In many ways, Friday night’s result - and our exit from this season - speaks for itself.
Much like the season at large, Freo’s best was enough to keep decent teams at some distance: but it’s an even competition, and Adelaide finished second for a reason. Though their key players were well held, they found something, stayed busy, and did just enough.
For Freo to play like they did against Geelong a second week running on the road would’ve been some feat; they certainly started on the right track. Walker’s goal on half-time will be talked about as pivotal, and with good reason. To that point, the Crows had kicked eight goals in six quarters of finals football. A straight sets exit beckoned, and one wonders if a team with a few more years under Lyon would’ve smelled blood and duly killed them off.
As for the third quarter, it will be watched on the review tape with some anguish by the playing group. A few players will regret simple errors, but then a few had wholly quiet nights, and there’ll be a long summer of running, gym circuits and contact drills to mull it over. It was plain to see Silvagni had a few forgettable moments, Hill was well held by Bernie Vince, and the captain - perhaps carrying an injury - had little impact. Lyon defended Silvagni’s handling of match winner Taylor Walker - undoubtedly the right thing to do for a player of the future - but the case for Brendan Goddard in a 2013 defensive/midfield structure will only be stronger.
For the rest of the team - even those who played well - they’ll know they’ve let a golden chance slip. Some played out of their skins the week before, and might console themselves with this fact. Ross Lyon will remind them September has four weekends in it.
And it is Lyon’s role that will now become pivotal. In 2006, Chris Connolly spoke about ‘the journey’ in bowels of the Olympic Stadium after the preliminary final loss to Sydney, and some of the players perhaps misunderstood this journey to be an escalator; always going up. Come the 2007 season launch, a majority of AFL captains tipped Fremantle for the premiership. Pundits will again speak about Freo as a team on the rise; like top four finishes are pencilled in on a dance card. Lyon will not let them believe similar hype.
And nor should he, for semi-final and preliminary finals appearances are called ‘fools gold’ for a reason. None of the last six teams this season look set to age and fall away quickly. There’ll be Mick Malthouse’s Blues and an improving Essendon and Richmond to contend with, all who didn’t even play finals. McPharlin, Sandilands and Pavlich perhaps have two seasons left together; maybe more, but there’s no guarantees. Combatting complacency will be key, and that process has already started, with Lyon’s defiant statement at the press conference: “There’s a lot of clubs who do a lot of talking. . . [We] start again from zero next year.”
In truth, it’s probably been a season of marginal overachievement. Supporters might realistically set a home final as a minimum goal for next season, but so many things can happen between now and then - as Carlton found out this year - and the club shouldn’t make any statements.
For now, the players should enjoy Mad Monday, reflect with immense satisfaction on a significant first week win, but recognise they’ve set the bar far higher for themselves. Perhaps Freo’s only other decent team in the Connolly era accepted being almost good enough. This coach most certainly will not.