Fremantle’s 2019 campaign was one of ups and downs. Their improvement in ball movement and attack created some breathtakingly fast and exciting footy which was all too regularly halted by their lack of polish and their habit of retreating into their shell and playing overly defensive footy. They could look like top four fancies one moment and wooden spooners the next. Some dramatic late season losses ended their season early and cost their coach his job, players looked like leaving and the rebuild looked over just as it was gaining some foundation. Still, a Brownlow to superstar Nat Fyfe and some context within the season may show things weren’t all as bad as they seemed.
The Dockers best footy was more than competitive. They started the season with a bang, an emphatic 82-point drubbing over the Roos saw the Purple Army in full voice after round one. Even without their star recruit Hogan, things up forward seemed to be working in a way he hadn’t seen since 2015. There was a breath of fresh air.
Unfortunately, the attacking mantra didn’t hang around often, but wins against top tier teams GWS, Brisbane, Collingwood, Geelong, and an early narrow loss against the Eagles showed the competition that the Dockers’ sling shot, high pressure, open style of play could match it with the best.
What didn’t work
Fremantle’s season was defined by two things: Skill and injury. When up and about, the team looked on. Under pressure, though, they tended to fall into their shell, give the ball up too easily, and lose games simply by not being able to control possession or play with confidence. Their lack of skill was highlighted all season, and they were unable to rectify this.
Secondly, their injuries to key players was – and has been for some time- a problem within the club. Key Position players Taberner, Alex Pearce, Lobb, Sandilands, Kirstin, and Darcy all suffered injuries at various stages, which took a hit to both their structures and leadership. Kirstin was so dissatisfied with the medical staff that after his fourth month or so recovering from what was supposed to be a 3-4 week injury, he publicly walked out of the club to pursue other interests.
Not many teams are going to win too many games with key players out, and it was them- more than their lack of polish or systems- that lost them too many games.
Their inconsistency also needs to be pointed out. As good as it is to beat top sides, a team also needs to beat bottom sides. Losses against the Gold Coast, Carlton, Melbourne, Essendon, and St Kilda all should have been avoided – and if they had this might have been a much more positive write-up.
Nat Fyfe continued to grow as a leader and as a player. His second Brownlow lead the way to his third Doig and he was able to cement himself as a genuine great in the modern era. His set shot goal kicking improved to elite levels, and he imposed himself on every contest, free from the injuries which had held him back in recent years. Still, as much as his star rose, he wasn’t the most interesting case I think in terms of Fremantle’s players.
Michael Walters, the man who was once banished from the club, finally got the notice – and reached the potential- he had been teasing fans with for a decade. All Fremantle fans could see the talent and poise Walters brought to the Footy field as a forward, but extra time in the midfield proved he was a gun of the competition.
Alex Pearce was everyone’s All-Australian full back at the half-way point of the season. His leadership down back, as well as his incredible one-on-one defence made him noticed by critics and reporters around the country. Unfortunately, injury ruined the second half of his season, and the Dockers were unable to cover the loss down back.
Ross Lyon was somewhat unfairly sacked by the Dockers’ board, with one game to go of the regular season. I say unfairly, because I don’t think the Dockers were in as bad a place as the media made them out to be. Still, I agree with the decision- even if that sounds a bit contradictory- for two reasons: The team was beginning to stagnate, and the time was right. The list is in pretty good shape. Their best 22 is a very good 22, and they are beginning to develop some depth. However, the lack of polish and Lyon’s reluctance to coach skill was an obvious grind for the supporters. With Longmuir waiting in the wings, ready to come home, the time was right, and the right decision was made.
it is likely Fremantle will lose star Brad Hill to St. Kilda. This is bad loss for the club, but they wont let him leave without fair compensation. The Dockers also are set to lose Langdon to Melbourne, but he’s a more replaceable player. With Tucker improving this year, expect him (or maybe even Cerra) to make a move onto the wing.
For once, the Dockers don’t need to target tall players. Expect Blakely, Cerra and Brayshaw to spend more time in the midfield, as they cover for Hill, Neale, and Mundy who will go around for one last season. They need to recruit players with genuine pace and skill. Many of their movement was off the back of Brad Hill. Wilson off half back is good, but he needs support. They also need someone who can deliver the ball inside 50 with accuracy and poise. Expect them to draft the best available talent (probably local), rather than go for players who can fill specific roles.
This was an interesting season for Freo. They somehow met – yet fell short of my pre-season expectations. I think playing so well early on and having a legitimate claim to be a top eight side at the mid-season bye, allowed everyone to raise their expectations. Realistically, at that stage, the Dockers should have been looking to finish around 5th or 6th. However, their fall from grace was dramatic and their loss of form and momentum was marred with constant negative media talks, speculation, and criticism which lowered morale of the players and put the entire club on the back foot. Combine that with constant injury frustrations and some poor losses, and the back half of the season was really one to forget. Still, there are many good sides and some good changes have happened. So, don’t be too disheartened, Freo Fans.
I’m going to give them a pass mark, if just, not because I think the season was a success, but because in the context of the previous seasons, the club has taken a small step forward.