Something must be wrong. Sixteen rounds into the 2014 season and I am yet to pen a Dockers article, or even visibly promote my team’s chances. Perhaps I, too, am subscribing to the low-key approach the team has taken; the old “one game at a time, keep a lid on it” mentality. But make no mistake; the Dockers are building towards September, and have their eye on a likely top-two finish.
Come finals time, and barring a major catastrophe on the injury front to one of their prime movers (as I desperately scramble for something wooden to touch), it’s hard to see a better placed team than the Dockers. They’re currently in the midst of two months’ worth of games against bottom eight sides (their first two months were against all of the top eight sides), and their season finishes with some finals dress rehearsals against Geelong, Hawthorn and Port Adelaide.
Start off the season with the tough teams, enjoy a mid-season break against the easier ones as the injuries start to mount, and finish off with two or three tough encounters before playing finals. Sounds like the benchmark for what should be considered a “good” draw.
Personnel wise, the Dockers will struggle to fit in a number of quality players coming back from injury. All Australian defender Michael Johnson comes back this week from a month-long stint on the sidelines, then there’s gun midfielder Stephen Hill, and arguably the League’s premier small-forward, Michael Walters. It’s hard to see who gives up their spot for leadership group member Matt de Boer – unless Ross Lyon picks his team based on looks, in which case Matt is surely one of the first picked.
It’s a fortunate position to be in, and one that I’m cherishing as a supporter in Fremantle’s 20th year in the AFL. Particularly given the first 15 years of that existence were characterised by mediocrity. Some may argue that former coach Mark Harvey set the scene for the club’s recent run of on-field success, but it’s clear that Lyon has taken them to a new level in terms of professionalism.
It’s not just Lyon though; the whole club has more of an air of good, old-fashioned competence than it had in the past. Looking through some of the pictures in the 20th anniversary edition of the club’s in-house magazine, it brings back memories of how they just didn’t get it right from the very beginning onwards. The four-coloured playing strip. Damian Drum. Trent Croad. Trading away number one draft picks …
But I’ll leave it to Richmond supporters to dwell on the past, and I’ll gaze longingly into the future, the edges of my lips upturned with a hint of a smile at what might come to pass in two months’ time.
The Dockers will be hungrier this year after being overawed in the last year’s Grand Final. What’s more, they’ve improved from last year. Hayden Ballantyne has stepped up in Walter’s absence to become one of the best small-forwards in the League, with an all-round offensive and defensive game very few can rival. Nat Fyfe may become the next player to be denied a Brownlow Medal by the tribunal. Lachie Neale adds yet another weapon to an already extensive and imposing midfield. And who knows what dimensions Anthony Morabito will add, after last week making a successful return from his third knee reconstruction.
As Lyon would say of last year’s Grand Final, “failure is feedback”. The Dockers now know what it takes. They’ve improved on what was already a high standard, and they’re better prepared to go one better in 2014.
Follow Commentary Box Sports on Social Media!