Will it finally be the year of the Lyon and the Docker?

Date: September 11, 2015 / Posted by Glenn Mitchell

LyonFremantle crow-barred Ross Lyon out of St Kilda with the specific goal of winning a premiership. Lyon headed west for the very same reason.

With the Dockers’ 2015 finals campaign kicking off on Saturday both the club and coach have the Holy Grail firmly in their sights.

Lyon was still under contract at Moorabbin when Fremantle made its audacious approach in late-2011. It was just over 12 months after he had guided the Saints into two grand finals in the one season – a draw against Collingwood ahead of a 56-point defeat in the rematch.

He had previously taken St Kilda to the grand final in 2009 where it fell an agonisingly 12 points shy of Geelong. His efforts that season saw him win the AFL Coaches Association Coach of the Year Award.

By the end of the 2011 season most believed the Saints’ premiership window had closed leaving Lyon still short of his ultimate goal.

Fremantle’s play for him made infinite sense. Lyon had proved he was a masterful tactician.

Following an injury interrupted 129-game playing career he set out on a path towards an AFL head coaching role.

His apprenticeship brought him into contact with no fewer than four premiership coaches. A four-year stint at Richmond under Robert Walls was followed by five years as a deputy to both David Parkin and Denis Pagan at Carlton.

In 2004 he headed north to become Sydney’s midfield coach under Paul Roos. Whilst there he was involved in consecutive grand finals in 2005 and 2006, the former ending a 72-year flag drought. Roos was full of praise for Lyon and the role he played in Sydney’s coaching structure, publicly endorsing him as a future coach.

In 2007, when the Saints’ job became vacant he beat a field of 52 candidates, including favourite John Longmire.

The apprenticeship was over. In his five years with St Kilda he boasted a win-loss percentage of 64.5 – the highest in the history of the club. But, in three attempts, the premiership eluded him.

When Fremantle came knocking it was an offer he could not refuse even though it did not endear him across the AFL community.

When Lyon lobbed in the West ahead of the 2012 season the Dockers had been through 17 seasons in the AFL for a total of six finals of which two were won. From day one Lyon had success with a finals campaign in his first year, a grand final loss in 2013 and a fourth-placing last season.

His win-loss percentage at Fremantle is 70.0 for an overall career mark of 66.9. It is an extremely healthy number but his CV is still missing that elusive premiership.

This season, for the first time, the Dockers have taken out the minor premiership, the prime seeding heading into the finals. It is the only time the club has managed a top-two finish after the home-and-away season.

A first-up win at home against an injury-ravaged Sydney on Saturday would gift the club a week’s rest and a home preliminary final. A loss this weekend would still afford them a home semi-final in week two.

The club’s early season form had many predicting it would go into the bye in round 12 still undefeated. That was not to be as they were dismantled at home by Richmond on the back of an eight-goal opening term blitz in round ten.

That defeat was followed by losses to two other premiership aspirants – in round 15 to Hawthorn (72 points) and round 20 versus West Coast (24).

The Dockers entered the final H & A round having secured top spot. Lyon opted to rest 11 players for the away game against Port Adelaide and consequently suffered a 69-point defeat.

The squad for Saturday’s game is pretty much at full strength with the only major question mark over Nat Fyfe, who has missed the past two weeks with a lower leg injury.

Freo enter the match knowing that a second grand final berth is there for the taking with the potential for successive finals at home before one last journey to Melbourne for the big dance.

Even though the Dockers finished clear of the field after the regular season they are not the flag favourites. That honour rests with the defending champion Hawthorn which is at $2.60, while Fremantle is at $4.00 and cross town rival West Coast at $4.25.

The challenge for Lyon is to get his current team to up the scoring compared to his previous grand final tilts.

The Lyon game plan is based around gut-running defence with mass numbers getting behind the ball in an effort to strangle the opponent’s scoring ability. Win possession and it becomes a rapid transition game into attack.

It is often said that defences win premierships but no matter how good that area of your game is there is still a necessity to outscore your opponent.

In his four grand finals to date Lyon’s teams have kicked totals of 10, 9, 8 and 7 goals. Barring wet conditions that output is unlikely to provide victory.

In the losses to Richmond and West Coast this season Fremantle was jumped out of the blocks – the Tigers kicked eight goals to three in the opening term while the Eagles booted seven goals to one.

Given the paucity of the Dockers’ scoring when they concede a significant lead early it is always difficult to edge back.

The percentages of the top five sides this season makes for interesting reading. Hawthorn had the most miserly defence with 1548 points conceded although the other four sides all fell within 30 points of that mark yet their overall percentages were far more disparate – Hawthorn (158.4), West Coast (148.2), Sydney (127.1), Richmond (123.1) and Fremantle (118.7).

It indicates the gulf between the Dockers’ stopping and scoring power.

On average this season Hawthorn scored 111 points per game and West Coast 106 compared to Fremantle’s 84 while on the conceded side of the ledger it was Hawthorn (70), Fremantle (71) and the Eagles (71).

Fremantle’s defence will likely maintain its vice like grip through the finals and will prove hard to crack. It is up forward however where the questions still lay.

If the output cannot be increased it is likely that for Lyon, after 216 games as a coach and for the Fremantle Dockers, after 475 games in the competition, that elusive flag will remain a dream.

First published on The Roar – theroar.com.au – on 10 September 2015, soliciting 37 comments