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Friday, October 1, 2021 - 9:26 AM by Chris Pike

PLAYING in six straight preliminary finals and now reaching a third consecutive WAFL Grand Final means Todd Curley has achieved the sustained success he was after at South Fremantle, but there's no feeling of content with a premiership now at stake.

Curley arrived as South Fremantle coach in 2015 taking over a Bulldogs team that hadn’t played finals since 2011 or won a final since the 2009 premiership, and in a lot of ways he was given a blank canvas to start building a team that he hoped would deliver what it now is.

There was a growing year in 2015 in his first year at the helm but the pieces for success were coming together and the next three years saw South Fremantle not only end that finals drought, but emerge as genuine contenders with three consecutive preliminary final appearances.

South Fremantle was banging on the door and broke through to reach the Grand Final in 2019, and then used the pain of that to not feel that pain again in 2020 by winning a historic premiership at Fremantle Community Bank Oval.

Six straight years of top two finishes, reaching at least a preliminary final and winning a premiership while now qualifying for a third straight Grand Final this Saturday against Subiaco at Optus Stadium is a successful run by anyone's measure.

When you add in the fact that Marlion Pickett, Matthew Parker, Tim Kelly, Shai Bolton and Tim English have now embarked on AFL careers having come through at South Fremantle in that time too, and it's hugely successful whatever way you look at it.

Despite that, there's no feeling by anyone at South Fremantle that they are happy and content with just reaching another Grand Final this Saturday.

For premiership coach Todd Curley, he continues to marvel at the way his players continue to bounce back and deliver no matter what they get thrown at them.

"I'm really proud of the group to be honest for the heart they continue to show. There are probably half of them who have been with me since the start of this journey and not everything has worked well," Curley said. 

"We had some tough prelim final losses, some tough Grand Final losses but they are just so resilient and honest. Every time they come up against a setback, which you get a lot more in football than you get success most of time, they just dust themselves and come back ready for another opportunity. 

"They provide performance like this week when nobody outside expects it, but they find a way and I'm really proud of them."

The Bulldogs team that will now run out for Saturday's Grand Final is vastly different than the one Curley might have pictured at the start of the season, or even at the midway point.

Ben Rioli has been sidelined long-term with an ankle injury, Zac Dent and Blake Schlensog are out through injuries suffered in the finals and Dylan Main, Blayne Wilson and Brandon Donaldson face an uphill battle to be right to play after getting hurt in the second semi-final loss to Subiaco.

However, what that has all done is open up opportunities for others and there are some impressive young and emerging players who have stood up during the finals and now deserve to be part of the Grand Final.

Aiden Hall got his chance and has grabbed it in the back-line with his hard attack on the contest while Toby McQuilkin has made a spot down back his own and Trent Newton was rock solid coming in for the preliminary final win against Claremont.

Manfred Kelly has become a cult favourite for his ability to kick special goals and apply ferocious tackling pressure while Jesse Motlop plays with a maturity beyond his 17 years and Travis Abbott, George Wessels and Glenn Byron didn’t put a foot wrong coming in for the preliminary final.

All of that means Curley will have great faith in whatever 22 runs out onto Optus Stadium on Saturday and he is proud of the youth they continue to blood while being a premiership contender.

"They just came in and played their role. It's an old cliché and simple and not exciting to talk about, but they came in and just did they were asked to do and what we expected. We wanted them to be themselves and be their best, and they were pretty close to that," Curley said.

"A lot of the guys in this team haven’t played in any of those games against Subi in the finals previously or maybe only one so it doesn't really count for a lot. We'll see who is up and about and available for selection this week, we'll put a plan in place and we'll let them go.

"Generally when you make a Grand Final there's always some really tough decisions to make at selection and some hard luck stories. But the boys that played this week were pretty good so it will be tough make changes, but if any of those guys are fit they are important for us too so we'll just see what happens as this week unfolds."

Looking back on last Sunday's preliminary final win, Curley was beaming afterwards with the performance to beat Claremont on the back of losing Wilson, Main, Schlensog and Donaldson from the second semi-final loss to Subiaco even if it was a nervy final quarter.

"I thought it was an outstanding win to be honest when you think about some of the challenges we had mid-week with personnel. Pretty much everyone was talking about Claremont and Subi in a Grand Final," Curley said.

"We had some young blokes come in with fresh legs and I thought they were all pretty good, and we knew Claremont was always going to come in the last quarter. 

"They had nothing to lose but they only had four shots. Unfortunately they kicked four goals early but I thought we showed real resilience to hold on.

"It was a long last 20 minutes but I think some of our experienced blokes spoke about it straight after the game about how proud we were to not leave anything out there. 

"We probably got a bit tired towards the end but it's a hard situation to be in when you are in front but they have nothing to lose and they are all charging forward. 

"A couple came off for them and then momentum changes, but we were pretty proud of how a young group dug in and got it done. Now we are through to another Grand Final."

It was an outstanding defensive performance from South Fremantle to hold Claremont goalless for three quarters and then to the lowest ever score in a preliminary final, but Curley paid tribute to the pressure applied all over the field for that.

"I thought there were some outstanding efforts defensively but I thought our pressure from our forwards and mids certainly helped the backs," he said. 

"The backs did some outstanding stuff when they had to one-on-one and were really resolute but as a team, we speak about it a lot and we are a good team when we all play offence and play defence as a group. 

"That's what we did to win this game and I thought our pressure on the ball stopped them from getting any of their game going at all outside of that little patch in the last quarter. They have run all over teams this year and were expected to do that to us, but our ability to hold them up was pretty good."

Curley now is looking forward to seeing how South Fremantle performance back on the Grand Final stage and he feels it's a good reward to get to play the decider at Optus Stadium.

"Obviously there's only two clubs left now and we are one of them. We are as good a chance as they are we'd like to think and we look forward to the opportunity. It's an exciting week to be part of and it has been a good effort from the group obviously to be part of it," Curley said.

"I think it's a good reward to play there for the teams that make it, it's the best stadium in Australia and they get an opportunity to play there. 

"Some of them might not get the chance to ever play there aside from a WAFL Grand Final so I think it's a great reward for the teams that make it. We'll be trying to organise as many people in red and white to be there as we can to fill up the stands."