Fremantle coach Ross Lyon wishes he could have sent Matthew Pavlich out on a better note, describing the retiring veteran as an extension of himself.
Pavlich will notch his 350-game milestone in Sunday’s AFL clash with Sydney at Domain Stadium.
The 34-year-old decided to play on this year in the hope of finally landing an elusive flag.
Instead, 2016 will be remembered as one of Fremantle’s worst ever seasons, with the Dockers set to finish in 16th spot after snaring just three wins from the opening 17 rounds.
It’s a huge fall from grace for Fremantle, which had played finals in Lyon’s first four years at the club – including a grand final appearance in 2013.
Lyon said Pavlich was pivotal in ensuring his arrival at Fremantle translated into a period of success.
“He was a critical piece for me when I walked through the door cold,” said Lyon, who was under immediate pressure to produce results following the shock sacking of popular coach Mark Harvey in 2011.
“I didn’t really know anything about the Dockers to be truthful. Or much about Matthew.
“I knew he was a very good player. But as a leader he was certainly an extension of me, (and) helped set standards and drive the group.
“I tend to start at the top and whack the best ones, and everyone else falls into line.
“He understood that, he responded to that and I’m really grateful for his contribution in my coaching period at the Dockers.”
Lyon praised Pavlich’s ability to carry both internal and external pressure.
Pavlich, who captained Fremantle for nine years before handing over the mantle to David Mundy at the end of last season, is a six-time All-Australian and six-time winner of Fremantle’s best-and-fairest award.
He won the minor premiership with Fremantle last season, and was a critical part of the side’s surge to the 2013 grand final.
But he will leave the game without a flag to his name – a situation Lyon wishes he could have changed.
“We wish this year could have been a bit different. But at the end of the day it’s still a pleasure to work with Matthew,” Lyon said.
“He leaves a really big footprint at this club that will take a while to blow away.
“He set great standards and he’s been through some difficult periods and he leaves behind a legacy of hard work, determination and character.”.
No WA-based has ever notched 300 games, let alone the 350 mark Pavlich is about to post.
Retired West Coast ruckman Dean Cox (290 games) is the next best WA-based player, and Lyon said Pavlich’s feat was incredible given the extensive travel burden he has been forced to deal with.
“He is quite miraculous in a lot of ways,” Lyon said.
MATTHEW PAVLICH IN A NUTSHELL:
* Age: 34
* Games: 249
* Goals: 693
* All Australians: 2002, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008
* Best and fairests: 2002, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2011
* Captain: 2007-15