the things we’re after.
What do you see as the ideal ruck model in the AFL at the moment?
There’s been [Collingwood’s] Leigh Brown and Darren Jolly, and then there was [Geelong’s] Trent West and Brad Ottens. The year before you think the Brown-Jolly model’s pretty good don’t you and then last year you probably think the West-Ottens model’s pretty good. So I think it’s a work in progress to work out your group and get your hand to the ball without losing too much run. To play two they’ve got to be able to pose a forward threat and put some pressure on.