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Coach Ross Lyon sees Bennell as long term player for Freo

Ashley Browne  February 7, 2016 3:25 PM

AFL 2016 Portraits - Ross Lyon

Ross Lyon said Bennell embraced Freo culture.

So far, so good.

That's the early assessment by Ross Lyon on Harley Bennell, the gifted former Gold Coast midfielder who joined the Dockers at the end of last season.

Various off-field issues forced the divorce between the Bennell and the Suns, but the Dockers are hoping some new maturity, a bit of home cooking and some motherly love will help the 23-year-old West Australian grow as a footballer.

"He's embraced what we're all about," Lyon told AFL.com.au.

"He's not in full training yet; he has a bit of a calf, but we're taking the long-term view. It's not about round one. It's not even just about this season - we want him to be an eight-to-10-season player for us."

The fate of Bennell at the Dockers will be compared to that of Colin Sylvia, the talented Melbourne forward who joined the Dockers as a free agent in 2014 but who played just six matches in purple and departed the club by mutual agreement early last season.

But they are plainly different cases.

Sylvia was courted by the Dockers around the time of the 2013 Grand Final when Lyon's mind, and that of other key Fremantle decision-makers were understandably elsewhere. The due diligence might not have been quite what it should have.

"Certainly I was able to have more high-quality conversations with Harley, but you can't talk about them in the same breath," Lyon explained.

"I think from the outside I can understand how you'd compare them, but they're totally different cases. One was a veteran free agent, the other was a high draft pick who had played some high-level football."

There can be instances when the best move for young players is to move away from their home environment, but Lyon argues the opposite applies to Bennell.

"Harley saw being back in WA as a bonus and that's what he and his club initiated at the end of last season. I think anyone prefers that.

"His mum came over and had dinner. He has seven siblings and I think we all turn to our family when we're young and need some support. If you're a 23-year-old your family becomes critical," he said.

In a wide-ranging conversation, Lyon touched on several others whose form and fitness will be critical for the Dockers this year.

There will be no limits placed on Matthew Pavlich this year as he enters his 17th and almost certainly final year in the AFL.

"I've learned never to put a number on things. It becomes an albatross around your neck and is regurgitated ad nauseam, but suffice to say when Matthew's fit to play and available, we'll play him.

"But at the same time, if there's an opportunity to manage him or to rest him, we'll take that."

Training report: Friday 5 February 

Nat Fyfe has returned to full training after a back injury and Lyon is hoping that some added depth through the midfield would allow the Brownlow medalist to spend more time in the forward line.

At the same time, Lyon hopes to have enough numbers through the midfield to be able to deploy new skipper David Mundy behind the ball. "We like his distribution when he plays there," Lyon said.

The retirement of Luke McPharlin will lead to changes in the back half. Groin and thumb injuries cruelled Zac Dawson's 2015 campaign but he has enjoyed a strong summer, while Lyon is also positive about Alex Silvagni and the emerging Alex Pearce, who he said has grown a couple of centimetres.

Sam Collins, drafted to the Dockers from VFL club Box Hill, is also a chance to play sooner rather than later.

The Dockers got off to a flyer last year, winning nine straight games to open the season and 12 of their first 13 overall. Problems set in late in the season, but the fast start could be attributed to a long and hard pre-season, with an increased emphasis on running.

That theme has continued this summer, but the nature has changed. Lyon said all the running has taken place entirely in a football context rather than "between the cones". Mini-games and handball games have been used to help the Dockers execute better under pressure.

Statistics show that after the first eight games of last season, the Dockers slipped in areas such as contested and uncontested possessions, marks and long kicking. They averaged 97.2 points a game until then, compared to 78.2 thereafter.

Lyon hopes the tweaks to the running program this summer will help the Dockers work through situations when their midfield is strangled and their often lightning-quick ball movement is stymied.

"We stopped spreading the ball, so we just bombed it in to get forward entries and that made us easier to defend. That put some pressure on us," he said.

"Hopefully (the revised summer program) has helped us to improve our skill and decision making under pressure."