Fremantle racing time in its quest for maiden AFL premiership

Date: September 12, 2014 / Posted by Glenn Mitchell

This season marks Fremantle’s 20th in the AFL, with the club still chasing that elusive maiden premiership.

It came close last year, falling 15 points short of Hawthorn on grand final day.

It is still in the mix for this season’s flag with a home semi-final against Port Adelaide next on the schedule.

However, if it fails to notch up a premiership this season is the window closing on the Dockers?

Statistics would indicate that is the case.

Fremantle started the season with the oldest squad in the competition with an average age of 24 years 132 days and across its entire squad, an average of 71 games per player, also the highest in the competition.

I would have thought it unlikely that most fans would have considered that to be the case.

However, what is of more interest is the average age of the teams that the top-four sides fielded in the first round of the finals series last weekend.

Reigning premier Hawthorn’s 22 had an average age of 26.9 years, ahead of Sydney (26.8), Geelong (26.5) and Fremantle (26.4).

Those same four clubs also had, by average age, the most experienced teams of the 18 that turned out in the last round of the home-and-away season.

The Hawks, Swans and Cats have each won a premiership in the past three years while Fremantle is still searching.

Fremantle’s average age would have been pushed up last weekend had its two All-Australian defenders Luke McPharlin (32.7) and Michael Johnson (29.9) been fit to play.

It is unlikely that either Sydney or Geelong would have included any from their injury list had they been fit while Hawthorn would likely have included Cyril Rioli (25.0), Matthew Suckling (26.1) and Ben McEvoy (25.1) if they were available.

So, with all things being equal, Fremantle would likely have fielded the oldest side from the top-four in this finals campaign.

At this stage the only likely post-season retirement from the Dockers’ squad appears to be McPharlin, however that is by no means a given although his ongoing battle with injuries this season will no doubt be in the forefront of his and the club’s mind.

Already, both Kepler Bradley (28yo) and Scott Gumbleton (26yo) have announced their retirements prior to season’s end.

Both Gumbleton and former Melbourne midfielder Colin Sylvia (28yo) were recruited during the off-season more with an eye to the here and now rather than the future.

Gumbleton was drafted by Essendon with the number two pick in the 2006 National Draft while Sylvia went to the Demons as the number three pick in the 2003 National Draft.

They were both recruited by Ross Lyon to further enhance a squad that was primed for the ultimate success.

Alas for the Dockers, the injuries that plagued Gumbleton at the Bombers followed him across the Nullarbor and Sylvia failed to do enough during the season to guarantee an ongoing place in the best 22.

Many in the football world saw Fremantle going a step further this season breaking its premiership drought.

Matthew Pavlich, one of the great’s of the modern era, has signed a one-year contract extension.

The six-time All-Australian will be in his 34th year when next season gets underway and as such his ability to regularly influence matches will be on the wane.

Replacing him will be no easy task.

Triple All-Australian ruckman Aaron Sandilands, who turns 33 before Christmas, continues to shoulder the ruck duties.

He has missed just one game this season which is in stark contrast to the previous three where he managed to turn out in just 37 of his club’s 71 matches.

Sandilands carries the biggest body in the sport around the ground each week and just how much longer it can continue to function at optimum level is questionable.

Should McPharlin retire it will place added stress on a side that is not overly blessed in the tall defender department.

In essence, the time for Fremantle is now.

If it is unable to win that elusive flag this season the ticking clock Father Time may become that little bit louder.

First published on The Roar – theroar.com.au – on 11 September 2014