Hockey proud to step up against Swans, now looks for Grand Final berth

Saturday, September 16, 2017 - 2:29 PM by Chris Pike

REIGNING South Fremantle fairest and best winner Shane Hockey holds himself to high standards so he was as disappointed as anyone following the qualifying final loss to Peel, but he bounced back emphatically and now is desperate to play in the first Grand Final of his senior career.

Hockey joined South Fremantle from VFL club Frankston last year and had an outstanding first season in the WAFL claiming the Bulldogs' fairest and best award and getting to play finals at senior level for the first time in his career.

Previously the last final he had played in was a 10-goal loss for Mornington under-18s against Frankston YCW. But all South Fremantle's preliminary final exit last year at the hands of Peel Thunder did was make Hockey's desire to achieve the ultimate even stronger coming into 2017.

That's what made Hockey so disappointed that he couldn’t have the impact he would have liked in the qualifying final loss to Peel a fortnight ago to open the 2017 finals series.

With Peel getting on top around the contest and in winning the hard ball, that is something Hockey prides himself on and he took it personally coming into last Sunday's first semi-final with Swan Districts at Fremantle Community Bank Oval.

The result was just about a best on ground performance from Hockey in the 80-point victory as he delivered 34 possessions to have a big say in helping South Fremantle win into this Sunday's preliminary final against Subiaco.

"As a midfield group our main focus was to do well in the contested ball and we know we're playing our best footy when we're in first for the ball and winning the hard ball, and clearances. We focused on that and did it to a tee I reckon," Hockey said.

"I suppose coming from the week before I had a stinker in my own words and I got a couple of words from the coaches saying that it wasn’t really good enough and I needed to improve. 

"So I put the pressure on myself to perform and I'm happy that I got to do that to help the team win a pretty important game."

Swan Districts did start well in the first semi-final and South Fremantle always expected Swans to throw everything at them early. Hockey also knew to expect a ferocious midfield battle with the likes of Matt Riggio, David Ellard, Ryan Crowley and Adam Faulkner.

But he couldn’t have been happier with the way the whole Bulldogs team responded following the loss to Peel.

"I think we've got that belief in the group now that no matter how far we get down we can always fight back. So after the first quarter we knew that if we kept playing the way we wanted to play that the game would open up and eventually it did. That's what ended up happening and we started to play some good footy," he said.

"We paid a lot of respect to Swans and went through a lot of their tapes and we knew they had some good midfielders in there, but we thought we'd go OK if we stuck to our guns. I thought Brock Higgins was super after quarter-time and when he's up and about, us midfielders are up and about too."

Now looking to this Sunday's preliminary final at Leederville Oval with a Grand Final against Peel at stake, Hockey is fully aware just how hungry Subiaco is going to be having won 19 games straight during the season and having lost last year's Grand Final.

But motivation is hardly lacking for Hockey and the Bulldogs either. He has never played in a Grand Final in his career and it's the same for most of his teammates, and having gone out in the preliminary final last year they are desperate to not suffer that same fate in 2017.

"It's going to be a very tough battle and we are probably going to be as hungry as each other. But I think if we play the way we did on the weekend that we can beat anyone," Hockey said.

"We do have to bring our A-game because we know they have been the benchmark of the competition for a number of years and we do have to step it up a notch. 

"We can't just roll in and expect things to happen but I'm pretty confident if we play the way we want to play and bring that contested brand of footy in the midfield that we can beat them."

One individual battle in the midfield that will be particularly fascinating and fierce will be Hockey going up against former Frankston teammate Leigh Kitchin.

Both have been outstanding in the WAFL since arriving and both are among the toughest inside ball-winners in the competition meaning no inch will be given on Sunday.

"We were pretty close and good mates when we were there together. I'm still mates with him now but probably not as close as we used to be just because we don’t see each other as often," he said.

"He is a very good bloke and one of the most competitive footy players I've ever played with, but there will be no friendships this weekend. I'm looking forward to clashing heads with him that's for sure."

Hockey's first season with the Bulldogs in 2016 could hardly have turned out better with him claiming the WJ Hughes Medal and getting the chance to play finals for the first time in his state league career.

A pre-season injury and then a sore shoulder meant his start to 2017 wasn’t quite what he hoped, but by the second half of the season he was right back to his form of 12 months earlier and he has been enjoying his football again as a result.

"I probably did struggle a bit early and I missed a fair bit of pre-season with a knee injury and then had a shoulder injury from the first practice match," Hockey said.

"I struggled a bit for form a bit there even though I was doing OK but just not blowing the world apart. Eventually I got my match fitness up and got my body right and started to play some good footy again I think. I started enjoying things again as a result too once that started happening."

Hockey credits much of his success in the midfield at South Fremantle to the efforts of ruckman Brock Higgins as well.

"It's great playing with Brock and he's just a real competitor and battler. He punches above his weight nearly every week and just finds a way. He's one of those blokes who will find a way to do his part for the team," Hockey said.

"You know if he's ever down for a quarter that if you give him a little rev up that he will respond to that and he will always come back from a bad quarter during games. He was awesome on the weekend and it's always good having him put it on a silver platter for us midfielders."

Hockey also can't speak more highlight about getting to play alongside teammates like Tim Kelly and Haiden Schloithe. And looking towards Monday night's Sandover Medal, he can't split the pair.

"I don’t think I can split them. I thought TK might be running away with it a bit early and then Schloithey went up another level through the middle and then I thought maybe TK again towards the end," he said.

"They have both had super years and they are outstanding players so it's pretty good playing with the pair of them. I might even tip a draw between them so they both could win it, that would be a good result."

Looking towards Sunday's preliminary final, Hockey is hopeful and confident that all the work the Bulldogs have put in to be able to win the big games come finals time will pay off.

"What we have trained for right through the pre-season and all year is to get to this moment in September when you are playing in big games and have to win finals. That's what all our training is designed to get us ready for and you want to be able to win finals, and ideally win the premiership," Hockey said.

"So all the work you do is designed to give you the chance to do that. I'm sure the coach has some tricks up his sleeve to use against Subi as well that he hasn’t told us about so that might help us in this game coming up but we'll wait and see."