Michael Walters celebrates a goal during Fremantle's clash against Gold Coast in round five, 2023. Picture: Getty Images

WHEN assessing which Fremantle players have improved this year, veteran small forward Michael Walters sits prominently among a small group after an excellent start to his 15th season.

But if the 32-year-old has his way, he'll play a big role in helping plenty of others at the opposite end of their careers join that group before the season is done. 


Walters has a sharpness and a sparkle about him this year that wasn't always there in recent campaigns, and he puts it down to an increased focus on helping young teammates.

That purpose as the oldest player now on Fremantle's list has contributed to Walters enjoying the game more in 2023 and delivering in his role, leading the Dockers with 11 goals at an equal career-best average of 2.2 from his five games.

"We all have our own purpose and why we do things in life, whether it's in sport or work or whatever occupation you do," Walters told AFL.com.au this week.


"My purpose is trying to help out as many young players as I can and help them get team success.

"I've only got a couple more years to go and I want to help us get that ultimate team success.

"We want to be the first to do it for Fremantle and the sooner we can get these younger players up and going, and teach them what they don't know right now, the better we'll be."

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Fremantle has fielded the third youngest team in the AFL for the past two rounds, with an average age of 24.7 in round six, and the least experienced team in the past fortnight with 70.8 games' experience.

It has been a significant shift in the list profile from 2022, when the Dockers had an average age of 25.0 and 82.9 games' experience – both ranked 12th in the AFL across the season.

Champion midfielder David Mundy's retirement has left Walters (207 games) sitting behind only dual Brownlow medallist Nat Fyfe (210) for games played, and he is determined to share his wisdom while he can.

Michael Walters in action during Fremantle's clash against the Western Bulldogs in round six, 2023. Picture: Getty Images

Inexperienced forwards Sam Sturt and Tom Emmett are among those the five-time Fremantle leading goalkicker has focused his energy on, as well as Michael Frederick, Lachie Schultz and Liam Henry.

Having stepped out of the Dockers' leadership group at the start of 2022, he is now leading in a different way and making sure he is accountable to those teammates he is mentoring.  

"It's one of those things where if you tell someone what to do, well you better be doing it yourself," Walters said.

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"It's keeping me accountable for my actions and what I say. That's helping me with my footy and it's something that I'm really enjoying.

"I'm enjoying talking to the younger players at training and helping young defenders and telling them what they could be doing to make it harder for me.

"It might stop me getting a kick afterwards, but I'm trying to help out as much as I can."

Michael Walters celebrates a goal with Liam Henry during the R2 match between Fremantle and North Melbourne at Optus Stadium on March 25, 2023. Picture: Getty Images/AFL Photos

Walters missed the Dockers' round one loss to St Kilda because of an Achilles injury and returned as the substitute against North Melbourne in round two, having an instant impact late in the third quarter when he ran with the flight and dived desperately for a mark in the forward pocket.

He gave Fremantle a much-needed shot of life in that game and has continued to be an energising presence on and off the field through a disappointing 2-4 season.

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The defensive pressure he has focused on in recent seasons remains, but he has a more attacking edge to his game in 2023, as reflected in four-goal bags against West Coast and Gold Coast and a team-high 6.4 score involvements a game.

"I am playing with more instinct and I'm getting back to that game where if the ball is there, don't second guess yourself," Walters said.

"We're there to play a role, but also be a threat offensively, so that's something I've built into my game a bit more this year, and being fit and injury free now helps me do that."


The lingering impact of a pre-season Achilles injury can be seen watching Walters warm up before games and mid-week training sessions, when he is out much earlier than teammates to get blood flowing to the tendon.

He is otherwise in good shape after having his previous three seasons interrupted by repeated calf and hamstring injuries which, although minor, have taken a toll on his enjoyment levels.  

Still, his role in the team last year and the standard he set with defensive pressure was reflected with a seventh-place finish in the best and fairest, and Walters said he felt like he was contributing now as much as he ever has.

"When [those injuries] are happening, you can go within yourself and start to think it is too hard, and when I get back am I going to get injured again?" Walters said.

"That's the sort of stuff where the love can drop a little bit … but to be honest, I never thought about whether I was getting close to the end of my career. I just thought they were little setbacks.

"I'll joke with the boys now about being the veteran and being older than them, but I actually don't think of myself as being old. I'm young at heart, I'm young in the mind, and I guess that's something that is keeping me going."