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A brutal sacking, but Freo just had to give greatest coach the old heave-ho

Ross Lyon is Fremantle's most successful coach - AFL,Fremantle Dockers,Ross Lyon,Tag-Analysis
Ross Lyon is Fremantle's most successful coach

ROSS Lyon likes to say "you write your own story" in the AFL, and his narrative at Fremantle had been barrelling towards an unhappy ending for some time.

As the losses kept piling up, and the end of his contract crept closer, the pressure mounted on the Dockers to move on their longest-serving and most successful coach.

Lyon embraces skipper Nat Fyfe after the round 18 win over Geelong. Picture: AFL Photos

In a sacking almost as brutal as when Lyon's predecessor Mark Harvey was blindsided, the 52-year-old was told by football boss Peter Bell to cancel a catch-up with former player Harley Bennell in favour of an urgent meeting at 9am on Tuesday, where he was delivered his fate.  

Despite nearing the end of a rebuild due for completion after this November's drafts, the club's hierarchy couldn't accept missing finals for the fourth straight year. 

SACKED LYON SPEAKS 'I've loved the ride'

In many people's eyes, Lyon was lucky to survive the murky workplace harassment scandal which engulfed Fremantle early last season.

After weeks of speculation about his position, CEO Steve Rosich and president Dale Alcock finally came out at an awkward and uncomfortable press conference and backed their man.

Lyon, Alcock and Rosich speak at a press conference in May 2018. Picture: AFL Photos

Rosich had hitched his wagon to Lyon by extending his deal in March 2016 for five seasons and remained a staunch supporter throughout.

Speaking on radio only 17 days ago, he declared the coach would "absolutely" enter the final year of that deal in 2020. 

But Alcock and the board thought otherwise.

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They acted decisively to remove Lyon once the Dockers' finals hopes were extinguished by Essendon on Saturday night, and disagreement over the club's direction also led to Rosich's departure after 11 years.

Freo players look on after the loss to Essendon on Saturday night. Picture: AFL Photos

The CEO's contribution to Fremantle shouldn't be downplayed.  

Among Rosich's greatest achievements was the move to Cockburn from Fremantle Oval.  

While it tugged at supporters' heartstrings, the relocation has set the Dockers up in a state-of-the-art facility for decades to come. 

And his role, in conjunction with former president Steve Harris, in poaching Lyon from St Kilda at the end of 2011 was a bold move that almost delivered a maiden flag.  

Harris, Lyon and Rosich at the announcement of the coach's arrival in 2011. Picture: AFL Photos

Lyon's hard-nosed Dockers were respected across the competition between 2012-15, when the club reached its first Grand Final, hosted two preliminary finals and won 69 per cent of games.

The 2013 qualifying final triumph in Geelong was a groundbreaking moment for a success-starved football club.

But some viewed Lyon only as a "finishing coach" incapable of rebuilding a list, and those critics will feel vindicated after the past four seasons of questionable development.  

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His suffocating, defensive and high-pressure brand suited the Saints and Dockers' mature sides and took Lyon to four Grand Finals and within a whisker of a flag. 

Lyon and his players contemplate their loss to Hawthorn in the 2013 Grand Final. Picture: AFL Photos

However, a younger group at Fremantle couldn't handle the extreme physical toll across an entire campaign, and injuries kept stacking up. 

After the mid-season bye over the past four campaigns, the Dockers' record is a dismal eight wins and 29 losses.  

At the completion of round 13 this season, Fremantle sat sixth on the ladder and was in the thick of finals contention.

Ensuing defeats to Melbourne and Carlton were costly, but a 91-point hammering in a record-equalling ninth-straight Western Derby loss was the moment Lyon's position came under serious threat. 

His refusal to prioritise coaching the players' skills and an unattractive game style designed to prevent blowouts contributed to dwindling home crowds. 

Concerns were growing about Freo's ability to attract quality recruits and retain key players, with Bradley Hill and Ed Langdon set to request trades after Brownlow Medal contender Lachie Neale demanded a move to Brisbane last year.  

Emerging Victorian midfielder Darcy Tucker – one of the positives from this season – is also yet to sign, despite AFL.com.au understanding negotiations have long been under way.

The last thing the coach or club needed was powerful player manager Colin Young blasting the Dockers' rehabilitation program, adding to the PR nightmare.

Importantly, a new coach will allow the Dockers to turn the page and sell hope to disgruntled members and fans, current players and potential recruits.

Ex-Docker and current Collingwood assistant coach Justin Longmuir is viewed as the frontrunner to replace Lyon in industry circles and his strong relationship with Bell won't hurt his chances.  

FREO'S NEXT COACH? Ex-Docker a leading contender for top job

Soon enough, Lyon will be more fondly remembered as the Dockers' greatest coach in their 25-year history.

But the time is right for a fresh start.

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The views in this article are those of the author and not necessarily those of the AFL or its clubs