It was always going to take time to learn a new gameplan under first-year coach Justin Longmuir. The COVID-19 training restrictions just made things even more difficult, but once things clicked into gear, the Dockers were one of the tightest defences in the League despite their key injuries. They improved in 2020 to finish 12th on the ladder and were a Jack Newnes kick away from being in the finals hunt.
The future looks bright for Freo and six players earned an AFL debut. Top-10 draftees Hayden Young (pick No.7), Caleb Serong (pick No.8) and Liam Henry (pick No.9) showed their class alongside Sam Sturt, Michael Frederick and Tobe Watson. On top of nailing last year's NAB AFL Draft, Trade Period recruits James Aish and Blake Acres also excelled. Third-year midfielders Andrew Brayshaw and Adam Cerra took their games to another level in 2020 and the competition is starting to take notice about the Dockers' crop of young stars.
It was another season to forget when it came to the medical room. The Dockers' defence was decimated after serious ankle injuries meant star keys Alex Pearce and Joel Hamling didn't play a game. Their next big back Griffin Logue was also restricted to five games due to turf toe. NAB AFL Rising Star nominee Sam Sturt, impressive youngster Hayden Young and emerging midfielder Darcy Tucker were other key players to suffer season-ending injuries, while skipper Nat Fyfe and star forward Michael Walters also battled soft-tissue concerns. The club cut ties with long-time high performance boss Jason Weber in August and will be hoping for better luck on the injury front in 2021.
Luke Ryan has been one of the Dockers' most impressive players since being picked up as a mature-age recruit in 2016. With the aforementioned defensive crisis, Ryan stood up in the undersized back six to play well above his height and still remain an intercepting specialist. His outstanding season was rewarded with a maiden AFL All-Australian blazer after being named in the back pocket.
There's plenty of young guns to get excited about, but none more than Caleb Serong. The inside bull became the third Docker to win the NAB AFL Rising Star award after he polled 48 out of a possible 50 votes. Serong made his debut in round four and didn't miss a game after that, stepping into the Dockers' midfield brigade with ease. They've found their long-term replacement for Lachie Neale.
Cam McCarthy. The goalkicker was flying in the pre-season and was training further up the ground hoping to claim one of the vacant wing spots following the departures of Bradley Hill and Ed Langdon. McCarthy played in the narrow round one loss to Essendon and then had a scary training collapse in June and was later diagnosed with epilepsy. He never played in the AFL side again and parted ways with the club in August. Unfortunately, the former Giant never lived up to the hype, but will hope for better fortunes at a third AFL club.
It just had to be the comeback of the year and one of the best wins in Freo's 26 seasons in the AFL. The Dockers trailed St Kilda by 37 points early in the second term before an incredible comeback despite being down two players on the bench. Lachie Schultz was the hero after the slotting a clutch set shot with less than two minutes to go to seal the six-point victory.
The 32-point loss to Geelong was ugly in more ways than one. The match was played in horrific wet and wild conditions and was hard to watch from the get-go. Freo took 68 minutes to kick its first goal and the final score of 2.4 (16) was the second-lowest in club history. Despite the Cats appealing for a touch off the boot, Caleb Serong's late goal just edged the final score ahead of the 1.7 (13) kicked in a 117-point loss to Adelaide back in 2009.
How should they approach list management?
The Dockers will go into the 2020 NAB AFL Draft armed with pick No.10 after sliding from No.7 due to their points deficit from last year. They have built a solid spine and there is good depth on every line, so it may be a case of taking the best available player. A pacey wingman could be handy after Bradley Hill and Ed Langdon were never replaced like-for-like. Veteran David Mundy, 35, deserves another deal after continuing to age like a fine wine, while contracted mid Connor Blakely could look elsewhere after failing to cement himself into the line-up under Justin Longmuir.
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Early call for 2021
Finals for the first time since 2015 should be the aim after coming extremely close this season. If it wasn't for Carlton's Jack Newnes kicking his ridiculous after-the-siren winner, and three other losses under 13 points, Freo's season may very well have been continuing in October. If they can finally escape any major injury concerns and get a proper pre-season away training together, 2021 could be the start of regular finals action for this young group.
B+. The Dockers won plenty of admirers with the defensive nous of Justin Longmuir well on display the longer the season went on. A 64-point demolition of North Melbourne showed how the forward line can function with talls Matt Taberner, Jesse Hogan and Rory Lobb, so Freo fans will carry plenty of optimism into next year.