First the dust settles. Then the shock passes. Finally we look at pictures of Ross Lyon in a poorly knotted purple tie and think this isn't some strange practical joke.
There are many angles to this incredible story. The Melbourne media is obsessed (as usual) with the implications for their own clubs, namely St Kilda and Lyon's expected destination of Melbourne. The Perth media is both petulant and bemused, not least because there wasn't a single journalist in the ABC/Channel Seven, Nine, Ten/6PR/West Australian fraternity who saw this coming. Words like 'honour', 'integrity' and 'culture' have been bandied about in the press conference, on talkback radio and online discussion threads. 'Freo is a PR basket-case', some say. 'It's like Damien Drum at the Duxton Hotel all over again' (no, it's not).
There is a lot of sympathy for the man now departed. Understandably so. Many supporters are (rightly) interested in knowing what Mark Harvey did wrong? Rumours swirl of erratic match-day behaviour, clashes with Chris Bond over list management and the overruling of medical staff. This author isn't going there: to speculate on such matters sullies the good and honest work Harvey did over five years at the club. Who of us really knows what went on behind closed doors? It goes without saying every supporter wishes him the best, but the decision is made now: it's for history to judge whether it will be the right call in the long run.
And what a call it is. Harris and Rosich know they've just made THE decision of their tenure: the decision that will come to define them; arguably the biggest and boldest decision in the club's history. Playing strip changes and new club songs are one thing but on-field success (read: premierships) is everything. Sacking a broadly popular coach and poaching another in the dead of night is about as influential a move as an administrator can make. Throw in this precious window of opportunity - Pavlich, Sandilands and McPharlin with only a few seasons left, and Barlow, Hill and Fyfe's vintage coming into the prime of their career - and the pressure for the Lyon experiment to work will be enormous. Harris and Rosich know the outcome for themselves if it doesn't.
All the current hysteria aside, how should Ross Lyon be judged?
The top half of our best twenty-two is very strong, but it would be foolish to say every player has achieved their potential. A couple of areas stand out:
a) STOPPAGES: Sandilands has been the most dangerous ruckman in the competition for many years now, and yet still questions linger whether Connolly or Harvey have extracted the most out of his incredible dominance of the clearances. Lyon was midfield coach in the Sydney Swans Grand Final years (2005-2006), and then turned a group of A-graders and B-graders at St Kilda into the toughest midfield in the competition. Consider St Kilda's success over recent years, and remember they had to work with the likes of Ben McEvoy, Jason Blake and an ageing Stephen King or Michael Gardiner. Should Lyon develop our young midfield and synchronise their development with Sandilands and Zac Clarke, the scope for improvement is exciting.
b) DEFENCE: Ross Lyon teams don't have big scores kicked on them. Fact. Defence is first, second and third on the priorities of a premiership team in his view. Lyon is the master of a pretty dour type of football: let's face it, his team's performances can almost mirror his press conferences for spark and colour. There is a but: he's coached teams primarily on small grounds like the SCG and Docklands, where this high-possession style makes sense. Subiaco is another matter all together. Has one journalist bothered to ask him how he sees his philosophy working on such a big ground? That's the question that will make or break his tenure in this author's view. If he can tweak his principles and turn an ultra-defensive game-plan into a high rebound style on the big wings of Subiaco, then supporters could be in for a treat. Time will tell.
c) WINNING IN MELBOURNE: There are advantages and disadvantages to choosing a local or Victorian coach. The clear advantage of going Victorian? They should produce results in Melbourne. They should know the right pre-game routine, the right warmups and the right way to handle the media. Most important of all, they should know how to win on the grounds. Our away record in Melbourne must improve. As this author's previous contribution noted, Fremantle lost six games in Melbourne this season where the result was in the balance at 3/4 time - the difference between 11th and a home final on its own. Lyon will get a decent grace period, but he should be held to a high standard on this measurement.
d) DISCIPLINE: This author speaks (of course) of 'Saints Footy' - the magic in-house phrase said to comprise all the spirit and team principles of chase, pressure and sacrifice that allowed Lyon's team to push their talent to the limit. They say a great coach is always watching; always seeing when you've fallen off a chase; always noticing you not do the team thing off the ball. Lyon apparently expects a lot of his players, and they play for him and the group. The result? Great taggers (Clint Jones, Leigh Montagna). Great half-back runners (Brendan Goddard, James Gwilt, Jason Gram). Great inside and outside midfielders (Nick Dal Santo, Lenny Hayes). A forward line that tackles hard and punches above its weight (Stephen Milne, Adam Schneider). It should be remembered these were players of moderate talent and reputation when Lyon took over at St Kilda some years ago. Take some of the names above and you could find a like-for-like for Chris Mayne, Hayden Ballantyne, Paul Duffield or a host of others who didn't enjoy the best of seasons in 2011. Perhaps work ethic - and a new coach's approach - is the final piece of the puzzle.
History records that Fremantle tried for Kevin Sheedy in 1994 and failed miserably. For the first time we have a big fish; someone who has taken a side to the last Saturday in September. If supporters were honest with themselves, Fremantle never could've pulled someone like Lyon until now; not until we'd shed the unflattering reputation of the teams in the early days; not until we had a young and promising list like the current one.
Make no mistakes, the move to poach Lyon is a genuine statement: close enough is no longer good enough; the senior management of the club feels it's in a premiership window. We should expect finals campaigns in each season of Ross Lyon's four year deal - that's the bar the club has set with such a ballsy (and expensive) scalp, and the measurement Lyon has implicitly made for himself after sustained success at St Kilda.
Will the pressure on the club be immense from Round One? Without a doubt. Could this audacious plan backfire? Yes. After every loss, and with every bad turn through 2012, the obvious question will arise: what if Mark Harvey were still in the chair? And that's the inconvenient truth: one senior AFL coach always takes someone else's job, and there is always a transition. Because of the stunning and historic nature of this one, it may be a particularly testing transition at that.