There is a nice bit of symmetry with Fremantle featuring on the first day of the AFL season, because they’ll be there on the last as well.
2014 is the year of the Docker – the club has done everything within its power to deliver a first premiership, and this year nothing will be able to stop them.
As a transplanted sandgroper, I’ve seen more of Fremantle over the years than most. A committed disciple at the Church of Matera up the Stirling Highway, I laughed when John Worsfold nearly killed Winston Abraham in the first ever Western Derby. I laughed with every recruiting blunder Freo made in the early days (you could have been excused for thinking Laurel and Hardy were heading up the Dockers’ scouting program). I laughed, in hindsight, when I found out Andrew McLeod didn’t quite, ahem, measure up for Gerard Neesham.
I laughed with each and every discarded Docker that went on to carve out a better career interstate.
I laughed, for the club that was the bitterest rival of my own turned failure into an art form and ingrained it so deeply into its fabric that the stain looked as though it may never wash out.
And I was surely laughing at work one night in September 2011 when news filtered through that Fremantle had sacked Mark Harvey, who had begun to turn the club around before being cruelled by injuries in his fourth full year in charge.
It was under Harvey the club had recruited some of the best talent in the land. You can debate the actual influence the former Essendon hard man had on the decisions, but the facts remain that Nat Fyfe, Michael Barlow, Stephen Hill, Hayden Ballantyne, Nick Suban, Zac Clarke, Michael Walters, Matt de Boer and Clancee Pearce arrived at the club during his shift.
We bandied just about every name except Ross Lyon’s as a potential replacement for Harvey that night, and when the man from Reservoir was anointed the next day in front of a frothing Perth media, you began to get the feeling the Dockers had played the biggest hand in their history.
I wasn’t laughing anymore.
The coup, engineered by president Steve Harris, CEO Steve Rosich and footy boss Chris Bond, may just have been the hardest decision the club had made in their 17-year existence. Last season’s performance showed it was the right one.
For a man whose press conferences are about as entertaining as cleaning infomercials, Lyon must channel a revivalist preacher in team meetings. Because his boys believe.
He took a St Kilda side that was weaker in every perceptible way to the 2010 Collingwood team to a drawn grand final, just one bounce of the ball away from a flag. A year earlier they pushed Geelong, the team of the decade, to within a Matthew Scarlett toe-poke of glory.
With Lyon, you don’t so much get buy-in as all-in. A glance at the first half of last year’s preliminary final win over the Swans was like watching a footy team slide every one of its chips into the centre of the table and eyeball the rest of the comp.
It was manic, it was terrifying and it was beautiful.
Fremantle are for real, and with Lyon steering the ship they’ve got the blend of tactics, mongrel and silk just right.
A flag beckons. Only calamity can stop them.