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  • Writer's pictureThe Chief

Brick By Brick

With the apparent imminent influx of Premierships looking to Dock at Fremantle, Justin Longmuir has a contingency to counter the current global shipping supply chain issues. Leaving nothing to chance, he’s not only building his team but simultaneously and single-handedly building a new accommodating port! However, given the affection from fans over the draft results last week, he may need to make room for Premierships and the Love Boat!

It’s a tense time on this ancient spinning rock. While the former Boss would tell us ‘It’s never as good or as bad as it seems’, it is difficult to not feel like we’re existing in a perpetual state of turmoil. We’re in a sea, or rather a c of controversies. Covid, climate, corruption, conflicts, coercion, claims of cognitive concerns, China, corporations, communism, capitalism... the list goes on as far as the eye can c. It’s a melting pot of claimable conundrums and causes to combat, something for everyone from all social congregations and political coalitions.

Stability seems out of reach and while we control the things we can, it is what we can’t that has anxiety levels trending like another dingbat social media challenge.

But for a moment, if we zoom in and narrow the view to exclusively focus on our own non-covid Fremantle hub, it’s a different world. If we enter our own bubble and block out the noise, it’s the serenity of Bonnie Doon, and when you assess our personal situation from our internal AFL club vantage point, it’s difficult to be more optimistic about the future of our purple planet.

Within this Fremantle Docker world, arguably for the first time ever, there is a genuine perception that everything couldn’t be under more control. And strangely enough as a long-term Fremantle supporter, on some indoctrinated level, that itself feels a little unnerving.

Say what you want about Ross Lyon, but he is to date our most successful coach. He delivered us our first taste of genuinely meaningful finals and we’ll never forget our one and only last Saturday in September experience. However, and this may be unfair to him, as exciting and enjoyable as the era was and as historically significant as it will forever be, it never really felt as if we genuinely built a team from the ground up. Again though, to be fair, I personally wouldn’t change a thing if we had our time over.

Just over twelve months ago we wrote an article ( A Feeling Of Authenticity ) regarding the feeling Freo fans were experiencing that something different was brewing. Serious work was being undertaken on the foundations, it felt like feasibility studies were conducted and architectural blue prints were professionally drawn up. There was an attention to detail, a sense that those in charge had cohesively taken control, blocked out any distractions, implemented their intentions and began realistically building something purposeful.

The great Justin Longmuir came back to club and brought a wave of renewed enthusiasm. It was something every new coach brings to any club but there is that little extra bit of nostalgic pizzaz when that coach is one of your club’s most loved former players.

Momentarily he existed and operated in two worlds as on and off field remnants from the Lyon era lingered. Over the short journey since, departures occurred, appointments were made and as of today, the man they call JL has his handpicked soldiers and generals in the positions he desires.

It wasn’t by chance that Justin Longmuir ended up alongside ex-teammate and close confidant Peter Bell. Josh Carr’s appointment wasn’t simply opportunistic, Tendai Mzungu and Simon Eastaugh’s continual roles weren’t just gifted and Roger Hayden hasn’t been a long-term servant of the club because of a lack of candidates. They’re there because of their qualities, their Fremantle connection and their dedication to the cause. They’re there because they’re authentic ‘skin in the game’ members of the Fremantle coaching and development squads. They each individually and collectively gave their all in every moment of their Fremantle careers and the reconnection of that tight purple family relationship environment is shining through, sending out positive vibes and proving infectious to fans.

Its either all that or, as the smart money suggests, it’s more likely I need to reel in my nostalgic overindulgence in the Fremantle Football Club.

As we know, the JL and Bell combination, admittedly along with recruiting support staff, went to work immediately on the build via the 2019 draft. They snared Hayden Young, Caleb Serong and Liam Henry inside the top ten and then astutely selected Michael Fredderick at pick 61. While their body of work is a relatively small sample size, you’re a tough marker if you’re not putting four big ticks next to each of their names.

2020 on field, Longmuir’s debut year as a senior coach, was impressive. Not from a wins and losses perspective but through the indicative taste we got of the quality and potential long-term prospects of our draftees. And it was JL’s apparent ability to get his soldiers, young and old, to buy in, consequently providing fans a visible road map of the direction the club was intending to travel.

It was difficult enough dealing with the first of the covid climate seasons, so the horrendous injuries suffered by numerous key players only compounded the problematic year. But it was how we dealt with them, the youngsters that were blooded because of them and the willingness of the individuals across the board to perform their specific team-oriented roles in the embryonic stage of JL’s game plan, which conspicuously stood out.

There was a collective nod of appreciation and acknowledgement by us long suffering fans. We all know where we have been and where we haven’t been, but we were seeing flashes and tidbits of something that instantly made us believe could eventually take us where we wish to go.

That then brings us to the 2020 draft.

Justin Longmuir and Peter Bell signalled that forwards and outside run were the requirements, so it was initially bewildering to pick up a defender at our first pick, a defensive mid with our second and a third defender, an academy selection at pick 50. Admittedly, small forward Joel Western, our second academy prospect, was taken at pick 54 and then we added the fan favorite Josh Treacy from the Rookie draft, but it seemed we spent the high-end currency on what we were already sufficient in.

However, when the dust settled it was evident that the ‘best available player’ strategy superseded the ‘fill a need’ policy. While Nathan O’Driscoll is yet to break into the side, there wouldn’t be too many Fremantle fans, if any, that would hand back Nathan Chapman, Brandon Walker and/or Josh Treacy.

Into 2021 on the field and it is fair to suggest expectations were buoyant. But as we are all armed with historically long-term experiential data, those same expectations were cautiously measured. It was a volatile season which produced predictable and satisfying wins, but numerous disappointing losses.

On paper it was an acceptable season of ten victories leaving us just a win and percentage short of the finals. However, just two wins were against top eight teams and, to be brutally honest, a host of external results possibly shielded us from the reality. Strip it back and view each result in isolation and it probably painted a more accurate and less glossy picture of where the club is at.

Now that may seem negative, but the wider perspective reveals otherwise. Quite simply growth isn’t linear and nothing goes up in a straight line.

When you wholly and solely commit to a genuine rebuild and the drafting strategy is adopted, you rapidly substitute age and experience for what you hope is upgraded long term talent. Consequently, when you’re then dealing with a predominantly youthful team, fluctuation in individual performance is unavoidable and, subsequently, it exposes you to numerous dangers. Yet enduring those dangers is actually an imperative consequential benefit and an inevitable challenge that must be met along the journey.

So, we then arrive at the recent 2021 post season trade and draft meat markets. Did we secure a nice cut of Wagu Beef or the “what the hell is in those sausages” that make up part of the Chase The Ace consolation meat tray prize on offer at the front bar of the Girrawheen?

From a trade perspective, you’re a tough person to please if you’re not even just smugly satisfied with Jordan Clark and Will Brodie.

Talking drafts, we went in requiring the same needs as we did twelve months ago and it appears this time around we understood the assignment and met the brief. Jye Amiss, Neil Erasmus, Matthew Johnson and Eric Benning all made their way to Freo. Add in the outside running and skilled Victorian winger Karl Worner from the rookie draft and how good is that grass fed, biodynamically raised Wagu Beef tasting?

The planets seemed to align because it’s still difficult to comprehend how the players we were in desperate need of, were the high-end talent in a draft which we occupied numerous high-end picks in, and, on top of that, apart from Worner, all were Sandgropers.

Is it a case of right place at the right time with the right currency or was it prudent Peter’s patience paying off? Could it simply have been the rare occurrence where best available players just happened to be our needs?

Whatever the case, from 2019 to date we’ve got serious draft momentum happening and, on face value, 2021 could be one of our most lucrative drafting accomplishments.

But for a moment, if we remove the glitz and glamour of the individual names and high draft pick talent we have secured, this recent performance holds greater significance. It is another vital step in the journey, a valuable brick in the rebuilding wall and it further emboldens the confidence the fans would have in the current Fremantle hierarchy.

They’ve shown an unwavering dedication to their vision and the plan they implemented. No doubt there would have been path straying temptations along the way and it would have been extremely interesting to see how the crew would have handled the Lachie Neale situation had he followed through on his surprising request. But you can only judge performance on actuals and results and, in recent times, we’ll struggle to find a draft or trade play they haven’t knocked out of the park.

We can talk razzle dazzle draft picks all day, and who wouldn’t want to, but, in the end, the reality is they’re simply numbers on a profile. While high draft picks are the key ingredient in the recipe for success, we have to realise that many across the AFL haven’t lived up to the hype. That been said, history says you need them so while securing them is one thing, developing and retaining them is another. Therefor this build we’re banging on about is ever a work in progress.

It is though difficult not to be a tad excited because heading into 2022 we will at this stage be armed with a list of 41 players of which almost 25% of them being top 10 draft picks. Nine top ten national draftees and a total of fourteen top twenty.

Fremantle club President Dale Alcock recently announced, what seemed at the time, an ambitious strategic plan. Two club premierships and 80,000 members by 2025. While I am unsure of the beneficial angle the club is working by sticking their necks out and announcing that publicly, when you sit back and look at the position the club is in, it feels like it should well and truly be in the realm of possibility, despite how incredibly difficult premierships are to secure.

Right at this point in time we have a lot of talented youngsters. The entire list has an average age of 24 and 61 games (6 months younger and 7 games lighter without David Mundy) and when you take into account 2025 is four years away, a club with an average age list of then around 28 is right in the window.

At the end of 2018 we lost Lachie Neale followed by Brad Hill and Ed Langdon at the completion of 2019. The now loss of Adam Cerra after four years development and 75+ games hurt and will no doubt bite.

If you take four highly competent and talented players of that calibre out of the progress of a re-build or re-pipe or re-wire or whatever you want to call it, it has to destroy a portion of your soul and set you back substantially.

The fact we suffered those casualties and are heading into 2022 in the shape and spirit we are in, is a testament to what is being, and so far has actually been, constructed. You start to go from rhetorically crying ‘what more can we lose’, to ‘what can’t this Fremantle Football Club and its members withstand?’

When you think about that, you realise there’s not another club in the country in any code that could be as historically unsuccessful as Fremantle and have over 50k members. Dale Alcock sees this and he knows that if we get this thing right, we’re going to need a bigger boat. And the only way to get something right, is to build it from the ground up.

So, continuing that line of thinking, it’s clear to see now that when you want to build something, you need.... well…. experienced builders. When we take a deeper dive, we can see the club has ensured builders were appointed at the board room level in the coaching ranks and within the playing group.

Peter Bell builds deals. Fremantle president Dale Alcock builds homes. Board member and ex-Freo player James Clement builds businesses. Caleb Serong is building a personal trophy and medal cabinet, Josh Carr built an army of enemies in his playing days and, in his spare time coach Justin Longmuir builds furniture.... when he's not building shipping ports.

So now, knowing all that, I can clearly see why Fremantle went after Bulldog Murphy, the man known as Bob.

The facts of the matter are that, while we have a Nostraderasmus on our list now, no one can truly crystal ball the future. The building blocks are being methodically laid, not only to provide us a genuine chance at getting to the promised land, but to elevate the Fremantle football club into a period of sustained success.

The question is, after nearly three decades teetering on the edge, being teased and tested, suffering heart attacks and heartbreak, how would we actually deal with the resulting overwhelming emotions, should we someday soon complete the climb and reach the premiership summit?

Who knows? But it’s something we all wish to find out.

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