It was a disappointing final game to an otherwise promising season for Fremantle, but the structure and talent is in place to break into the finals next year.
At 10-12 and 11th on the ladder for the year, the Dockers sit around where pundits predicted at the beginning of the season.
Andrew Brayshaw and Sean Darcy made the jump to superstar status, while the progression of 2020 Rising Star Caleb Serong was rapid and enthralling.
Importantly, they have the right person at the helm. Justin Longmuir steadied the ship in 2021 despite injuries to key players and managed to improve on his winning percentage in a tumultuous season that included home games in Melbourne against Melbourne-based clubs.
All-in-all, 2021 was a success for the Fremantle Dockers.
Longmuir gave his young guns the keys to the midfield, and they repaid the faith.
Guided by David Mundy and Nat Fyfe, the group of Andy Brayshaw (21 years old), Adam Cerra (21) and Caleb Serong (20) spent the majority of their time in the Freo engine room and all took huge strides in their development.
The Dockers held their own in stoppages, ranking sixth in the competition for both contested possessions and stoppage clearances. Brayshaw, Cerra and Serong are all in the top six at the club for contested possessions and clearances.
It was a season of rapid development that holds those young guns in good stead for the next decade.
There’s a legitimate claim to be made that Fremantle cost itself a place in the finals due to its inability to convert opportunities. The club was dead-last in goal accuracy at an abysmal 41.9 per cent.
Nat Fyfe was the main culprit, starting the season 2.15. He finished at 6.21 from his 15 games in 2021.
It was a whole squad problem, though. Matt Taberner converted at 68 per cent to lead the goal-kicking, but David Mundy was the only other player in the team who kicked above 10 goals for the season at higher than 56 per cent accuracy.
In addition to conversion issues, injuries wreaked havoc and stunted a lot of potential growth.
Every club deals with it, but it’s difficult to convert opportunities in the forward half when Michael Walters is crippled with problems throughout the year.
Changes are required to generate drive from the back half when Heath Chapman and Hayden Young manage just 14 games between them.
Fyfe heroically delayed shoulder surgery but eventually succumbed to injury. Rory Lobb and Taberner couldn’t stay on the park all season, and Alex Pearce dealt with consistent niggles as he has done his entire career.
It’s easy to say of a few clubs outside the eight, but a full-strength 22 at the Dockers would have seen them play finals in 2021.
Despite missing out on any All-Australian selections, Fremantle unearthed genuine superstars of the competition in 2021.
Andrew Brayshaw was probably the best player in Western Australia this year, and he’s just 21 years old. His disposals jumped up from 19.8 to 28.4 per game, and he was winning it in contested situations as he gained more exposure to the engine room. Brayshaw was unlucky not to feature in the All-Australian 40-man squad.
It helps when you’re at the feet of a behemoth like Sean Darcy. The farm-strong ruckman had 599 hit-outs on the season, led his club for contested marks, was second for contested possessions and third for clearances. Most importantly, he waved away any speculation of a return home to Geelong by signing a two-year extension to remain in the West.
There were others who took the jump as well. Sam Switkowski announced himself as a dynamic small forward, and even showed flashes in centre bounces late in the season. He was joined in the front half by first-year Cohuna product Josh Treacy, and live-wire Liam Henry who showed flashes of brilliance.
Adding to the young guns was the evergreen, David Mundy. His season was special to witness at the age of 36, and it culminated in a spot in the 40-man All-Australian squad. In a transition phase for the Fremantle midfield that missed Nat Fyfe and Michael Walters for large parts of the season, Mundy was vital as the older head. His leadership is as important as his silky skills and high IQ, and he deservedly received his appreciation from Dockers faithful when he equalled the Fremantle games record holder – legend Matthew Pavlich – on 353 in Round 22.
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Ending the 11 match losing streak in Derby LIII. History will show that Caleb Serong was the hero of the day in controversial circumstances, but it was an extraordinary effort from all 23 players wearing purple when they broke a six-year skid against rivals West Coast in Round 22.
In doing so, they also left the Eagles’ finals bid in tatters, and kept their own hopes alive with one round to play in the season.
Serong’s goal was an incredible product of dexterity and tenacity, jumping back up and sending the banana through the tightest of angles to extend the lead in the final quarter. The home crowd was sent into raptures, and Serong rightly claimed the Glendinning-Allan medal as the best player on the ground.
It was all on the line for the Dockers and they were coming off the biggest win of their year in the Derby. So how did Round 23 go so wrong?
Playing St Kilda at a neutral venue down in Tasmania, Fremantle had an opportunity to enter the top eight with just one game remaining in the home and away season. the Saints, on the other hand, had nothing to play for.
Freo started slowly out of the gates and it kept going downhill. They gave up four goals to mid-season draftee Cooper Sharman, and paid no attention to Jack Steele who thrived in the midfield.
It was a disappointing end to their 2021 season.
A few changes have already been made. Stalwart Stephen Hill has called time on his sensational career, while Leno Thomas, Brett Bewley, Tobe Watson, Reece Conca, Taylin Duman and Stefan Giro have not been offered a contract for 2022 and will be looking for a life-line elsewhere.
Adam Cerra may be on the way out as well, having requested a trade despite the Dockers doing everything they can to hold onto the young gun.
Number one off-season priority
The Dockers have shown a capacity to play hard-ball in the past, and they will need to do so again in regard to Adam Cerra. He has requested a trade back home to Victoria – with Carlton looming as a possible destination – which is a huge blow for the growing Dockers’ midfield.
A top-10 pick is the bare minimum return for a player of Cerra’s ilk, who has shown superstar potential and played a dominant first half of Derby LIII to help give Fremantle a 40-point lead.
With two top-10 picks, the Dockers can then go about adding a much-needed key forward presence and go best available with the other selection.
Two WA prospects could be the plays here – Jye Amiss has dominated WA trials and the WA v SA State Champs game last weekend, and is a dead-eye having kicked 49 goals 12 behinds in the WAFL Colts this season.
Neil Erasmus is the other local product who bring X-factor to the forward half and has shown a huge ceiling as an inside midfielder as well. He has links to West Coast, which would make it all the more satisfying to grab him before the Eagles get a chance.
This club has as exciting a future as any in the competition. The rapid growth of youngsters, combined with the high quality still in the primes of their career including Nat Fyfe, Michael Walters and Luke Ryan make for an exciting next few years.
The Dockers are on the rise, and should be making their way into the finals picture in 2022.
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