Docker Paul Duffield will chalk up game 150 against St Kilda. Photo: Getty Images
As Fremantle defender Paul Duffield prepares to play his 150th game, we are reminded of what a player can become when he is given time to develop.
He’s also an example of a player who has excelled under a certain style of coaching.
Duffield has been on the Dockers list since he was selected as a rookie in the 2003 Draft.
Over the following two seasons he played 36 WAFL games with South Fremantle without making his AFL debut.
His time to enter the big stage came in the round five clash against St Kilda in Tasmania – the game now known as 'Sirengate'. Coincidentally, he achieves his milestone against the Saints again this weekend.
Between that 2006 debut and 2008, Duffield represented the Dockers only 24 times, while playing another 37 WAFL matches.
For many young players over the past decade, that would be the end of the story.
But Duffield, 29, found his feet finally in 2009 and hasn’t looked back.
He attributed Dockers assistant coaches Michael Prior and Chris Scott, who left in 2011 to take the reins at Geelong, for steering him on the path to becoming a consistent AFL player.
And he wishes the lessons he learned under that pair, and now senior coach Ross Lyon, had come to him earlier.
“I was lucky enough to have some great people around me, and some fantastic family support as well as great coaches who helped me along the way,” Duffield said.
“It was always just to strive to improve and I had to keep improving. I wasn’t overly talented and I'm still not ... I'm a bit of a plodder but I had to work hard to keep improving and I guess if you keep knocking on the door long enough you don’t just knock on it, you knock it down.
“At some stage I had to make the choice to knock it down and try to go forward with my career and make something of it and now, looking back on that, that's something that I'm a little bit proud of ... that I made something out of something that might not have happened.
“I probably can credit Chris Scott for having a significant influence when he was here in the early days and also Mick Prior and Ross Lyon now.
“I wish I could go back five or six years and take what I know now into a younger body. That was one thing Ross came along with straight away ... a really professional attitude to everything you do.
“Be smart with the way you manage your time. That's been significant with me learning to be a more professional footballer and just try and improve on the little things day in day out and don't ever stop striving to improve.
“Ross has significant integrity to the people he chooses to play.
“I think it's pretty simple; if you're not quite doing what the team requires, then you give up your seat and someone else comes in and they get the opportunity to try and hold that down.
“You just have to make sure that you're preparing, playing, and doing everything to the very best of your ability and if you're doing that you give yourself every chance of playing.”
Duffield has developed into an attacking defender, who is averaging around 20 possessions a game and likes to carry the ball through the midfield – the odd shot at goal doesn’t bother him either.
While he was fighting for his spot in the senior side, he played in a WAFL premiership side with South Fremantle (2005). He also had 17 touches in the Dockers' Grand Final loss last season.
“I was lucky enough to be involved early in my career in that (WAFL flag) and it was really significant. I think it’s really taught me about, at that stage in time, it was the biggest game that I’d played in," he said.
"So I think it’s given me some good structure and coping mechanisms when you do get to really big games and how you handle them and handle the stressful pressure and those sorts of things.
“If you get to the biggest day and the biggest games in football, they’re the ones you want to play really well in and really enjoy.”
So did last year’s Grand Final experience better condition the group?
“Look, I think it has to, doesn’t it?” he said.
“The whole experience is quite amazing. I guess when you grow up, you’re seeing it all on TV and all unfold, but to actually be in Melbourne and going through the parade and those sorts of things are amazing experiences.
“I think for a lot of people, the whole club was involved in it and it was really significant. It would be derelict of us not to have learnt a lot and taken a lot out of that."