Fremantle’s maiden premiership looks a fair way off

Date: September 27, 2015 / Posted by Glenn Mitchell

DockersFremantle’s premiership window has closed.

It is not a case of needing to rebuild but the club certainly needs to undergo a serious renovation before it can be again considered a genuine flag threat.

Hawthorn last night showed that its loss at Subiaco Oval to West Coast in week one of the finals was an aberration. Try as it might, Fremantle could not get over the top of the dual defending champion.

Yes, there were some questionable umpiring decisions in the opening quarter that led to Hawks’ goals but that was not the area that cost the Dockers the game.

Goal scoring – the perennial Achilles heel under Ross Lyon – was again to the fore as was a marked difference in the skill level between the two sides.

Lyon’s game plan is built around strangulation defence which is all well and good against lesser opponents but against a club like Hawthorn being able to match their defensive output up forward is the key.

Lyon, at both St Kilda and Fremantle, has coached in four grand finals for three losses and a draw. In those four games his teams have kicked totals of 7, 8, 9 and 10 goals. Last night the Dockers kicked just 10.7 while the Hawks managed 15.4.

Over the past four seasons Fremantle has averaged 71 points in its seven games against Hawthorn while conceding an average of 126 points per game.

Only once in that time has Fremantle scored over 80 points – round 21 last year at Subiaco where it won by 19 points (110 to 91).

Throughout the 2015 home-and-away season Hawthorn’s average for-and-against record in terms of points was 111-70, West Coast 106-71 and Fremantle 84-71.

Again it underlines the inability Fremantle faces in putting positive scoreboard pressure on the opposition- especially the top teams – despite the club claiming its first minor premiership. It is difficult to see how the team will improve its scoring capacity in the short term.

Last night may well have been skipper Matthew Pavlich’s final game. His 335th game sadly finished with him in the dugout after copping a cork in the last ten minutes of the match. Pavlich has been his team’s key power forward over the past ten seasons, topping the goalkicking in seven of those years.

However, the last three years the club’s leading goal scorer has been a small man – Michael Walters in 2013 and 2015 (46 & 44) and Hayden Ballantyne with 49 goals last season. Few teams win flags with their small forwards being the principal goal scorers.

Just who will provide a key marking target up forward in the absence of Pavlich is a key question for Fremantle as it looks to reshape its line-up.

Fremantle was hoping to entice Port Adelaide’s Jay Schulz to the club but he re-signed with the Power at the start of the week.

A few years back it tried desperately to lure Mitch Clark to the West but that fell through.

There is nobody on the current list at the Dockers who looks ready to assume the mantle.

Matt Taberner was selected as another tall forward for last night’s match but he was subbed out at three-quarter time having had just eight disposals and no scoring shots. Alex Pearce, who at 20 years of age tasted 13 games in his debut season, is a prospect for the future but the bulk of his football to date has been played down back and with Luke McPharlin certain to retire he may need to stay in the back half.

The Dockers priority in both the trade period and National Draft will be on securing big men.

History indicates that taller players take longer to mature at AFL level, hence the draft is unlikely to provide a quick fix. To rectify things in the short term the club will have to rely on free agency or a trade.

Recent history though has shown obtaining the services of an experienced big man will be tough.

The tyranny of distance is one of the main problems that will confront Fremantle in this regard.

With the exception of Pavlich, no other WA-based player has played over 300 games, and several careers – including the likes of Guy McKenna, Chris Lewis and Dean Kemp – ended mid-season after their bodies succumbed to the rigours of the game and the travel.

Senior and seasoned big men may well be eyeing clubs in the east as a future home to reduce the debilitating effect of fortnightly travel.

With Pavlich and McPharlin – the on-field bookends – missing and with the lack of any players who appear ready to take up the cudgels the Dockers’ future with respect to cracking its maiden premiership looks problematic.

This time next season Aaron Sandilands will be approaching 34 years of age, and likely at the end of his career too. Again, just who will be his replacement is a key decision facing the Fremantle match committee.

Zac Clarke has played 88 games and is yet to show that he has the goods long-term – he was omitted for last night’s game on the back of poor form in the last month of the season. Jonathon Griffin, at 29 years of age, was serviceable last night but he is more of a journeyman than number one ruckman having played just 77 games across nine seasons with both Adelaide and Fremantle.

Ross Lyon and Fremantle were seen as the perfect marriage when he arrived at the club ahead of the 2012 season.

He was seen as the man to take the Dockers to the flag and he himself was eyeing the club to provide him with a maiden premiership as a coach. To date it has not happened and there has to be doubt as to whether it will.

During his nine-year coaching career Lyon has a stellar 68.9 per cent winning record in home-and-away matches. However, when it comes to finals, his record sits at 47.5 per cent.

Fremantle will need to go backwards to go forward. Whether Lyon will have the passion to remain through that period remains to be seen.

Either way, it is difficult to see Fremantle breaking its duck in the near future.

First published on The Roar – theroar.com.au – on 26 September 2015