One of the key architects in Fremantle’s push to the 2013 AFL Grand Final was the impressive work up forward of Michael Walters.
After losing his way in early 2012, forcing the Dockers to banish him back to Swan Districts in the WAFL, Walters bounced back and enjoyed a stunningly successful year in 2013.
Kicking a career-high 46 goals in 21 games, including two in the Dockers’ 15-point defeat to the Hawks on Grand Final day, his hard work was recognised with his naming in the initial All-Australian squad of 40.
For Walters and Fremantle, 2014 was to be a season for redemption with Walters central to that: however, his year was almost over before it started, suffering a severe ankle injury in the round three clash against the Dockers’ 2013 nemesis in Hawthorn.
A dislocated tendon in his left ankle required surgery that would see him miss the vast majority of the season.
Through hard work and rehabilitation, Walters got himself back in the Dockers’ side just before the finals, making his AFL comeback in round 21, also against Hawthorn.
It was a reasonable return to senior football with 15 disposals and one goal, but what was all the more pleasing for Dockers fans was his sustained impact in his remaining four matches.
Walters booted 10 goals, including three in the Dockers’ semi final loss to Port Adelaide, ultimately averaging a handy 13.8 disposals and 2.4 tackles in his five games upon his return. Impressively, in the eight games he did play, he ranked fourth in the league for goal assists per game, highlighting the importance of his work up forward.
The other disappointing aspect of his 2014 campaign was his accuracy in front of goal. A return of 15.13 for the season was punctuated by hauls of 2.5 against the Suns in round two and 3.3 in the Dockers’ season-ending semi final loss to Port Adelaide.
Now with a new season around the corner and a full pre-season under his belt, Walters is set to make his mark on the 2015 season.
The club have shown faith in the 24-year-old, signing him to a two-year contract extension which ties him to the Dockers until the end of the 2018 season.
When fully fit, he is one of the most dynamic small forwards in the league, and he creates a formidable duo for the Dockers with fellow small forward Hayden Ballantyne.
The pair combined for 80 goals in 2013 and 64 last season, despite Walters only playing eight of a possible 24 games.
Undoubtedly, the loss of Walters for the majority of the 2014 season hurt the Dockers up forward. If he is able to match the lofty standards of his 2013 season, Fremantle would be well on the way to reaching the last Saturday in September.
In the opinion of his team-mates, Walters has matured enough as a player to be considered a leader at the club. Provided he remains fit and well, 2015 should be the year this missing link fires on all cylinders for the Dockers.