East Fremantle are a club steeped in rich Australian football tradition.
In their illustrious history, the Sharks have won 29 premierships, the most in Western Australian football by some distance (West Perth is second with 19), and only behind Port Adelaide (36) for the most in the country.
Their level of success does not stop there, having won 13 premierships at the Reserves level and another 11 in the Colts.
The club added to their trophy cabinet last month when after an impressive regular season where they finished minor premiers, East Fremantle were able to cap it off with a comprehensive 54 point win against reigning premiers Claremont in the Grand Final.
Footy Prophet had the opportunity to speak with the Sharks Premiership captain Tom Eastaugh and coach Clay McLernon who reflected on a very successful season.
2016 was a case of so close yet so far with the Sharks missing out on a finals berth when they lost to East Perth in the last game of the regular season.
That sense of disappointment spurred the squad into an intense pre-season campaign which Eastaugh and McLernon said was a big step up from the year before.
“From all the camps and training that we did, the confidence was high and we had a really tight leadership group than in previous years.”
The coach added “We needed to work on our strength, skills, decision making and our on field leadership.
“Yzzy Jacobs our strength and conditioning coach was fantastic with her commitment towards the boys, and all the preseason work in the gym allowed us to have only very few soft tissue injuries.”
Leadership was another thing that was addressed by the coaching and playing group leading up to this season and McLernon explained the process.
“Karly Guadagnin did a fantastic job ensuring the leaders were well equipped with leadership tools and checked in with them regularly to provide feedback and support.
Eastaugh won the confidence of his peers to be the captain in 2017, an honour he was extremely honoured to receive.
“I pride my self on leadership and to be voted in by your peers is a massive thing Eastaugh said.”
McLernon said the choice of Eastaugh was an inspired selection and he had a major impact on the playing group.
“Tom has been monumental this year, he is a strong communicator, leads by example and is passionate about the club and his team.
“We recognised the fact from last year that we didn’t support our leadership group as well as we should, and this season Tom and his leadership group have led from the front.”
As with any Colts team, there were plenty of ins and outs throughout the season due to state representation and school football, but McLernon put a marker down early regarding what was expected from the absentees.
“It was all about communication for our coaching group, if you kept in contact and explained all missed trainings then you were excused.
“We had a few situations throughout the year where some of our most talented players missed training without notice and we set the tone quite clearly and they missed the game on the weekend.”
The Sharks had a patchy period around the midway point of the season, but they managed to overcome it, and the coaching group started to notice a level of confidence return to the squad which translated into positive results.
With the finals series rapidly approaching and the Sharks playing at a high standard, you would have assumed that there would be some pressure on them with the premiership in their sights, however, the coaching group took another approach.
“We felt no pressure coming into the finals, the coaching group and players know that colts football is all about development and preparing them to play at their own individual personal bests,” McLernon said.
After finishing a game clear of Claremont to claim to the minor premiership, the two teams met in the major semi-final which the Sharks prevailed by 15 points to progress to the Grand Final.
Grand Final day is always a big day in any Footballer’s life and especially for a young group, many of whom had not experienced the vast dimensions of Domain Stadium.
However, you would not have known it, as the Sharks produced arguably their best game of the season, barely giving Claremont a look in.
McLernon explained that the team ethos was a big factor behind their win.
“The boys were confident that if we played our team-first football that no other team would match us.
“They certainly came out with the right attitude from the very first bounce down and we were all extremely proud of the football they played on grand final day.”
Eastaugh added an interesting insight from the players’ side of things.
“We were a much better starting team and we thought if we could just stop their overlap handballs and run and spread and put the pressure on it would go a long way to helping us.
“We knew that they would come out hard in the third quarter just like they did two weeks prior and it was all about keeping our focus.
“The big difference for them was conversion. In the semi it probably kept them in the game, while in the GF it probably kicked them out of it,” Eastaugh said.
As the siren went, a whole range of emotions went through the head of Eastaugh and his teammates.
“It is difficult feeling to describe.
“You’ve got a happy feeling because you have won the Premiership, but for me and a lot of other boys who will be transitioning into senior footy, there was a bit of sadness that we won’t be playing together again as a group, however, there will always be a tight bond.”
Like Eastaugh, McLernon will also not be involved with the Colts set-up in 2018 after deciding to dedicate himself to his young family and his role as the Director of Sport at Darling Range Sports College.
However, both the 2017 Premiership captain and coach believe that the Sharks stand a good chance to back up their success this season.
Eastaugh said “I feel there is a lot of talent that can follow on what we did and there are some good leaders who will be part of the squad next season.
“I’ve got all the confidence they will perform well, it is just whether they can get the unity that we had this year.”
McLernon added, “Every year is different in Colts football, but we are confident that the opportunities given to many younger players this year will hold the team in a strong position to be successful once again in 2018.”
It will a tall order to surpass what they produced this season, but you certainly would not put it past the Sharks to go back to back in 2018.