After nine rounds of the 2017 AFL Premiership Season the Fremantle Dockers are sitting fifth on the ladder with a 6-3 win-loss record. If anyone had suggested before the season the Dockers would be just one win and percentage off top spot after nine games we would have called them crazy, had they suggested they’d be in this position after what happened in the first two rounds I would have driven them to the doctor myself!
Fremantle started the season in the worst possible fashion, getting hammered and humiliated by Geelong and Port Adelaide in the first two rounds. Many, myself included, expected Fremantle were once again destined to be cellar dwellers and that Ross Lyon would struggle to see out the season, let alone his contract, set to expire at the end of 2020.
However, since their Adelaide Oval debacle against the Power, Lyon and his side have managed to turn it around and win six of their next seven matches, only losing to cross town rivals West Coast. The Dockers looked set for another disaster of a season after inept performances from their senior players in the opening two weeks of the season, and it was Lyon’s decision, forced or otherwise, to drop those senior players and back in some younger players that has been the catalyst in turning the season around .
The likes of Hayden Crozier, Brady Grey, Harley Balic and Darcy Tucker, among others, have been instrumental in reversing the side’s fortunes. Their pace and youthful enthusiasm has not only breathed new life into the Dockers season, but also senior stars like Michael Johnson and Michael Walters who appeared to be struggling early in the season.
The form of new recruits Bradley Hill, Joel Hamling, Cam McCarthy and Shane Kersten has also been vital to the turn around. Hill in particular has been a star since crossing from Hawthorn to play with his brother Stephen at Fremantle. Hill’s run and carry, as well as exceptional ball use has helped Freo cash in the dominance and hard work of Nat Fyfe and Lachie Neale in the clinches.
Fremantle have been brave and if they can keep their stars injury free there is no reason they can’t play finals football in 2017.
Brave is the key word, it takes bravery to drop consistently underperforming senior players. It takes courage to challenge your players. Fremantle have been brave so far this season, but their arch-rivals the West Coast Eagles have not.
The Eagles sit one spot above Fremantle on the ladder and are clinging onto their top four spot by percentage. Their lack of intent and hunger for the contested ball was exposed by Essendon and they were subsequently embarrassed for the second time this season in Melbourne.
Unlike Fremantle, West Coast came into this season with plenty of expectations placed on them, and most would have expected a strong reaction from a team that have been humbled in their last two finals appearances, both times being belted at the coal face by hungrier and more determined opposition.
Adam Simpson needs to learn from Ross Lyon and be brave to help his side get their mojo back. Like Lyon, Simpson has a group of consistently under-performing senior players in his side. The likes of Sharrod Wellingham, Jack Redden, Chris Masten, Jack Darling and Mark LeCras to name just a few have been well below their best for some time now and it is costing West Coast. They currently have the oldest list in the AFL and believe they are right in the premiership window – hence the recruitment of Sam Mitchell. Unfortunately for Simpson it is some of his more established players who are letting him down.
After another interstate capitulation and a lack of effort, intent and hardness at the contest exposed the Eagles and it could be time for an injection of youth and enthusiasm to bring the hard edge back to their football.
As Ross Lyon discovered, you won’t know until you try. It might be time for Simpson to take a leaf out of Fremantle’s book.