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  • Writer's pictureThe Chief

The Measured Approach

No one knows more than us Fremantle supporters that purchasing expectations isn’t the most prudent investment in the mental wellbeing market. But there are many ways to measure wealth and our annual contributions to the Purple Expectational Fund has been lucrative. The resilience and character-building dividends we’ve regularly received has sustained us in our near on thirty-year recession.

Show me someone who is an expert at dealing with adversity and I’ll show you a Fremantle Docker membership holder. No one has the capacity to deal with hardship and loss better than us. No one manages to get up off the canvass more than us. We’re journeymen, we’re prospective pioneers punching on and getting pelted along our path to ‘purpler’ pastures.

The experience of the eternal emotional rollercoaster that is synonymous with supporting our beloved Fremantle Dockers is actually something to be embraced. It’s the authentic uncompromised vast range of moments, consciously being captivatingly present and living in the now. We cannot truly know the feeling of success without experiencing the pain of failure. Yes, Ok I admit we’ve built up an immunity to the healing properties of a Vodka, Valium and Paracetamol cocktail, but that doesn’t mean pain isn’t paramount for purposeful personal growth.

So, with immunity waning and the battle wounds taking their cumulative toll, maybe going into this specific year it is the right time to introduce a hint of some expectational balance, purely for our own benefit.

Yes, I know it doesn't sit right and it flies in the face and goes against everything we, as Fremantle Docker supporters, stand for and everything mentioned above. But there is just this hint of precariousness this year that even I as an eternal optimist, a defensive double downer and forever glass half full guy, feel about this upcoming season.

Off the back of a magnificent 2022 where we not only made the finals for the first time since 2015, but won a final, it is understandable the hype and expectations for 2023 would be off the scale. And on one hand I am saying, why shouldn’t we get carried away because that is what fans do, that is our journey. Quashing #flagmantle is the coach’s bag! Why should we not bake the premature purple cake? But on the other hand, the thought of a strategic chop out for our potential wellbeing as leverage, couldn’t hurt…. could it?

The sensible rational more measured mind knows history shows us that the trajectory of growth and the path to success in any field isn’t continuous. To use the current AFL buzz term, “improvement isn’t linear.”

Now I am not definitively saying we won’t excel this year; we may well do so. But from a personal point of view there are a number of factors I believe we face that could possibly negatively impact the trajectory, even if only marginally. If we suffer such an impact it would be temporarily so it leads me to, not exactly pump the brakes but let’s say..... just slightly ease the downward pressure of the foot on the expectation pedal. (If that isn’t having fifty cents each way I don’t know what is)

Over the off season we pretty much turned over 25% of our list. We saw 10 players depart and, so far, 9 players come in. Obviously, it isn’t like for like so it is far from black and white but we have ended up with a deficit of an average age of nearly 3 years and 70 games over the ins and outs.

Even if you remove the data distorting David Mundy from the equation, we’re still 18 months and 40 games lighter on average of those that came in. But removing David Mundy is denying the reality.

It is indeed a 'trading up' longer term move we needed to make to facilitate the desire for sustained success. But it does open us up to potential very short-term pitfalls, or rather just a consolidatory period.

Take Logue, Acres and Lobb for example. Three best 22 players in 2022, albeit Logue sporadically in his most suited position. That combination provided us around 82 years of age and 324 games of experience and 50 goals last year. Again, this is omitting the great David Mundy who brought as much on-field presence and leadership as he did statistical numbers.

Of those we recruited or traded in, you'd have to suggest Jaegar O’Meara and Luke Jackson would be the extent of the crop to occupy our current best 22 status.

We need to blood the likes of Matthew Johnson. We need to provide increased exposure for Neil Erasmus and Jye Amiss to further their development.

Quite simply we have to roll this year requiring heightened performance from younger, less experienced players and consequently we’re placing more responsibility on their shoulders.

Can they handle it? Quite possibly they can but from a depth perspective, that is where the age and experience deficiency may kick in. We all know we’re not going to get through a season unscathed in terms of injury.

Its difficult to point to the forward line as a contentious point of difference this year because it wasn’t exactly a well oiled machine last year either…. actually, I think we’ve only ever read about or seen from a distance the benefits of such a mythical team component.

In 2022 we were the lowest scoring team in the top eight, kicking two goals less per game than the top eight average. And in the wider league we were twelfth for score, kicking a goal less per game than the league average.

Despite what we all think of Rory Lobb and as happy as we are to see him off our books, he delivered 36 goals last year. He may not reproduce that tally again this year, had he still been here, but the reality is we not only need to replace them, we need to find a further 40 goals to bring us up to at least the top four average. Maybe, considering our miserly defence, we could get away with an extra 20 goals.

While we’re quietly confident the inclusion of a Fyfe and a Jackson can do a lot of that damage, you’d think the coaches don’t yet know what our settled line up will be. How could they? And given the vastly different shape our forward line may take on this year with the added new components, does it not need time to build cohesion? We’re going to be experimenting on the run… not unlike Pfizer and Moderna did with their covid jabs!

There is the tried and true saying in football “where you finish is where you’re supposed to be.” In other more annoying words ‘it is what it is.’ However, that is a simplistic view based on the law of averages and potentially the rub of the green. It is devoid of even some level of analysis.

At the beginning of 2022 the consensus was we’d land in the bottom of the eight. If we were told we’d finish 5th, two and a half wins off equal top spot we would have grabbed on and not let go.

We drew with Richmond and five of our wins were by a margins virtually on or under two kicks. Three wins were by single figures and two of them under a goal. They could potentially be classed as coin toss victories.

In terms of losses, we suffered just one close loss, a ten point defeat at the hands of St Kilda in round two.

Two and a half wins from the top and two and a half wins from a precarious 8th place. Does age, depth and experience play its part in those close games?

Predicting the top teams a year out is fraught with danger given the rapid everchanging nature of the league. But using last year as an indication, it is safe to suggest we’ve arguably gotten the toughest draw of any side in the league this year.

If you’re a “lid off” type of fan then throw the stats in the bin and prematurely paint the town purple. I’ll even supply the paint because that is who I’d prefer to be. But if you’re looking to construct any type of measured expectation, your draw isn’t a point to be glossed over.

Of last year’s top four, this year we play Melbourne and Sydney twice, Geelong (home) and Collingwood (away) once. In terms of the further top eight we play Brisbane and the Bulldogs twice and Richmond (home) once. So effectively half of our entire season’s games are against the top eight sides from last year. Over a quarter of them are against top four sides.

For balance though, when you look at our draw in 2022, our 2023 draw doesn’t appear on paper that much more difficult. We played five games against the top four sides and a total of ten games against the top eight.

But there are only 7 opportunities for us to play the top eight sides from 2022 whereas there were 8 opportunities for us in 2022 to play the top eight sides from 2021.

On top of landing on the wrong side of opportunity numbers, an extra game this year against the top four when you’re needing to improve, when you're minus age and experience and you realise just two and a half wins or two and a half losses last year separated ecstasy from potential tragedy…. that’s not nothing.

Our 2023 draw isn't a complaint, its just the reality. To be saddled with such a draw usually means you've had a very good year previously and you're in form.

It’s a long season for any player but more so for youngsters. Similar to last year we desperately need to set our season up and go a long way to virtually locking away a finals berth in the first six rounds. Because if we cannot do that then the treacherous run home could prove fatal.

We all know there are no easy games of footy but there are games on paper which you mark your increased chances with a pencil. (Never use a pen)

Our first six games are against St Kilda, North Melbourne, West Coast, Adelaide, Gold Coast and the Bulldogs. Five of six rounds against 2022 bottom eight sides and then it’s the much-anticipated Royal Rumble with Rory in round six.

It is imperative we will almost all of those first six because if we flip the sheet and take a look at our final eight rounds we have dates with Carlton, Collingwood, Sydney, Geelong, Brisbane, West Coast, Port Adelaide and Hawthorn. That is a tough run to the line and apart from the already banked four points in round twenty-two against the scoundrels up the road, few others if any we'd be overconfident about.

Cooling the heat of our run home just a little is the fact that we do have three of our last four at home which could just be the little edge we might desperately need.

However, with an experimental forward line, some sort of concern surrounding the fitness and / or availability of Sonny Walters and Luke Ryan and understandably a potential lack of true heat of the game day battle cohesion, those first six games may carry extra weight.

I don’t know, maybe I’m just thinking out aloud or rather thinking by print. Maybe I am over blowing the perceived difficulties and underestimating the growth in our own young group or how quickly our new forwards can function and prove productively cohesive. But I am a numbers guy and numbers don’t lie.

Then again maybe I’m simply subconsciously putting up barriers because I’ve become accustomed to being ‘that team’ and I unwittingly harbour irrational fears of “what now” if we did somehow reach the premiership promised land.

The truth is I’m actually really big on our medium and longer-term prospects because the crew down at Freo have methodically built this team brick by brick. But I’m drawing on my numerous stock market penny dreadful punt losses that I never learn from and realise nothing goes up in a straight line.

Who knows… it could just be the Dennis Denuto vibe of it. Medium to long term I am all in but my gut tells me to stay upbeat and excited but embrace the potential for a consolidatory season.

Having said all that..... where’s the fun in being analytically cautious? Oh to hell with it…. fill your boots with hype and overblown expectations and let’s run the gauntlet!

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