Ross Lyon will have to overcome his most formidable coaching foe if Fremantle is to shake the monkey off their back and win a maiden AFL flag.
In 10 contests between Lyon and Alastair Clarkson, seven of them while Lyon was coaching St Kilda, the Fremantle coach has won just three – and is yet to defeat Hawthorn with his Dockers.
Friday night at the MCG represents his best chance to get on the board so far, although the two best teams of 2013 meet again at Subiaco in Round 21 in what will be their last chance to land a psychological blow before the white heat of finals.
In the wake of his fourth unsuccessful grand final, there were plenty lining up to have a shot at Lyon’s defensive mindset.
But it was an approach that was a bounce of the ball away from delivering a flag in both 2009 and 2010, while last season the Dockers kicked 8.14 in the decider, spraying several shots at goal before going down by just 15 points.
Clarkson’s Hawthorn was seen as the precise-kicking, attack-oriented antithesis to a Lyon coached side – but the Hawks out-gritted the Dockers last season, beating them at their own game in the grand final.
The Hawks won the tackle count 80-65, edged the contested possessions 142-136 and the clearances 42-34, still managing to keep their composure under Fremantle’s vaunted pressure. Instead, it was the Dockers who couldn’t stand the heat.
For the differences in their game plan, Lyon and Clarkson shared some similarities as players.
Lyon played 127 games and kicked 112 goals for Fitzroy (and had two games for Brisbane) while Clarkson played 134 games with North Melbourne and Melbourne, booting 85 goals.
Lyon was an expert exponent of the bump, a silent assassin you didn’t see coming, while Clarkson was a more visible provocateur, a yapper who broke Ian Aitken’s jaw with a hit from behind in an end-of-season game in London. Robert Walls famously ordered his Carlton team to ensure Clarkson did not walk off the ground that day but, as he demonstrated when he survived an attempt by Jeff Kennett to have him stood down, the 45-year-old is nothing if not durable.
Even now, with his outbursts at junior footy umpires, Port Melbourne players and coaches’ box wall panelling, Clarkson sits closer to the boil than the restrained Lyon, whose press conferences can be sleep-inducing.
But as far as their rivalry goes, Lyon is very much Lex Luthor to Clarkson’s dual-premiership Superman, and the Fremantle mastermind will be desperately hoping new recruits Colin Sylvia and Scott Gumbleton, and a subtle tweaking of the game plan, can put some kryptonite in his pocket before September.
Friday night will tell us a fair bit about both clubs’ depth – with several top liners missing through injury or suspension.
The Dockers are without midfield guns Nat Fyfe (suspension) and Michael Barlow (knee), while key defender Zac Dawson (suspension) is also missing.
Hawthorn have been dealt a stiff hand from the physio’s room, with stalwarts Luke Hodge (groin) and Brad Sewell (hamstring) out, while this will be the first time the Dockers under Lyon will have encountered the Hawks without Buddy Franklin.