Curley couldn’t be happier with Grand Final preparation

Saturday, October 3, 2020 - 6:00 PM by Chris Pike

PLAYING through the finals without a break is something South Fremantle coach Todd Curley believes will work in the favour of the Bulldogs coming into Sunday's Grand Final against Claremont.

Coming off playing in three straight preliminary finals and then breaking through to reach a Grand Final in 2019, South Fremantle took the next step in 2020 after four straight second place finishes to claim the minor premiership after winning the opening seven games of the season.

The form in the last round to lose to Perth and then in the second semi-final to lose to Claremont might not have been the type of football they were playing early on, but the Bulldogs did recapture something close to that with the 21-point victory over West Perth in the preliminary final.

While Claremont do deserve to take confidence from their second semi-final win, South Fremantle also had won the previous four meetings against the Tigers including the qualifying and preliminary finals of 2019.

But really, Curley doesn’t expect any of that to have an impact on Sunday's Grand Final and what is having him feeling good about the Bulldogs going into the game is the fact that they have been able to continue playing without a break to rediscover some of their best form.

"I think we've done a lot of great work here culturally here with our football club and to get our group into really good shape," Curley said. 

"We've had a really consistent year and the back end over the past few weeks we did battle a little to get everyone out on the park at the same time, but to be honest continuing to play the last couple of weeks has actually helped us. 

"We had some boys who needed to get some more footy under their belt and they got a little bit better, and took some steps in the right direction last week. 

"We think it's probably helped us more than anything and now in terms of this weekend, nothing that has happened before will have any impact. Yes we were disappointing two weeks ago but that will have no impact on this game. 

"We've had a pretty good record against the Tigers in the last 12 months or so prior to that but that will also have no impact either. It will just be about who is the best team on the day and we'll be doing everything we can to make sure that's us."

MAIN HAS BULLDOGS FOCUSED ON PLAYING AT THEIR BEST

BULLDOGS HIT BACK HARD TO BOOK GRAND FINAL SPOT

While South Fremantle has been remarkably consistent for five years now having at least reached a preliminary final each of those seasons and now about to play in a second straight Grand Final, Curley couldn’t be happier with how this group in 2020 has come together.

Some of those teams in the early years under Curley were star-studded led by the likes of Ashton Hams, Ryan Cook, Ben Saunders, Tim Kelly, Marlion Pickett, Cory Dell'Olio and Sandover Medallist Haiden Schloithe.

They were fun to watch and could turn it on in spectacular fashion, no doubt, but what Curley likes about the team now in 2020 is the fact that they are more evenly balanced and when they play at their best it's with everyone contributing and nobody necessarily standing out.

Curley is proud of what they have built now at South Fremantle and he couldn’t be happier either with their preparation heading into Sunday's Grand Final.

"We probably have eight different guys who might have played a bit of footy last year but have established themselves this year, and there's no doubt we are more even across the park and don't rely as much on individual players," Curley said. 

"And definitely physically we are in much better shape than this time last year. The last month to six weeks of the season last year was pretty tough on us and probably Claremont and West Perth as well, and by the time we got to the Grand Final I don’t think we had anything left in the tank. 

"But this time we've had some guys miss a bit of footy this year so having to play both finals has probably topped us off beautifully. We think we're in ripping shape and can't wait for Sunday to come along."

Curley had an outstanding playing career both in the WAFL with West Perth and AFL at the Western Bulldogs. He didn’t quite get the chance at premiership glory in the AFL during his 115 games at the Bulldogs but he did in the WAFL with West Perth in both 1995 and 2003.

He has now put together an outstanding coaching career too that started with three years at West Perth which included a preliminary final appearance in 2008, and now in his sixth season at South Fremantle he is in a second Grand Final to go with three other preliminary final berths.

While a premiership to his coaching CV would look nice, that's the last thing on Curley's mind heading into Sunday's Grand Final against Claremont at Fremantle Community Bank Oval.

Curley also isn’t interested in the focus on the fact that Claremont coach Darren Harris is a close friend of his with his pair having shared in two premierships together at West Perth.

For the Bulldogs coach, all he cares about is giving his South Fremantle players the best possible chance to get to experience what he did during his playing days and that's become premiership players.

"It doesn’t make a huge difference to be honest. The result of a game isn’t going to have any bearing on relationships that you've had for a long time," Curley said.

"Both clubs are in pretty good touch and I think it's going to be a pretty good game. I just want to give the players that I've spent so much time with hopefully an opportunity to experience what I have in the past. 

"I was lucky enough to play in two premierships from four Grand Finals and I can tell you the ones you win you remember a lot more fondly than the ones you lose. My focus is about hopefully getting 22 young men the opportunity to experience the day and the weeks after like I did."

Curley also doesn’t want to hear any talk of an asterisk put next to the premiership winner of 2020, if anything they should be credited for earning it more than ever given all of the hardships they will have had to go through to ultimately triumph.

It's hard to argue against that point as well and Curley couldn’t be prouder of the way South Fremantle has handled everything thrown their way thanks to COVID-19, but in the bigger picture the WAFL competition as a whole.

"It has been the most challenging footy season that I've been involved in. There has been less games but you haven’t just been dealing with footballers, but young men in communities and it's the impact the whole community has had to go through," Curley said.

"There has been a lot of challenges and things you could have never planned for before, and have had to plan for on the fly. 

"It was fantastic for the WAFL and all the clubs to actually get up and going, but for the teams that are in the final two the resilience that both groups have shown to train individually, in small groups and then as a team, and get going on short notice, and play to a pretty high standard, means there's no asterisk on it from our point of view."

The two areas that Curley felt was most disappointing that helped Claremont look good in the second semi-final was costly turnovers and then a lack of discipline to give away down the field free-kicks of 50m penalties.

Curley is confident should they tidy those things up and the Bulldogs get a lift in the midfield that Claremont's dangerous forward-line led by Alec Waterman won't be able to have the same sort of influence.

"Well hopefully we don’t do turnovers that are undefendable like we did early two weeks ago or give away down the field frees which gave him half of his goals. But he has been super dangerous and doesn’t need a lot of touches, and is a fantastic kick of the footy," he said.

"The midfield is where it needs to be stopped, we need to stop it at the supply and if he gets opportunities obviously he is a fantastic finisher. We'll be working pretty hard up the ground to make sure he doesn’t get too many opportunities hopefully."

As is quite often the case, there is a heartbreak story from the preliminary final ahead of the Grand Final at South Fremantle just like there was 12 months ago when the emerging Josh Collard ruptured his ACL and now is yet to still make his return.

And this time it was gun midfielder Jake Florenca who has had such a brilliant season and it wouldn’t surprise to see him win the WJ Hughes Medal for 2020. But he won't be there on Sunday in the Grand Final after rupturing his Achilles in the preliminary final.

Everyone at South Fremantle is feeling for Florenca but Curley knows someone will be ready to grab the opportunity presented as a result.

"Look he's had a fantastic year and to be honest he was probably our best player across the finals last year when he really started to believe," Curley said. 

"And he's just been fantastically consistent for us and he's a great young man. There's no doubt he'll be a loss but someone will come in to play his role and the strength of our group is our collective and not relying on individual stars.

"He is a loss for us but someone will get an opportunity and that's the other thing out of it because it's given three or four other guys a glint in their eye that they could get a golden ticket to an opportunity in a Grand Final."