It feels as if for the first time in their short history, the Fremantle Dockers have success within their reach.
Whilst the last decade has seen a handful of finals wins and appearances, they’ve never looked as a side that was beyond a token challenger. In a town where the headlines are dominated by the West Coast Eagles, and whilst the press continues to eye off their recent slump and the future of John Worsfold, the Dockers are seeing their own fortunes change right under the radar.
When Mark Harvey took the Dockers to sixth in 2010 with a mix of maturing players and talented youth, it appeared that the tide was looking to turn, and many pencilled them in as top four aspirants in 2011. What occurred next was a cavalcade of injuries and a game plan that was quite freewheeling, but fell apart when applied with immense pressure.
In 2011, the Dockers averaged 78 points a game, whilst their opposition racked up on average 96 points for. Even in 2010 when things were going Fremantle’s way, the opposition still averaged 95 points against. These were not figures of contenders, but pretenders who still managed to leak heavy scores.
Fast-forward to the end of 2011. That September evening when Ross Lyon was installed as coach still rings in the memory as something so sudden and unforeseen. Whilst Mark Harvey was under the pump, no one was sure who would step up to the plate and many were even confident Harvey would get another year.
It was a deal done through back channels and midnight phone calls. Many dismissed the early reports in the eastern states as nothing but rumour mongering.
Lyon understood that the Saints list had been exhausted of potential flag wise, therefore he moved on to his next assignment.
It became apparent through those painful early games that this process was not an overnight thing. A couple of uncompetitive losses and fade outs saw the doubters come out of the woodwork and snipe the tactics of the new coach.
In the aftermath of the round nine derby, these calls reached their peak when the Dockers tactics not only put on a horrendous spectacle, but saw them muster only a meagre five goals in perfect conditions.
In what can only be seen as a stunning transformation in the space of 12 months, the Dockers have won 17 of their last 24 games, including a draw against the reigning premiers and a famous victory against the Cats in last year’s Elimination Final.
For a side that struggled immensely to win in Melbourne, they’re now cohesive enough as a unit in that traveling interstate hasn’t been an issue. Winning all of their last five games in Victoria has installed enough of a belief that they can take their high-pressing, counter attacking show on the road.
Last season, through their expanded defensive output, saw points against reduced to an average of 77. Currently midway through this season, they average a mere 72 points against, a tally lower than what the Swans ended up with in their premiership year of 2012 (74 points).
What makes such a feat even more impressive is that they’ve managed to deal with injury related absences. Matthew Pavlich, Michael Walters, Aaron Sandilands, Jonathan Griffin have all had extended runs on the sidelines, not to mention games missed from Nathan Fyfe, Garrick Ibbotson, Stephen Hill and Kepler Bradley.
The Dockers for the rest of this season play only four finalists from last year, with two of them at home in North Melbourne and Adelaide. Realistically, a home qualifying final is within their grasp and is the perfect springboard for an assault on the flag.
Geelong might be timing their run, the Swans might be galvanising nicely and the Hawks will always threaten, but dismiss the Dockers at your own peril.