Flagmantle: Dare to Dream?
Can Fremantle keep their dreams of a maiden premiership alive and what has caused this resurgence of the Fremantle Football Club? Joshua Coales shares his thoughts.
I have been a member of the Freo footy club my entire 20 years of life. Year after year, I have been left wondering ‘what if?’ and thinking ‘there is always next year!’.
This year though? Something feels different. I remember saying to my Grandfather after Freo beat Hawthorn in round 13 that there is something special brewing with this current group of players, coaches and administrators.
The first full season of footy I can remember is 2010, Freo won their first three games with a group of young players starting to pour some optimism back into us Freo fans. Names like Barlow, Fyfe, Crowley, Mundy, Pavlich, Ballantyne and Walters were just starting to make their mark in the league or exponentially improving. That was the first time I remember being excited to be a Freo fan.
Being excited to go to school and not be ridiculed by Eagles fans for supporting Freo.
Being excited that this might be the first year that I might see the Dockers live in a final.
Maybe this group of players, Morabito, Duffield, Ibbotson, McPharlin, Sandilands, led by Mark Harvey would lead us to the promised land.
We made finals in 2010 but the excitement I remember having as a young, Freo loving eight-year-old has not been replicated until this year.
Not even the Ross Lyon led teams of 2012-2015 inspired as much optimism in me for the Dockers to finally bringing us starved supporters home a premiership as this current group.
There’s something different about the 2022 Fremantle Dockers.
There seems to be a genuine love of each other amongst the group and they understand what the Fremantle Football Club means to so many people around the country.
Looking at Freo’s daily training posts on social media, everyone is always smiling. From the first name picked, Brownlow Medal fancy Andrew Brayshaw, to players that are not in the best 22 such as Joel Western.
My personal favourite player to look for in these photos is Sean Darcy who always seems to have a cheeky grin on his face like he is up to no good.
He seems like the type of bloke that loves life and people love to be around.
This and a contract extension signed in 2021 to the end of 2024 are signs that the superstar Victorian ruckman will resist future offers to lure him back home.
Watching Freo live there is always someone there to pump up someone who has just made a crucial smother, a big tackle or those one per centers that are so important in modern day footy.
I can’t remember seeing as much love for us as fans and love for each other as a playing group from any other Fremantle side.
This has started from the top with the appointment Dale Alcock, a board member since 2011, to president in 2016, the hiring of Peter Bell as General Manager of Football in 2018 and the hiring of former Western Bulldogs CEO Simon Garlic in November 2019.
The appointment of people that love Fremantle and understand Fremantle has made the operations of the club, an area where Fremantle have previously struggled, a key point in Fremantle’s success.
Bell’s stubborn trade negotiations have allowed Fremantle to get Will Brodie, Blake Acres and Travis Collyer, all who have played significant roles throughout this year, for next to nothing.
Will Brodie was essentially a salary cap dump and has developed into a vital cog in Freo’s midfield and looks a surefire David Mundy replacement for when he retires at season’s end.
Acres was considered the ‘steak knives’ sweetener of the Bradley Hill trade but has established him as one of Fremantle’s most important players playing his role on the wing perfectly with many having him in All Australian contention before his injury in round 13, where he had 25 disposals and a goal before coming off in the last quarter with a hamstring injury.
Alcock and Garlic’s business and football backgrounds have established a strong platform for Fremantle to be a perennial finals team over the next five years.
Arguably the most important man in Freo’s rise to the top five this year is head coach, Justin Longmuir.
Longmuir played for Fremantle between 1999 and 2007, playing 139 games kicking 166 goals in a career that was cut short by injury. Longmuir was previously an assistant coach at West Coast and an assistant defensive coach at Collingwood where he helped coach them to a Grand Final appearance in 2018.
Appointed at the end of 2019, Longmuir’s first season was interrupted because of COVID. Despite this, Freo fans was optimistic with Longmuir’s new game style. It was quick, it flowed and we looked to attack from defence, something we hadn’t seen as supporters due to prior coach Ross Lyon’s heavy focus on defence.
Fremantle only won 7 games in 2020 but fans were filled with optimism. Caleb Serong won rising star, fellow draftee Hayden Young showed flashes of what he will develop into before a season ending hamstring injury and Sam Sturt kicked three on debut with injuries and the rise of other players preventing him from breaking back into Fremantle’s best 22.
Longmuir’s second off-season in 2021 was also interrupted due to COVID but the team continued to grow. We saw the debut of fan favourite Michael Frederick, the exciting Heath Chapman and promising youngsters in Brandon Walker, Lloyd Meek and Josh Tracey.
Fremantle were ravaged by injuries in 2021 with many key players such as Nat Fyfe, Alex Pearce and Brennan Cox missing crucial periods towards the end of the season when Fremantle were still in finals contention.
In 2021 Fremantle finished 11th missing the finals by one win and per centage.
One of the things myself and many fans like about JL is he is honest in his press conferences. It feels like he is talking to us as fans updating us on what he will do to make sure the team we love continues its rise.
Fans were filled with confidence heading into this season, but I don’t think anyone thought we would be as good as we were at times this year.
By round 11, Fremantle were sitting fourth with a record of seven wins and three losses and were to face their biggest test: the reigning Premiers, Melbourne who had not lost a game in 17 consecutive games, at the MCG.
Despite being 15 points behind at half time, Fremantle came out firing after half time to win by 40 points.
The second half of that game is what Freo can do when everything clicks.
When Sean Darcy dominates the ruck and gets the hit out down to Brayshaw, Mundy, Brodie, Serong, Fyfe or whoever drifts into the middle, Fremantle get the ball into their forward 50 quick and possess the ability to lock the ball in.
We saw this last weekend in one of Freo’s most famous comebacks from 7 goals down to 13-point winners against the Bulldogs in a final.
Freo’s pressure after half time was immense, the Bulldogs could barely get clean possession and when they scored, Freo replied almost immediately to keep the scoreboard pressure on the Bulldogs.
This seems to be Freo’s theme this year; start slowly but stay in the game then beat teams in the second half. We saw it against the Dogs, the Dees and Brisbane in round 12.
The Dees and the Lions play each other this weekend.
Wins such as those three and various other wins where Freo were challenged but held on such as against Port Adelaide, Geelong in Geelong (the hardest trip to make in footy) and Greater Western Sydney show that this team is resilient, a quality that I believe Freo teams of the past have not had.
Collingwood in front of 90,000 at the MCG on Saturday night will be the club’s biggest match since the 2015 preliminary final and will not be an easy task.
I see three keyways for Fremantle to win the game: Negate Darcy Moore, strong defensive set up behind the ball and not let Collingwood dictate the way the game is played.
Darcy Moore is one of the elite defenders in the competition. Last weekend when matched up on Jeremy Cameron and Tom Hawkins, he had 10 intercept marks. Griffin Louge has been a revalation for Fremantle this year. Taken at pick 7 in the 2016 draft, Louge has had an interrupted start to his career with injury and form forcing him to become a weapon that Longmuir can use either side of the ball. If Longmuir sticks with Louge and matches him up on Moore, it will negate his impact and force Collingwood’s other two key defenders Nathan Murphy and Brayden Maynard matched up on Rory Lobb, Jye Amiss or Matthew Taberner if Longmuir decides to select Taberner. Moore is key in propelling Collingwood forward. Freo need to negate this and Louge is the perfect option.
Collingwood are a young and fast side that move the ball quickly out of defence and transition very well into attack.
One aspect of Longmuir’s gameplan is allowing teams short kicks so Fremantle have an extra player down the line where they look to force the opposition to kick, having numbers at the contest and look to win the ball back or force it out of bounds.
The way this is broken down has been set by Sydney, who were patient enough to wait for their opportunities, slowed the game down and played it on their tempo to beat Fremantle in Perth earlier this season.
Fremantle can not slack off defensively at all this game otherwise the likes of Brodie Mihocek, Jack Ginnivan, Ash Johnson, Mason Cox and Beau McCreery will have no problem converting their opportunities.
Freo can’t give up another seven-goal lead to come back from.
Collingwood are a better side than the Bulldogs and if that happens, it may well be game over.
The Bulldogs brought ferocious pressure in the first half that Freo could not match until halfway through the second quarter.
Right from the first bounce, Freo must make sure the game is played on their terms. Darcy will have the ruck dominance over Darcy Cameron and Mason Cox, and it is crucial that Brayshaw, Brodie, Serong, Mundy and co are ready to bring that second half intensity from last weekend for 120 minutess of footy on Saturday to keep our Flagmantle dream alive.
I think we can beat Collingwood.
Despite our side’s inexperience, they have shown no matter what circumstances they are up against this year, they can and will find a way to win.
To all my fellow Freo supporters, we have stayed optimistic that we will be premiers every season since 1995, why stop now?
Flagmantle is well and truly alive.
Prediction: Fremantle by 7 points, Caleb Serong and Andy Brayshaw combine for 60 touches and two goals.