A pressure filled, hard-hitting slog kept the Dockers slim finals hopes alive and all but ended Sydney’s season. But was it enough to convince us that Ross is still the right man for the job? How will John Longmire rebuild his list? Here are the big questions from Fremantle’s stirring one-point victory in Perth.
CAN FREMANTLE MAKE THE FINALS?
In one of the most even seasons in recent memory, it seems that up to four teams outside the top eight can make it to September with a little bit of luck. Coach Ross Lyon is still regarded as one of the best mentors in the game, but his recent campaigns have been average at best as the Dockers engineered a rebuild of its club.
Mid way through the season, Fremantle embarked on an impressive four game winning streak that had tongues wagging that a finals berth was now within reach, but the wheels have since started to wobble and the Dockers are now on the outside looking in. So can the Purple Haze mount another charge and make finals for the first time since 2015?
Looking ahead to Fremantle’s remaining five matches, perhaps no team has a tougher run than the Dockers, who face three interstate trips, two of them against teams in a similar position (Western Bulldogs and Port Adelaide), and their two home fixtures are against finals bound sides (Geelong and Essendon). Assuming that the Dockers beat St Kilda in round 21 (which is in Melbourne and not a forgone conclusion), the Dockers can only afford to lose one more match with teams around them also scrambling to see September action. Any more than that, and it will be another wasted season.
HOW DOES JOHN LONGMIRE REBUILD HIS LIST?
This is a season of discovery for John Longmire and the Swans, who will likely miss finals for the first time since 2009. Having to navigate through a sea of injuries and retirements, Horse has consistently played a younger side each week, kick-starting the development of his young brigade. But Sydney has never been a club that wants to bottom out, and like Hawthorn and Geelong, prefer to rebuild on the run and continue to have a crack at premierships. Is it now time to bottom out and return to the top end of the draft? Or can Sydney’s list management team find a superstar than can drag the Swans back up the ladder?
Currently possessing pick 4, Sydney will know that their salary cap is starting to bulge under the weight of their aging superstars, and if they can engineer a trade or force a retirement, there may be room to fit another star.
However, in the opinion of this Mongrel, it would benefit Sydney a lot more if they cut their losses with some of their veterans and keep progressing with youth. They have talent on their side in every position, but are crying out for experience. Bringing in another star will help in the short term, but will also keep a younger player out of the team and in the long term will hurt.
IS ROSS STILL THE MAN?
With Fremantle firmly in the middle of their regeneration, many in the media are now questioning whether coach Ross Lyon is still the man to lead the Dockers into their next period of triumph. Not renowned for long periods without success, Lyon’s last three years have been fruitful at the draft, but until this season, results on the field haven’t been in Fremantle’s favour.
So is Ross still the man for the job of resurrecting the Dockers? It seems his players still have faith, but after a four game losing streak followed by a scrappy victory against an opponent also rebuilding, does the Boss still have the patience to see out a further few years in the wilderness?
It may benefit Fremantle and Lyon himself to do as North Melbourne did, and mutually agree that Ross has taken this team as far as he can, and leave it in better condition than he inherited with a new mentor taking charge, perhaps one that already knows the system Lyon created.
WHO WERE THE PLAYERS OF THE MATCH?
It was a supreme performance by second year star Brayshaw, who has taken his game to another level in season 2019. Whilst 20 disposals certainly weren’t the highest on the day, Brayshaw’s toughness around the ball was exemplary in a game filled with pressure. Laying eight tackles, Brayshaw has more than shrugged off the mental demons of last year’s Derby incident.
The more things change with John Longmire’s side, the more they stay the same. Contracting another case of leather poisoning, Jake Lloyd’s defensive rebounding prowess was on show once again, collecting 42 disposals and eight marks in an astonishing display. In a game filled to the brim with pressure, Lloyd’s skills by both hand and foot were a highlight, and while his efficiency was slightly down on his season average, Lloyd going at 78% is still magnificent considering the contest.
Jake Lloyd’s counterpart, Dockers rebounder Ryan was his brilliant best in defence as the Swans mounted their charge in the second quarter. Collecting 21 disposals (14 kicks, 7 handballs) at 80 %, as well as taking seven marks and laying a game-high nine tackles, Ryan’s night was perhaps summed up best by his courageous mark against Tom McCartin in the final quarter and with the game firmly in the balance.
Still one of Fremantle’s best and most important players at 34 years of age, Mundy’s work in the guts of Optus Stadium was outstanding, with 18 of his 25 possessions being contested, a clear game high. With Nat Fyfe on the sidelines and with a return date still unclear, Mundy is Fremantle’s most important midfielder in a team of young stars. Whoever coaches the Dockers next season should make it one of his first priorities to keep Mundy around Docker heartland, and his experience, whether on the field or off will help the young Fremantle players enormously.
Young forward McLean must’ve felt like he’d been thrown to the wolves by his coach, who asked McLean to play as basically his team’s lone ruckman against Aaron Sandilands, Sean Darcy and Rory Lobb. Keep this in mind when you remember this was also McLean’s debut. The AFL world would’ve forgiven McLean had he performed poorly against such odds, but the young man rose to the occasion superbly, looking like a 100-game veteran in an impressive first-up performance. Collecting 13 disposals at 16 hit-outs, McLean showed that there are diamonds to be found at state league level, and that despite being overlooked in two drafts, McLean has a long career ahead of him.
WHO NEEDS TO IMPROVE?
With injuries to Jesse Hogan, Brennan Cox and Matt Taberner, the stage was set for former Giant McCarthy to finally realise his potential and enjoy a breakout second half of the year. Recording a measly five possessions, two marks and the solitary tackle and having no impact on the scoreboard, McCarthy simply was nowhere to be seen for much of the contest. In a position where seemingly no one else is capable of taking his spot, McCarthy can at least take solace in the security of his position, but once next season rolls around, performances of this inefficacy will only push McCarthy further down the pecking order.
In a similar position to McCarthy, young forward Tom McCartin is not as deep into his AFL career, so is marked less harshly to his Fremantle counterpart. Also gathering a team low five possessions, McCartin’s work in front of goal was off, but John Longmire will take positives that his young tall at least presented well, and while both his shots were behinds, McCartin will know that this can be easily fixed on the training track. Still in only his second season of AFL football, McCartin seems to have all the tools to succeed at the highest level once a few minor issues are naturally developed out of his game.
Playing in his first game of the season, and just his third overall, 19-year-old Stoddart was the beneficiary of Longmire’s desire to play youth for the remainder of the season. It may be considered unfair to single out a player in the infancy of his career, but it remains that Stoddart will improve naturally as his body and mind mature. Gathering just seven disposals, Stoddart looked overawed at times, and while his numbers suggest a return to the NEAFL is on the cards, Horse needs to persist with Stoddart for the final five games of 2019 and give him a proper taste of what the AFL is really like.