You Gotta Have Goals In Life
While a reassessment and an inevitable revising down has no doubt taken place, Coach Justin Longmuir previously flagged his desire to secure an extra five goals per game this season. Even without Sunday’s catastrophic injury toll the optimist in me looked at 2020 and marveled at what the first year coach did with a team of youngsters in a problematic year. Consequently you get a strong feeling that it may well be a dangerous practice to doubt and underestimate the man simply called JL. However, the magnitude of the task had me wondering if he may have abandoned the market loving ‘under-promise and over-deliver’ methodology?
We’ve come a long way! In round 15 against the Crows in 2009 our battling field taking Freo folk had a total of 1 goal 5 behinds heading into the final quarter. It’s fair to say Justin Longmuir’s kids wouldn’t agree and they’re probably thankful he didn’t, but JL would have given his left knacker for just a total of five goals that day! Fast forward a dozen years and it’s an extra five goals a game he was after, ironically in what was a big ballsy call!.
(for the record we kicked a further 2 points in the final quarter and lost by over 18 goals. We also lost 4 premiership points, second last place on the ladder and 5 percent. Oh and our dignity…. but we lost that at half time)
It must be stated though that Justin Longmuir knows a thing or two about goals and especially how to get them when you most need them. Over his 139 game playing career he kicked 166 goals including fifteen 3 goal hauls, three games of 4 goals, a bag of 5 goals and a lazy half a dozen on another occasion. But none were more important than his famous spine tingling pack mark and match winning goal after the siren against St Kilda in round twenty one 2005, a goal and experience you never tire of.
Despite JL's past abilities, an extra five goals a game by a team that has seemingly operated on the golfing scoring system, the lower the number the better, was a big call. And now after Sunday’s injury riddled preseason Derby nightmare, it’s all but beyond doable.
But the show must go on so with all the goal talk I thought I’d have a look and try to decipher any trends over the last twenty five years. How have we actually gone in terms of goals, scoring shots and what has been the apparent number of six pointers required to play finals. Let's just say the result is subjective.
Yesteryear the Dunstalls, Lockets, Carey’s and Abletts kicked shedloads, easing the pressure and reliance on others. But the times, like the football landscape, they are a changing and while there are no set rules or foolproof theories, now, in the absence of the 100 goal season power forwards, a host of goal kickers in the range of 30+ is bordering on necessity.
Given their long history of substantial scoring I am going to approach the West Coast Eagles and see if I can find out how they manage to constantly put themselves in and around the goals because they somehow find a way to….. oh wait a minute….. my mistake, wrong type of scoring…… and they’re constantly in and around gaols not goals!
The truth of the matter is our beloved Fremantle football club has perennially starved itself and us fans of goals. It’s not that we don’t set goals, we just struggle to achieve them.
Putting regular substantial scores on the board nowadays cannot exclusively be left up to those specifically paid for that role. Not that it wasn’t required yesteryear, but the styles of play today demand heightened structure, discipline, highly skilled delivery and productive connectivity. The big power pack marking forward is still the valuable weapon it has always been but the reality is Waldo is easier to find.
While a Coleman medalist hasn’t worn purple, we have had the prominent goal kickers in the past the likes of
the Modras, Waterhouses (yes I said the Waterhouses), Medhursts, Ballantynes, Walters and Pavliches. But remove the immortal former and latter names from that list and we are left with an array of 30 to 40 goal season individuals. They’re talented and highly valuable names but from largely different Fremantle eras, which rendered them unable to collectively combine their output. And even when their careers aligned, it doesn't necessarily go to plan.
For example Hayden Ballantyne (254 goals), Michael Walters (276 goals to date) and Matthew Pavlich (700 goals) were all on the Fremantle list at the same time for 8 years, a possible 176 home and away games. The trio took to the field together on just 49 occasions and 26 of those matches were in the second last and last years of Matthew Pavlich’s career, 2015 and 2016 respectively.
The three outstanding players and goal kickers, who would walk into and improve any side, rarely got the opportunity to collectively produce for Fremantle’s maximum benefit.
So obviously possessing the players capable of delivering quantities of majors is ultra-important, but so is the timing of these players and their abilities to harmoniously and productively co-exist on the real estate up forward.
Thinking about it, going back to the magnificent Clive for a moment, he had the productive part down pat but considering how many of his teammates suffered friendly fire in marking contests, he wasn’t so strong on the harmonious part of the equation.
Speaking of 30+ goals per season players, over our 25 year journey from 1995 to 2019 (deliberately omitting 2020) we have produced just fifteen players that managed to achieve that feat for us. It is a figure a touch over 5 players less than the league average, but on a par with Sydney and one more than Melbourne.
For the sole purposes of what we’re calling our 30 goal crop, we’re suggesting or rather very loosely creating the prospect that opposition salary cap ‘rackets’ are to blame for our 30+ goal player deficiency. Hopefully the ‘net’ is cast far and wide to catch offenders and they end up in ‘court’. So before we make anyone cringe any further with the poorly constructed tennis analogies, ladies and gentlemen may we present Fifteen Thirty Fremantle.
Despite the coach’s since revised, or otherwise, requests, it’s difficult to see us ‘smashing’ any records this year and now we won’t have a ‘Lobb’ in our repertoire for much of 2021. The reality is it is difficult to be sure of what Freo may 'serve' up in 2021. However, the positive is though that we have now run the tennis analogy well dry!
Also without Sonny Walters for however many matches it is imperative that Matthew Taberner and Nat Fyfe destroy the Fifteen Thirty tennis theme and become debutants of the 30+ goal club, if any of the five extra goals are to be secured. But again they'll need assistance with the heavy lifting.
To kick goals you obviously need to generate scoring shots and over the 1995 to 2019 period Fremantle averaged 12.44 goals from 23.6 scoring shots per game. While broken down to individual years in the table below, unsurprisingly we possess vastly inferior numbers to the premiers and finalists.
The premiers from each of the twenty five years have averaged and 15.44 goals and 28.51 scoring shots per game.
The top eight finalists have averaged 14.56 goals and 26.93 scoring shots and to make the top four over that same period an average of 15.20 goals and 27.92 scoring shots per game were required.
But even when Fremantle made the finals, on the seven occasions we averaged 13.5 goals and 24.88 scoring shots. Our four top four finishes saw us still with a below average of 13.35 goals and 24.15 scoring shots per game.
Quite simply generating scores and subsequent goals has never been our strong point and, to be honest, if you’re a lifelong Fremantle fan it is no secret.
We’ll borrow the US Whitehouse press secretary’s famous question dodging phrase and “circle back” to the topic of 30+ goals per season kickers.
It’s probably safe to say the statistical trends haven’t changed dramatically over the entire 25 year journey as the number of 30+ goal season kickers has remained relatively stable for teams making the finals.
As far as the top four goes, you require on average 1.8 players kicking 40 goals or more and 1.5 players kicking between 30 and 40 goals. So effectively the top four finishers over the last 25 years have required 3.3 players kicking at least 30 goals in the home and away season.
However, if we wish to technically nit-pick we could suggest we’ve seen a 15% decline in the number of 30+ goal kickers required to make the top four over the last decade, maybe in line with overall scoring trends.
Possessing just a tick under 3 players who each kick at least 30 goals in a season dramatically helps put you right in final eight territory and that has largely remained the case since 1995. In looking to poke holes in the statistic it should be said that 30 goals or more can be quite vague and wide ranging but for all intents and purposes it is factually correct.
Interesting enough, the substantial decline in the number of 30+ goal kickers comes in the form of a 30% reduction over the last decade in teams that miss the finals. Why that has been the case is anyone’s guess. Maybe again its in line with scoring trends or possibly in some way it is a product of the talent being spread too thin with the introduction of GWS and the Gold Coast into the league within the last decade. However, they would be just two of a number of contributing factors.
Quite simply, and omitting Gold Coast and GWS for obvious reasons, teams that have produced less than 20 individual 30+ goal kickers from 1995 to 2019 have made the finals on average just 41% of the time. Remove the anomaly from the equation which is the ever defensive Sydney Swans, and that percentage falls to 33%.
On the flip-side of the coin clubs who have produced at least twenty individual season 30+ goal kickers play finals 54% of the time.
To be brutally honest, the above isn’t necessarily all that interesting and or enlightening but when you lay the facts out bare, you can see a pretty clear picture of what is regularly required to play football in September. However, while hitting that average range of goals more often than not puts you in the vicinity and gives you a greater chance, it doesn’t automatically render you a finalist.
Case in point, surprise surprise, our Fremantle Dockers. Freo has made the finals seven times and we have had three 30+ goal kickers in a single year on six occasions. Only three of those years we played finals we had three 30+ goal kickers. A fourth time we had three 30+ goal kickers we finished one game out of the eight in ninth position.
In 2005 we finished 10th yet Matthew Pavlich finished with 61 goals, Jeff Farmer delivered 35 and Luke McPharlin’s one and only entry in the 30+ goal kicking club recorded 34 majors.
Then back in 2002 we languished in 13th on the ladder even after the All Australian defender Trent Croad kicked 42 goals in purple. One of our all-time favourites the mercurial Paul Medhurst slotted 36 goals and the man who himself is, or let’s say was, asking for five extra goals this year, Coach JL, kicked 36 as well.
In the latter years the Sydney Swans has shown us that defensive focus can greatly assist the securing of a final’s berth and allow for a lesser score, likewise to some degree our 2013 Grand Final year when we went at just 13.7 goals per game. But the reality is a combination of scoring power landing in that 14.5 goal per game range and a reasonably solid defense pretty much suggests you probably shouldn’t go booking a September holiday.
When we break the ‘extra five goals’ down, you have to ask the question is JL, the wiley, rapidly silvering ole fox, playing it to perfection? Was he stooging everyone with his extra five goals per game call, creating a ruse? If it was a straight extra five goals per game on our 2020 season tally of 127 goals then that takes us to requiring 12.5 goals per game in 2021, an average we have pretty much hit for twenty five years!
While I would personally love that to be the case because I admire creative bamboozling, JL doesn’t play games or strike me as someone who sets the bar low.
Again while he may have since revised down his extra goals desire, it would have been based on the extrapolation of 7.5 goals per game last year with an added 25% game time going forward, equating to nearly 9.5 goals per game. 5 goals on from that puts us at 14.5 goals per game which, for those still with us, you will remember is smack bang on the average goals per game the top eight finalists have hit from 1995 to 2019.
If it were to somehow occur, predominantly it will be up to Sonny Walters when he returns and, as mentioned earlier, Nat Fyfe and Matty Taberner will need to provide penalty rate paying overtime for the scoreboard attendants. But it will take the entire team to perform their roles, create improved connectivity, enable greater forward efficiency and generate more scoring opportunities and that may well be unfairly putting overzealous expectations or desires on the shoulders of a young team. A dangling finals carrot is quite the motivating incentive though.
While we’ll obviously find out soon enough, my ever optimistic heart is hopeful but my more realistic head says they’re next to no chance of doing so.
Five extra goals per game is a massive ask for even an experienced fully fit team at a similar stage in the build. For our Dockers to go at 14.5 goals per game it would require our second best ever single season result. In 2007 we kicked 333 goals at 15 goals per game but on that occasion we were led by the great man, Matthew Pavlich, who snared over 20% of them with a season bag of 72, painfully falling 5 goals short of the Coleman Medal wearing Jonathon Brown.
Just throwing it out there, he looked in pretty good shape behind the desk on Channel 9 the other night and with a bit of a hair dye touch up….. he’s a young 39 year old! While obviously tongue in cheek, it's a bit of a worry that if the Pav ran back out there in 2021, it would be far from the worst decision we've made over the journey!
Whatever the case, however it all unfolds and despite the carnage suffered Sunday, it’s just exciting to have uncompromised full game time footy back, potentially with full crowds in WA. God help us if anyone even thinks about sneezing!
We’ll close out with an adaptation or extension of the famous quote by former NFL player Lou Holtz - ,