The agony of Dockers supporter over a yet another Eagles grand final

It must be difficult being an Espanyol or Atletico Madrid fan in Barcelona and Madrid respectively. The team you love, playing second fiddle to the juggernaut soccer clubs, Barcelona and Real Madrid.

But then again I am a Fremantle Dockers supporter – I know the feeling. Playing second fiddle to the West Coast Eagles, who are only a few days away from playing in their seventh grand final and who, if successful, will be holding aloft the Premiership Cup for the fourth time. In their 32 years of playing in the VFL/AFL competition they have played finals in 23 of those season (nearly 72% of the time).

The Dockers, who came into the competition in 1995, had to wait until 2003 before tasting finals football; the Eagles played finals footy in their second year. Dockers fans have only seen their team play finals in seven seasons out of 23, which amounts to a shade over a 30% successful strike rate. And we have reached the grand final only once, in 2013 when inaccurate kicking for goal ruined our chance of defeating the mighty Hawthorn side.

What is wrong with the Dockers? Plenty!

It goes back to the start.

While the Eagles had more favourable recruitment concessions when entering the VFL/AFL compared to the Dockers, some of our drafting and trading decisions are difficult to stomach.

We could have picked up the dual Norm Smith medalists Andrew McLeod as an entry concession selection in 1994 but we didn’t. The story goes that Fremantle had flown the 18-year-old McLeod and his father to Perth for an interview but the meeting didn’t go well. Apparently, none of the Dockers coaching or recruiting staff had seen McLeod play even though he had played in a premiership for Port Adelaide Football Club in the SANFL a few weeks earlier.  We decided we did not need him and that he could stay in SA and play for the Adelaide Crows. All they had to do was trade Chris Groom to us.

“Chris whom”, I hear you asking. No, not Hoom—Groom! He played only seven games for us before we delisted him at the end of the 1995 season.  “Oh, that Groom,” Exactly! McLeod became a superstar, playing over 300 games for the Crows, including two premierships. Turned out okay for McLeod I suppose.

We also decided it was okay to trade exciting young 17-year-old Jeff “Wizard” Farmer to Melbourne.  In exchange, we received Phil Gilbert who hardly troubled the Fremantle statistician during his brief sojourn with the Dockers. Yes, we did get Farmer back but we had to give the Demons pick number 17 in the draft.

You think that was bad.  Not nearly as bad as what we had to trade away to get dual North Melbourne premiership player Peter Bell back to the club. Remember that error of judgment? We delisted him after our first season in the competition. To get the midfield dynamo back to the club we traded Jess Sinclair to North Melbourne and gave the Roos draft picks 6, 8, and 37.

Right now, we have the CEO of the Dockers, Steve Rosich, acting as player list manager. Apparently, a replacement for the recently departed Brad Lloyd is imminent. Thankfully, the appointment only yesterday of Dockers’ legend Peter Bell as the club’s new general manager of football will alleviate the need for Rosich to be too involved in managing the playing list. Let’s hope so because the last time a Dockers CEO had a leading role in recruiting the results were not good.

Let us go back to the end of the disastrous 2001 season when the Dockers won only two games. And, when things go wrong, what do footy clubs do? They sack the coach. We, of course, drummed Coach Damian Drum out of the Dockers regiment mid-season. By the time the trade period came around the Dockers still had not appointed a new coach. Not a problem, we put then recently hired CEO Cameron Schwab in charge of recruiting.

Schwab wanted immediate success on the playing field. He said we need players who already have the runs on the board (to borrow a cricket analogy). Here’s the plan…

So, Fremantle became the first club to trade away the first selection in the national draft, which it received in addition to selection four as a priority draft pick due to their poor 2001 performance. In one of strongest drafts ever, the Dockers in their wisdom decided it was best to trade away its first three draft selections for Hawthorn’s key forward Trent Croad and injury prone former East Fremantle junior Luke McPharlin.

That left the draft “crumbs” to Hawthorn.  They had to use the draft picks Fremantle gave them to recruit Luke Hodge and Sam Mitchell. Croad played two season with Fremantle before returning to Hawthorn to play in their 2008 Premiership while McPharlin provided great service to the Dockers for a number of years. And Hodge and Mitchell ended up being superstars of the competition. Some crumbs.

Schwab is quoted as saying that it did not matter that we traded our high draft picks, as we would still have recruited key WA key position players, rather than players such as Hodge, Mitchell and oh yeah, Luke Ball and Chris Judd who were also in that super 2001draft.  This implies that the Dockers were not confident that they could keep interstate players at the club.

The Eagles have not had too much difficult in retaining their Victorian imports. Most players who are successful for the Eagles have wanted to stay. Of course, the major exception to that is Chris Judd who the Eagles in their wisdom drafted. But before he returned to Victoria and Carlton he gave great service to the Eagles, including captaining their 2006 Premiership side. And the astute Eagles played hardball with Carlton, gaining a very handy player in exchange for Judd – the superstar forward Josh Kennedy who will run out to the MCG this coming Saturday. Judd has long retired from the AFL but to be fair he did give Carlton great service before hanging up his boots.

Of course, Dockers have had some success in recruiting, and all clubs have had their duds. We did well to recruit goal kicking superstar Tony Modra and we snatched the club’s best ever player Matthew Pavlich from under the nose of Adelaide Crows.

Pavlich is truly a superstar, winning All Australian selection across all lines from full back to full forward. But he is even more of a superstar in that he was able to kick 700 career goals playing for the Dockers. Some of the goals were kicked while playing as a midfielder but most while playing as a key position forward. This is truly one of the greatest feats in modern AFL history.

Anyone who has watched a Dockers’ game will have noticed that the players in purple lose the ability to kick straight when they walk through the doors at the Fremantle Football Club. (I assume they once they had that ability otherwise we would not have recruited them. Yeah right!)

Poor Pav and any other Docker’s player leading to a kick. Invariably the ball will be kicked too high, or at the ankles, or to the left or right of the body. How Pav was able to gather the ball enough to kick 700 goals is truly amazing.

I have too often been envious of other teams—even teams below us in any particular year – as they are able to pass more accurately by foot than we can. The limited success we have enjoyed has not been due to our kicking skill level. More often than not, it has been due to the defensive pressure we applied and the herculean efforts of the superstars such as Bell, Pavlich, Sandilands, Mundy, Walters and Fyfe.

But our kicking is not always inaccurate. In a game at Subiaco Oval in 2012 against St Kilda, Dockers’ Adrian Fletcher collected the ball on the wing, looked inside and kicked a beautiful pass towards Pavlich. I am sure it was heading to Pav’s chest, which would have been a rare experience for the great one. However, umpire Peter Carey, probably as stunned as I was that a Docker’s player was kicking the ball accurately, decided instead that he would take the mark. A first in AFL history! Moreover, Carey experienced something that many a Docker player on a lead has not—a teammate kicking the ball, lace up to their chest.

However, we Dockers’ supporters should be happy. Our coach, Ross Lyon says we are in a rebuilding phase and we are ahead of schedule. Not sure about that. Why do we need a rebuild so quickly after a few season where we matched it with our big brothers up the road?

Oh well, what to do this weekend. Support the most hated team in the land – Collingwood that is—or hope for victory by our arch rivals? Maybe I will stay under the doona come Saturday. Or, read a good book.

Actually, I am searching for a book on how to improve one’s kicking of a Sherrin, and how to improve talent spotting. If you can help, please send details direct to Ross – care of the Dockers.

Dr Tony Buti MLA

Member for Armadale

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