Freo Dockers train hard during the 2013 pre-season
In mid 2012, Fremantle appeared to flick a switch that transformed the side from a struggling, low-ladder outfit, into a meticulously drilled defensive beast-of-a-unit that overwhelmed many opponents as it stormed into the finals.
The truth was, there was no switch, no overnight transition.
What the football world witnessed was a work-in-progress take a step forward in its development. What materialised mid-season was months of hard work spent studying Ross Lyon’s game plan and practicing it out on the training track.
Both Lyon and captain Matthew Pavlich have stressed the importance of Fremantle continuing to surge forward in 2013 – taking that next step.
Here are four key ingredients to help make that happen:
1. Breakthrough seasons
2012 saw the likes of Clancee Pearce, Michael Walters, Chris Mayne and Matt de Boer elevate their statuses in the game. The same has to happen in 2013 if Fremantle is to improve. Look at any premiership side from years gone by and you will see it contained players that lifted not only their own games, but the overall quality of their team. Josh Kennedy and Lewis Jetta were prime examples in Sydney’s success last year. At Fremantle, there are a host of candidates who could be primed for a breakthrough.
Nick Suban has been in the system for four seasons now and faces a big year. He’s had plenty of game time and has been serviceable, but the time has arrived for him to deliver on his potential. Jayden Pitt is another who needs to lift. Freo’s top pick from the 2010 National Draft had an auspicious debut year in 2011, but struggled last season. Pitt has bulked up and possesses above-average foot skills, however, a career-defining year looms.
Injuries curtailed Josh Mellington and Hayden Crozier in 2012 after both seemed destined to stay in the team. Both will be desperate to earn their spots back in 2013. Viv Michie is another talent-laden youngster who has held hands with injury during his two years in the AFL. He’s fighting fit so far in the pre-season, and the fact Freo extended his contract to the end of 2013 shows the club believes in the Victorian.
2. Stars align
At the end of 2010, David Mundy was as important as any member of the Fremantle team and an elite midfielder of the competition. Injuries in 2011 that spilt into early 2012 slowed him down. But come the end of Freo’s 2012 finals series, there was arguably no player in better form in the entire AFL. Mundy’s resurgence coincided with Fremantle’s climb up the ladder. With a full pre-season behind him, the 2010 Doig Medallist is primed to lead Freo’s charge from the engine room this season.
Nat Fyfe also had an interrupted 2012 because of a shoulder injury. It’s frightening to think what he can do with an unimpeded run in 2013.
Then there’s the veteran trio that have excelled at Freo for the best part of a decade - Matthew Pavlich, Luke McPharlin and Aaron Sandilands.
Pavlich and McPharlin had All Australian-worthy seasons in 2012, even though the latter was the only one formally recognised by the League. Aaron Sandilands missed the middle third of the season, but either side of that he was dominant in the ruck. If the club’s only 30-somethings continue performing at a high level, the success they so richly deserve is hopefully around the corner.
3. Fit and available
Injuries are the Kryptonite of even the greatest sides. It doesn’t matter how prepared a team is to compete for the ultimate success, if injuries strike, the task becomes exponentially harder. Ross Lyon’s main aim is to keep his players fit and available throughout the course of the season.
4. Top four
History tells us that to win the premiership a team must finish in the top four at the end of the home and away season. Since the current finals system was implemented in 2000, no side has even made a Grand Final from outside the four, let alone won one.
If the first three ingredients go according to plan, it augurs well for the fourth.