Fremantle coach Ross Lyon consoled Tom Sheridan with a cuddle after the young defender’s horror mistake ended the club’s flag hopes.
The Dockers were on track to book a spot in the premiership decider after closing to within nine points of Hawthorn early in the final quarter of Friday night’s preliminary final in Perth.
But Fremantle’s hopes of victory evaporated when Sheridan dropped the easiest of marks in defence and Cyril Rioli snapped a goal from the ensuing crumb.
The moment proved to be the major turning point, with Hawthorn going on to win the match by 27 points.
Sheridan was consoled by several teammates straight after his blooper, but he was still visibly upset after the match.
Lyon said the 21-year-old wasn’t solely to blame for the defeat, with a number of missed opportunities, fumbles, and ill discipline costing Fremantle dearly throughout the contest.
“Tommy Sheridan is sitting there really upset. That’s not the reason we lost, but obviously it was a critical moment,” Lyon said.
“I put my arm around him and gave him a cuddle.
“I said, ‘I know you’re upset mate, but it’s a brutal game. We’re not playing tiddlywinks, we’re trying to get to an AFL grand final against a team that looks like they could be a triple-premiership team’.
“There is no recrimination.
“It’s costly … but my boys win and lose together.
“My boys lay exhausted, not victorious. We acknowledge we got beaten by a better opponent.
“Tommy is a young leader and he’s a big part of our future.”
With skipper Matthew Pavlich and defender Luke McPharlin almost certain to retire, Fremantle’s hopes of staying in premiership contention could hinge on their ability to trade in ready-made players.
A key forward who can kick bags of goals is their top priority, but Lyon knows it’s easier said than done.
The Dockers have tried to lure the likes of Travis Cloke, Jack Riewoldt, Jay Schulz, and Mitch Clark their way in recent years, but to no avail.
Out-of-favour Kangaroos forward Aaron Black, and GWS spearhead Cam McCarthy are reportedly on Fremantle’s hit-list.
Dockers forward Matt Taberner struggled to hit his straps this year, kicking just 14 goals from 15 games – including a goalless display against the Hawks.
Ruckman/forward Zac Clarke was another Dockers big man who failed to fire.
Pavlich and McPharlin haven’t officially announced their retirements.
But Pavlich was clearly emotional as he wandered out onto the field with his family about an hour after the match to soak up his last ever moment of being an AFL player.
Lyon paid tribute to the mental toughness of captain-in-waiting Nat Fyfe, who tallied 24 disposals and nine clearances against the Hawks despite carrying a bad leg injury.
Fyfe limped his way through most of the match, with Lyon revealing the Brownlow medal favourite needed a jab to help cope with the inflammation in his left leg.
“He was a little unlucky. He was having one of the greatest seasons ever and then runs into a unique injury – the periostitis,” Lyon said.
“We don’t know where it came from.
“He has fought like a caged lion really. He’s going to lead this club eventually.”