Saturday night sees the Fremantle Dockers host the Sydney Swans in the club’s first ever home Preliminary Final at Patersons Stadium.
For Dockers’ coach Ross Lyon, this season has been another triumph in a successful coaching career, which has seen both St. Kilda and the Dockers reach the finals in all but one year of his tenure.
The success of Lyon as a senior coach contrasts remarkably with his playing days at Fitzroy and briefly at Brisbane. In 129 games from 1985-1995 at both the Lions and Bears, Lyon never played in a final and was on the losing side of the ledger more often than not, appearing in only 43 winning sides as opposed to losing on 86 occasions. By contrast, at the present time Lyon holds an overall winning percentage of 65.7% as senior coach in his seven seasons coaching at AFL level.
Becoming regularly involved in a winning environment and culture didn’t emerge for Lyon until he moved into the assistant coaches chair at first Richmond, then at Carlton where he was in charge of the clubs VFL side. A move to the Swans followed in 2004, where he undertook his coaching apprenticeship under Paul Roos and played a crucial role as part of the coaching staff in the Swans breakthrough 2005 premiership win.
Lyon was appointed as Saints coach, replacing Grant Thomas for 2007, and in his first ever senior coaching position his record was highly impressive with a strike rate of 64.5%, leading the Saints to four successive finals campaigns and culminating in consecutive Grand Final appearances in 2009/2010. After the Saints exited the 2011 finals in the first week, Lyon was controversially head hunted by Fremantle, despite having 12 months left on his contract at St.Kilda.
After an initial teething period where the Dockers struggled to get their new game plan into place and were heavily criticised in the media for their ultra defensive style, they finished off the 2012 season in outstanding form. The Dockers’ won eight of their last nine home-and-away games, culminating in a finals berth and recorded an upset win over Geelong in an Elimination Final at the MCG. Fremantle was narrowly eliminated by Adelaide in a Semi-Final at AAMI Stadium, but overall in 2012 the Dockers under Lyon were significant improvers and looked set for a bumper 2013.
As expected, this year the Dockers have gone to another level, dropping just five games on their way to a third place finish and inflicting a rare home defeat to Geelong at Simonds Stadium in their 15-point Qualifying Final victory two weeks ago. This unexpected win earned the Dockers a vital week off and a deserved home Preliminary Final against last years premiers in Sydney.
Because of the sluggish form of the Swans in recent weeks and their associated injury list, the Dockers will enter the match as solid favourites to qualify for their first ever AFL Grand Final. Given Lyon was at the helm of the Saints in their two Grand Final near misses in 2009 and 2010, he and the rest of the Purple Army would be hoping that it is third time lucky and that the Dockers can bring the 2013 Premiership Cup over the Nullarbor to the other side of the Swan River.
In order for that to occur, the Dockers will first need to overcome two of the most accomplished sides of the modern era, in Sydney and either Geelong or Hawthorn. However, one thing is for sure, Ross Lyon will be plotting a way to bring the Swans, and either of the Cats or Hawks back to earth, in order to etch his name forever in the annals of history as coach of the first ever Fremantle Dockers premiership team. Only a fool would write the Dockers out of premiership calculations, and Ross Lyon is no fool.