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  • Writer's pictureThe Chief

A Feeling Of Authenticity

The last thirty seconds on Saturday night was nothing short of debiculous, the official word for a collaboration of a debacle and the ridiculous. As emotionally vested and deeply passionate purple people, a period of venting is not only understandable but probably necessary for an array of numerous beneficial health reasons. There are no rules or time period parameters for recovery as we just simply journey through the emotional stages certain catastrophic football defeats instigate. We begin somewhere near bewilderment, pass through anger, stop in at devastation before coming out the other end with acceptance. Before you know it we’ve completed the round trip arriving back home at optimism.

In the cold hard overcast and dull light of today, we’re all still at varying stages. However, once we’ve all gotten through the grief, we’ll realise that apart from the immediate, we’ve sustained no irreparable damage and in the consistent words of the Restump Podcast’s Jojo McDonnell, “this year is all about process over outcome.”

Remove that 30 seconds and we return to the Fremantle Football club world where its wall to wall abuzz about the young crop of 2020 debutants, those that have played and those, yet to be seen, who will go on to potentially make their debut before this weird, yet somewhat perversely remarkable 2020 season comes to completion.

The overwhelming significance of this year for us Fremantle folk has been, and continues to be, the exciting growth. Football fans may be blinded as to why any free kick was paid against their team but when it comes to spotting the authenticity of true development, suddenly their vision is, dare we say, 2020.

Regardless of your win and loss ratio, when you’re not only blooding young exciting draft recruits but exposing them to the fierce contest in line with your developmental disciplines, it’s standing room only on that wagon. Get a win or two along the way and there’ll be covid restriction breaking celebrations.

When the majority of a club’s fans can see the precise and individual stages of a true build, they also feel it. They literally and metaphorically buy in. When the trajectory, which will fluctuate, is evident it creates a sense of calm, patience and an understanding of what is being constructed. Consequently, yes sure after the momentary emotional meltdown, we take refuge in the process, momentarily shielding ourselves from the fast pace cut throat “results now” ruthless business of home and away football and its mercenary media merry-go-round.

A real positive, one we probably rarely appreciate, derived from the journey of even a perceived successful rebuild is the enabling of the true fan to return to the unadulterated enjoyment of football. Sure, losses still hurt and they matter, but the thrill of seeing any of our raw youngsters show just a glimpse of what may be a future periodical normality, it reminds us of why we have this unconditional love affair with AFL and the club we have chosen to align with.

Even as we navigate our way through this bizarre covid climate crisis the, the love of the game finds a way to co-exist. Apart from the almighty dollar, which admittedly whether we like it or not is almightily influential, there are few other reasons the sport manages to get up and remain active in this problematic year, irrespective that the league’s existence continues to hang on by the ever deteriorating skinniest of threads.

So to actually have the AFL operational in a time of supposed unprecedented crisis, it only demonstrates the multifaceted importance it plays in the lives of many Australians.

But the simple love of the game isn’t why you called. It’s the heightened experience, the uncompromised organic thrill we all experience when our youngsters, the recently voice broken individuals we followed, researched and selected take to the field. It’s what gets us through the Saturday night shemozzle and realigns our focus.

This new rebuild, albeit now several years in the making, feels more than a changing of the guard, more than a repipe, rewire or restump. While dangerous words in the investment community, this time it genuinely feels different.

2020 has seen a complete reset, beginning with an altering of the architectural blue prints and an obvious change of project management personnel. New strategies were born, the foundations were laid and if the early show product is indicative of future prospects, memberships should rapidly sell off the plans.

Two rising star nominees in the first twelve games and five youngsters have made their debuts.

We’ve seen more than enough from the slick moving, highly skilful Hayden Young. The Stephen Hill 2.0 half back flanker was no doubt on his way to a rising star nomination before suffering his now season ending ankle injury. While obviously a small sample size, it’s substantially more than circumstantial evidence. It’s difficult to suggest you couldn’t take his career projections to the bank.

The 19 year old Caleb Serong just did the equivalent of an AfterPay on the stock exchange. There’s no shortage of commentary surrounding him or accolades being thrown his way after his recent performances. His round eight rising star nomination may well lead to his securing of the 2020 award. Either way, his stocks have gone through the roof and there isn’t an investor brave enough to be selling.

Despite the old man ramblings of a Michael Malthouse grasping for relevance, the hints that Michael Frederick has given us are enough to suggest the punt at pick 61 was well over the odds and a prudent selection by the club. Even the “Monaro’s” still photo shots are speed blurred! His electrifying pace is something to behold but it’s far from his only weapon. The potential upside to his game is stratospheric and getting games into him this early will only fast track his development.

And while the above three are currently in the limelight, let’s not forget the outstanding round one rising star nomination debut from the supremely talented Sam Sturt. Pick 17 in the 2018 draft, coach JL wasted no time in bringing in the young forward upon availability. Ten touches and three goals if you don’t mind! It was a debut game delivered by someone seemingly seasoned and experienced well beyond his 20 years of age. While the ankle injury has ended his 2020 season its worthwhile forward projecting the imagination of what a couple more preseasons and fifty plus games into his frame will deliver.

Without the fanfare of the above mentioned quartet, a young well-grounded Tobe Watson

wandered onto the field against Geelong in the torrential conditions and showed he wasn’t out of place. Sure he may look like the type of kid who’s “Dad may pick the fruit that goes to Cottees to make the cordial that Tobe like best” but on his output so far there’s every chance he will be defensively delivering purple fruit of a different kind for many years to come.

So with that crop of kids having well and truly broken their ducks in emphatic career signalling style, the 2020 young brigade presentation isn’t over yet.

The ultra-exciting Liam Henry is tipped to make his debut this coming week, fittingly in the indigenous round against the Sydney Swans. As much as we have been thrilled by the youngsters who have graced us with their presence so far, Henry’s debut is one all Fremantle supporters have been waiting for with enormous anticipation.

Midfielder Luke Valente, taken in the 2018 draft with our second pick at 32, is knocking on the door, ready and waiting for his opportunity and the 69th pick in the 2017 draft, the ruckman Lloyd Meek, is evidently making it difficult for selectors to not rule him in.

And in a case where too many talented youngsters are never enough, we then have the 2019 rookie draft defensive prospect Jarvis Pina and midseason mid / forward draftee Dillon O’Reilly.

Adding the final layer of cream on the draftee cake, the Fremantle next generation academy has provided us with two supremely talented individuals, Isaiah Butters and Leno Thomas. And to throw in a little titbit of hype, a connected little bird may have mentioned to us that the former of those two has the ability to be the best of the entire list of names in this article, if he can put it all together and self-motivate.

We can bang on all day about the exciting crop of debutants, and why wouldn’t we? But it’s the complimentary list across the board that tips in some genuine weight.

Andrew Brayshaw and Adam Cerra have continued their upwards trajectory to really now be in blue sky prospective territory. These two magnificent individuals are substantially ahead of developmental schedule, a fact I believe was lost in the recent harsh and unfair criticisms they received. Both are still just 20 years of age with now the best part of 100 games experience between them and it’s a foundational achievement that has set their careers up for both individual and team oriented greatness.

The potential improvement in the 20 year old Brennan Cox, the pressure bringing small forwards Lachie Schultz and Mitch Crowden, the rejuvenation of Nathan Wilson, the supremely talented Luke Ryan and the ever reliable and workmanlike James Aish and Reece Conca. The depth with Blake Acres and the returns of Alex Pearce, hopefully Joel Hamling and a giant killing Griffin Logue… and then there’s some guy called Jesse Hogan that can win a game off his own boot, who is currently adding defensive versatility to his arsenal.

As exciting as the above sounds, it puts it in further context and perspective when you realise the names that haven’t been mentioned.

Since when in recent history could we talk about Fremantle in any meritorious manner without a Nat Fyfe, a Michael Walters or a David Mundy being the instant go to and hat hanging focal points? This is as pivotal a point as anything mentioned above and it rubber stamps the genuineness of the rebuild unfolding before our very eyes.

When all is said and done and after everything has been written, the reality is we’re no strangers to new purple horizons. We all know many coaches, players, drafts and opportunities have come and gone and, apart from the Ross Lyon era to some extent, success has eluded us. The truth is we’ve won many a battle but yet a war.

These words may well come back to bite me, and if we’re drawing a form line through history then the smart money suggests a strong possibility, but this time around it just feels somewhat different.

There is sense of ownership by the players, a body language portraying a one in all in mentality that has seemingly been constructed by the well-grounded, focused and obviously talented Justin Longmuir. In this new age of football, an approachable, likeable, relationship building young coach who seems highly and precisely communicative with his entire clan is an essential ingredient in the rebuilding recipe for success.

But all this may sound like adulatory Fremantle fan devotion and all we can say to that accusation is….. yep, guilty!

However, the progression of the game plan, the blooding of the youngsters and the on field results and development add substance to the hype. Yet there are also statistics which add another element that helps create that feeling of authenticity.

Right at this point in time we have fourteen players on our list that are national draft top twenty selections. Fifteen, including Jesse Hogan who went in the GWS mini draft in 2012 and who would have gone top five in a normal draft.

That also doesn’t take into account the rookie draftees such as Tobe Watson, Taylin Duman, Stefan Giro, Bailey Banfield and zone selections such as Isaiah Butters and Leno Thomas.

So fifteen top twenty draftees, the four mentioned rookie draftees and the two zone selections currently in our squad of forty eight. Of those twenty one players just four of are over 25 years of age. Admittedly they are the super star stalwarts David Mundy, Nat Fyfe, Stephen Hill and Reece Conca (yes, rightly or wrongly I’m giving Reece some love with the super star label) but as mentioned earlier, pleasingly there hasn’t been the usual necessity to reference them as the only go to pillars of strength and reliability.

This may all sound super simplistic and admittedly it’s difficult to suggest it isn’t. High draft pick numbers on a page don’t mean a great deal if those owning those selections fail to continue developing in line with the common expectations such a set of digits, rightly or wrongly, predicts.

However, few clubs, if any, have built meaningful success without a substantial foundation of talented high end youth somewhere in their historical timelines. Fremantle at the moment give us every indication that the required boxes are being well and truly ticked.

As bizarre as it may seem, I tend to think in years to come we may look back on this ultra-weird 2020 season, to some degree, as a blessing in disguise. The hub living arrangements has surely fast-tracked the building of the relationships and that couldn’t have occurred at a more pivotal time when you have a brand new debut coach and a plethora of teenage and low 20 year old draftees.

We have a man at the helm, an ex-Freo player, who would have been boiling on the inside Saturday night. There was no ranting or raving, no punching the walls Clarko style or lashing out in a Dimmer manner. He praised the opposition for their sneaky tactic. Justin Longmuir showed an amazing level of control and class in the way he handled the entire situation and we got genuine look at the self-discipline and the professionalism of our coach in his first year. If that is the example he is setting and demanding of his troops then we’re half way to where we want to be already.

It obviously remains to be seen how this new era of Fremantle football unfolds but if this 2020 condensed and compromised season is any indication, strap in and get set for the entertaining and exciting immediate years ahead.

Saturday 15th August 2020 will become a distant memory wheeled out only as one of our historical reminiscent topics of discussions, alongside the likes of siren gate and umpire Peter Carey taking a mark.

Fremantle Dockers - Top 20 Draft Pick History


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