It’s been a stifling hot summer in Perth, but Fremantle players would have been waking up in cold sweats during the night thinking about last year’s grand final loss.
The Dockers’ 2013 campaign had all the ingredients of becoming a fairytale after the team overcame a raft of injuries to make the decider.
But the final chapter ended up being a nightmare, with Fremantle’s wayward goalkicking gifting Hawthorn the flag.
Goalsneak Hayden Ballantyne couldn’t hit the side of a barn, while even the ice-cool Nat Fyfe and skipper Matthew Pavlich succumbed to the pressure at crucial times.
They weren’t the only ones guilty of spraying their shots, with the team’s waywardness resulting in a 15-point loss to the Hawks.
“We had enough opportunities,” said Fremantle coach Ross Lyon.
“But as a team we weren’t ruthless enough on the day.”
Pavlich said the team learned valuable lessons from the heartbreaking defeat.
“Clearly early we weren’t composed with the football. We didn’t settle into the game as well as we would have liked,” Pavlich said.
“It’s hard to swallow. It’s taken a long time for the guys to get over.”
Fremantle shouldn’t be too disheartened over their grand final fizzer.
Great teams before them have also succumbed on the big stage, only to return the very next year to take the ultimate prize.
Their cross-town rivals West Coast did it in both 1992 and 2006.
More recently, Geelong (2009) and Hawthorn (2013) bounced back from grand final defeats to claim the flag.
The good news for Fremantle is their squad is still in premiership mode and ready to push for another grand final berth.
The bad news is, it may be the final chance for veterans Pavlich, Luke McPharlin and Aaron Sandilands to taste the ultimate success.
Fremantle are a hard-working team under renowned taskmaster Lyon, but they also ooze quality all over the park.
Fyfe, David Mundy and Michael Barlow are big-bodied midfielders who know how to win the ball, while Stephen Hill and Danyle Pearce are line-breakers.
If Fyfe can stay injury free and out of trouble on the tribunal front, he’ll be a good chance to win this year’s Brownlow medal.
Sandilands and Zac Clarke form a powerful ruck duo.
At 32, McPharlin is still one of the competition’s best defenders, while Michael Johnson was in career-best form last season on the way to his maiden All-Australian berth.
Ballantyne and Michael Walters are two of the competition’s best small forwards, while Pavlich and Chris Mayne are excellent marking targets.
The addition of former Bombers forward Scott Gumbleton is a big gamble that’s unlikely to pay off.
Gumbleton has been plagued by back and hamstring issues throughout his 35-game, seven-year career, and will miss the first half of the season after suffering another hamstring setback.
If he flourishes in the second half of the year, Fremantle should view it as a bonus. But they shouldn’t count on it.
The other new mature-age arrival is Colin Sylvia, whose development was stifled at Melbourne.
Lyon is renowned for getting the best out of players, and he’ll be hoping Sylvia flourishes under his watch.
Fremantle were by far the best defensive team last year, with the Dockers conceding just 69 points per game during the regular season.
They averaged 92.5 points in attack, but Lyon wants to improve that output by two goals per game.
Fremantle boast all the ingredients of a premiership team.
And if they manage to kick straight this year, their barren trophy cabinet may finally have something to house.
Coach: Ross Lyon
Captain: Matthew Pavlich
Last five years: 14-6-11-6-2
Key five: Nat Fyfe, David Mundy, Matthew Pavlich, Luke McPharlin, Aaron Sandilands.
One to watch: Colin Sylvia. After a decade of regular under-achievement at Melbourne, it will be fascinating to see if noted taskmaster Ross Lyon can turn Sylvia’s undoubted natural talent into consistent output.
Ins: Michael Apeness (Eastern U18), Brady Grey (Burnie Dockers Tas), Scott Gumbleton (Essendon), Alex Pearce (Devonport Tas), Colin Sylvia (Melbourne).
Outs: Jesse Crichton (delisted), Peter Faulks (delisted), Alex Forster (delisted), Josh Mellington (delisted), Viv Michie (Melbourne), Jayden Pitt (retired).
Best 22: B: Michael Johnson, Zac Dawson, Lee Spurr
HB: Danyle Pearce, Luke McPharlin, Paul Duffield
C: Stephen Hill, Nat Fyfe, David Mundy
HF: Tendai Mzungu, Chris Mayne, Hayden Ballantyne
F: Zac Clarke, Matthew Pavlich, Michael Walters
R: Aaron Sandilands, Michael Barlow, Ryan Crowley
I: Lachie Neale, Clancee Pearce, Matt de Boer, Colin Sylvia
Predicted finish: 2nd
To win the flag: $4.75
To make the top eight: $1.10