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Lyon gets quick results with Freo

Date

Martin Blake

Listen up: Ross Lyon addresses the Dockers.

Listen up: Ross Lyon addresses the Dockers. Photo: Sebastian Costanzo

ROSS Lyon walked into a media firestorm on his first day as Fremantle coach. But right now, it might be planning a statue for him at Subiaco.

Well maybe not yet, but the Dockers coach has certainly turned the tide of opinion in his favour as the underachieving Fremantle launches into a finals series. In any case, he's not one to worry about public popularity. ''I haven't got a fan-o-meter on my desk,'' he says.

What's different at Fremantle under Lyon? A whole lot, not least the coach himself since his departure from St Kilda.

Lyon's philosophy on football is the same, but the game plan is a little different. In his world, the method of play is continually tweaked.

''We don't play exactly the same as my previous club,'' he told The Age. ''We've adjusted ball-use, stoppage structures, adjusted the way we defend, compared to the Saints. Anyone who thinks it's identical is off the mark. We've changed with the game.''

Fremantle won nine games under Mark Harvey last year. The Dockers won 14 under Lyon in his first year. The improvement is obvious. Look deeper, and the Lyon influence is plain. Fremantle is the second-ranked defensive team, conceding just 11 goals a game. Only Sydney does better. Teams are being choked by the Dockers' manic defensive intent and their forward press.

Fremantle has won eight of its past nine games and here is the bonus for the 2009-10 grand final coach: the Dockers are scoring more heavily, too. Six times in the past eight games they have hit the 100-point mark, including a 20-goal haul against North Melbourne. In the past seven games they are averaging 107 points. ''There's been a significant shift,'' he said. ''That's pretty healthy.''

Lyon's mantra is on the public record. ''Premiership teams are top-four attack and top-four defence and top-four contested ball. Then you know you're a serious AFL team. ''They're non-negotiables for every team. You've got to compete, you know. Don't compete, [you] don't play well.''

As it happens, Fremantle finished the home-and-away matches 12th in scoring, second in defence and fourth in contested ball differential.

When he arrived in Perth, Lyon set about making changes, as any new coach would. He altered Fremantle's training days and teaching methods. Copying his method from St Kilda, he stopped the Dockers from training the day before games. He altered their travelling regime, so that when they come to Melbourne, for instance, they don't train. They train and then travel.

More significantly, he adopted the same regime with regard to soft-tissue injuries - which he calls ''a key indicator'' for clubs - that he had at St Kilda. ''It was a headache when I walked into that club [St Kilda], and I learnt from [conditioning man] David Misson and [doctor] Ian Stone and the doctors. We were able to apply it really quickly here.''

The Dockers have had some impact injuries, but not many soft-tissue problems, unlike, say, Essendon.

The change at Fremantle is evident in individual players. For instance, defender Michael Johnson, whom the Dockers felt needed to get fitter. ''He's in great condition,'' said Lyon. ''He's had a super year.''

Or Chris Mayne, the straight-kicking forward who has 36 goals. Or Jon Griffin, the ruckman who did such a sterling job when Aaron Sandilands missed a long stretch of football. Or Michael Walters, the small forward who was dispatched from the club for unprofessionalism, and who has come back a hungry player. ''The leadership group were strong on standards,'' said Lyon. ''He needed to act his way in or act his way out. He's acted his way in.''

Players have bought into the new mantra. Sandilands came back from injury and fired immediately.

Fremantle has started to fix the disconnect between the number of times Sandilands gets his hands on the football and the number of times it wins the clearance. ''It's a work in progress,'' said Lyon. ''We're not in the upper echelon where we'd like to be.''

Hayden Ballantyne, reported twice early in the year, focused on playing. ''He gets targeted a lot,'' said Lyon. ''You work on your disciplines. He's terrific in understanding what we're after.''

What they are looking for is improvement from within. Here, Lyon lauds Fremantle's development regime headed by Simon Lloyd. ''There's five coaches in our development program, and that's helped drive with the four line coaches to develop the players. We've got four football IT people that support those coaches. Their ability to boil down the information and present it in chunks that the players can work with and bring it to the park has been significant. It's made my job really easy to help manage those coaches. It's made my job a pleasure.''

Lyon, whose reputation took a battering when he walked out on St Kilda, is flying again and Fremantle is on the rise with him. It is often said coaches are better second time around. Here there may well be another example.

''I've never coached better,'' he said. ''I've never managed better. You always mature, and experience is great to have behind you when you're confronted with situations.''

26 comments

  • This man was treated and judged very harshly and unfairly when he went to Fremantle. Many journos and AFL people torched him. One 'so called' sports journo described him as "Deceitful, duplicitous and distasteful". That journo had NO right to character assassinate Ross (and his family), particularly when he knew little of the situation and circumstances.............will Ross get an apology from that journo.........no, that would take guts and integrity and most AFL sports journos do not posses one ounce of it. There will be a premiership in Fremantle soon........you wait and see!

    Commenter
    Roy F
    Location
    Brunswick Street
    Date and time
    September 05, 2012, 8:44AM
    • @Roy F.
      It wasn't Lyon who they were up set with it was the club and the way they treated Harvey.

      Commenter
      Paul M
      Location
      Freo
      Date and time
      September 05, 2012, 10:12AM
    • Yes , and at the time that particular sports journo and radio broadcaster was having discussions with another radio station about his future. Double standards much?

      Commenter
      Paul
      Date and time
      September 05, 2012, 10:19AM
    • That may have been the case in WA but here in Melbourne some Harvey allies, AFL journos and various AFL 'hangers on' went to town on Ross personally. My take on it was that they were predominantly 'opinion based' journos who have never done anything questionable themselves, of course.

      Commenter
      Roy F
      Location
      Brunswick Street
      Date and time
      September 05, 2012, 10:24AM
    • I know for a fact that Harvey was looking for a new job through his agency days prior to be "sacked" by Freo.

      Commenter
      Luke
      Location
      Melbourne
      Date and time
      September 05, 2012, 11:00AM
  • Clubs are happy to sack coaches even when they are under contract. Loyalty doesn't enter into their considerations. They just cave in to media, sponsor and supporter pressure, so I don't have a problem with a coach deciding to take a better offer and coach elsewhere.

    Commenter
    abigail
    Date and time
    September 05, 2012, 10:19AM
    • It was nothing to do with Harvey.The media went to town on Ross because they weren't happy that the deal was done without any of them getting a sniff of it. It was the best kept secret in AFL and the media didn't like it.

      Commenter
      Catherine
      Date and time
      September 05, 2012, 10:55AM
      • Catherine................BINGO!!

        Commenter
        Roy F
        Location
        Brunswick Street
        Date and time
        September 05, 2012, 11:41AM
    • In 2010, Fremantle won 13 games without any "gimme" games against GWS or Gold Coast. Last year they had a shocking run with injuries (whether bad luck or bad management, I have no idea). So I think it's a bit too early to call on whether Lyon has really made that much of a difference...

      Commenter
      Phil
      Date and time
      September 05, 2012, 11:48AM
      • Spot on Phil. Freo had a dreadful run of injuries last year which was the key determinant in their performance. I believe that Lyon was duplicitous in his discussions with St Kilda as they were working through their contract negotiations. Having said that, you do have to look after yourself.

        Lyon's coaching is one dimensional and won't see Freo win a flag anytime soon. He takes a club that is almost there, teaches them how to defend and that's it. Unlike a Malthouse or a Worsefold, he has never taken a low team and built them up.

        Commenter
        The Slow Eater
        Date and time
        September 08, 2012, 8:49AM

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