Fremantle goalsneak Michael Walters says the tough love he received from coach Ross Lyon saved his AFL career.
Walters’ career was at the crossroads in 2012 when he was banished to the WAFL for failing to meet the Dockers’ pre-season fitness standards.
The 24-year-old worked hard to win back the trust of Fremantle’s coaches and players, and he has since established himself as one of the best small forwards in the competition.
And his leadership attributes have grown to such an extent that Lyon rates Walters as a contender to become the club’s next captain.
Walters has kicked a team-high 41 goals this season, helping power Fremantle into the preliminary final.
The 177cm speedster said Lyon’s decision to punish him in 2012 was the reality check he needed.
“It changed my life,” Walters said.
“I thank him for that.
“I was still young and immature. I liked to have a bit of fun off the field.
“I’m so glad he sent me back. It made me a better footballer and, most importantly, a better person.”
Walters looms as a key figure in Friday night’s preliminary final against Hawthorn at Domain Stadium.
When skipper Matthew Pavlich went goalless against Sydney in the qualifying final, it was Walters and Hayden Ballantyne who came to the rescue with three goals apiece.
Walters said the Dockers would need to be at their frenetic best if they are to beat Hawthorn.
“We want to make sure our manic pressure is there, especially us guys in the forward line,” Walters told Perth radio station 6PR.
“You see guys like Ballas and Chris Mayne who are 100 per cent fierce tackling. That’s what we want to do.
“Hawthorn are hard runners, especially out of defence, and we have to make sure we control the game by putting pressure on them.”
Lyon resisted the urge to recall tagger Ryan Crowley, who was eligible to play after serving his 12-month doping ban.
Instead, the Dockers recalled fit-again ruckman Jonathon Griffin and forward Matt Taberner for Zac Clarke (omitted) and Clancee Pearce (omitted).
The Hawks named the same 22 who beat Adelaide last week, with forward Jack Gunston (ankle) missing a second straight game.