Retired St Kilda midfielder Steve Baker says Fremantle is on the road to success
One of the key cogs in Ross Lyon’s St Kilda machine has urged Fremantle fans to be patient and said the Dockers were capable of being a power once the game plan “clicked”.
Heading into today’s Derby, which could shape Fremantle’s season, retired Saint Steve Baker, whose 203-game career at St Kilda took in Lyon’s five years at the helm, threw his support behind the coach’s defensive strategy, but admitted there were growing pains in its infancy.
“Our brand of football was quick and direct under Thommo (former coach Grant Thomas),” Baker said.
“To adapt the more defensive mindset in that first year, there was a bit of confusion between the players and it took us a long time to grasp the concept of the zone, foremost.
“But after the first year, when we got a bit of confidence in the zone and the defensive set-ups, when the whole team was on the same page, it felt like a well-oiled machine.
“When the other team got the ball, it just all fell into place and when they were coming out of defence, that was when we were more likely to kick a goal, just because of our pressure and the amount of turnovers we were creating.”
Lyon coached St Kilda from 2007 to last year before he moved across to Fremantle and statistics suggest the Dockers are slightly ahead in implementing the defensive style, tracing a similar path to the Saints’ first year under the coach.
After the first half of 2007, St Kilda was 14th with four wins and averaging just 74 points a game, despite boasting a forward line containing Fraser Gehrig, Nick Riewoldt, and Stephen Milne.
Fremantle enters today’s derby in eighth with a record of five-and-three, averaging 80.38pts for and 78.38pts against.
But it is a gameplan that has attracted the ire of even Fremantle’s supporters, with the club’s fans questioning the tactic on talkback radio after last week’s thumping by Hawthorn and booing sideways kicking in the win over Port Adelaide a fortnight ago.
Baker, now playing for Craigieburn in the Essendon District Football League, admitted the strategy was frustrating even for the Saints players in its infancy, but implored patience, pointing to the second-half of Lyon’s first year at St
Kilda, when the club struck a balance to score an average of 96.4pts a game and only narrowly miss finals.
“I think (Lyon) probably thought it would happen a bit faster than it did, for the players to get on the same page,” he said.
“We’d had the same quick-fast gameplan for years before that, so I think he got a bit frustrated with us and we were getting frustrated with him in that first year.
“But once we grasped it, when it did work and we had a couple of games where it did work beautifully we got confidence in the system, confidence in Ross and the second half of the season was a lot better.”
Baker admitted his exposure to Fremantle this year had been limited, but said the Dockers appeared to be implementing the same style and backed the plan to pay off in time.
“It seems like the same gameplan with the zone and they’ve got a good press and they always seem to put pressure on the ball-carrier, which is one of big things we used to try and do,” he said. “It can work for anyone, but it will just take time.
“For us, it took almost a full season to get it perfected and we were probably a bit late when we started playing some good games later in the first year.
“I loved playing under Ross, he loves his hard-nosed attitude and once he gets (the gameplan) working and the boys get some confidence in it, yeah, anyone can do (what we achieved).”