THE most successful coach in purple haze history is entering dangerous waters ahead of 2019. Ross Lyon helped Fremantle become relevant in the early part of the decade steering them to the club’s first and only Grand Final appearance in 2013 and minor premiership in 2015. However, not all things are rosy as the Dockers have put forth consecutive uninspiring seasons, causing some fans to call for a change at the top.
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I can still remember where I was when Ross Lyon was announced as Fremantle’s new head coach back in September of 2011, abruptly and shockingly leading to Mark Harvey’s somewhat unfair dismissal. Looking back it was a necessary evil to help the Dockers reach the next level and while it hasn’t delivered the ultimate prize, Freo has gone through it’s most successful era with Lyon at the helm.
THROUGH Lyon’s first four seasons at the Dockers, they allowed the fewest points in the entire league, developing a reputation as a defensive powerhouse. That defensive dominance saw them reel off a 63-24-1 record in that time, with the Swans and Hawks the only teams to win more games over that four-year window. However, unlike the Dockers, who were the 10th highest scoring team from 2012-2015, both Sydney and Hawthorn were inside the top-four for points scored during those four seasons. It should come as no surprise to learn that both teams combined to win all four premierships in that window with Hawthorn denying Fremantle of the flag in 2013.
Image from zimbio.com
AFTER success throughout the first four seasons with Lyon, many expected similar results to follow in 2016. Of course, as we all know the Dockers had an epic fall from grace going from 1st to 16th on the ladder, recording just four wins as they embarrassing started the year with a 10 game losing streak. While injuries didn’t help there was no mass exodus that triggered this tumble, with things still yet to get back on track. What makes matters worse is the defensive intensity that Lyon prided himself on seemed to vanish overnight for the Dockers.
FROM 2012-15, Freo allowed just 71.9 points a game in the home and away season, but in their last three seasons, their opponents have been scoring over 95 points a game on average. In case you were wondering, that difference in points allowed is the greatest in the AFL over the last three years. Putting winning scores on the board has never been a staple of Ross Lyon’s men, but their goal-kicking ability has taken a hit as well. Lyon’s first four years saw the Dockers hover at 89.5 points per outing, with their average falling to 71.7 in the last three.
IT might not sound like a lot, but for a team that hasn’t regularly put 15 majors on the board, a three-goal swing is massive. There’s no denying that Fremantle has seriously lacked talent up forward ever since favourite son Matthew Pavlich bowed out in 2016. In the past two years, no Docker has kicked more than 25 goals in a season, with the likes of Brennan Cox, Cam McCarthy, Shane Kersten and Michael Waters their most reliable options. They’re not exactly stellar talents in front of the sticks, but you have to wonder if the players or the coach are to blame.
Image from thewest.com.au
SO what do all these fancy points scored, goals allowed and other stats mean? Ross is in trouble. After back-to-back-to-back lacklustre seasons the Dockers’ frontman is on the hot seat, however, he has the chance to change his and Fremantle’s fortunes in 2019. A strong off-season of recruiting saw the Dockers land boom recruits Jesse Hogan and Rory Lobb while adding more depth to their squad adding veterans and another strong draft hand at the same time.
MORE able bodies won’t change Freo’s fortunes overnight, with a clear change of tactics necessary for Lyon to get the most out of his player group. It’s tough to gel and find consistency given the amount of turnover at the Dockers (32 fresh faces have been introduced in the last three years), but that’s no excuse for such a rapid decline. As he prepares for his eighth season as the head coach of the Dockers there is some cautious optimism around the group, with Nat Fyfe stating he’s hopeful Fremantle can challenge anyone in the upcoming season.
OWNING the deepest roster Lyon has in year’s it’s time to turn the Dockers around. While they have languished near the bottom of the ladder, they still managed to chalk up eight wins in the last two seasons, but Lyon’s season will be measured in much more than wins and losses. Signs of competitiveness have been few and far between for Freo in recent seasons and even if the L’s keep flowing they have to contain their opponents and put some scoreboard pressure on their opponents when given the chance. A 20-30 point loss can’t keep ballooning into a 10+ goal belting with fans and media personalities alike demanding more.
IF this season doesn’t pan out for Ross Lyon and the boys then the club will find themselves in an awkward position. With Lyon given a massive five-year extension back in ’15, the Dockers would have to fork out some serious coin (more than $2.5 million) if they wish to part ways with him before his contract expires. The next 22 games could define how Fremantle moves forward and who their head coach is, but there’s no doubt the pressure is on Lyon now more than ever. Does he need to overhaul the Dockers entire gameplan? Not entirely, but you can’t keep trying to fit a square peg in a round hole. The game has evolved since Fremantle was last a top-8 calibre side and if Lyon can’t get the men in purple to adapt then it could lead to an ugly ending for Ross in WA.