It’s round four. Fremantle have just beaten St Kilda at Etihad Stadium.
Coach Ross Lyon has just survived the anger of supporters of the club he left to join Fremantle at the end of 2011 and
Ryan Crowley has just held Saints midfield gun Nick Dal Santo to 18 possessions.
And in the post-match press conference, Lyon gave the most accurate description of Crowley to be heard all year: “Dog hungry.”
Yesterday, the 28-year-old veteran of 135 games was rewarded for his hunger and his rock-solid form over 2012 with a new two-year contract that will keep him at the Dockers until the end of 2014.
The Dockers, who will try to continue a late-season turnaround by beating North Melbourne at Etihad Stadium on Sunday to climb to the brink of a finals berth, have had their share of individual turn- around stories this season.
In Lyon-speak, Clancee Pearce had to “lose the fat arse” to reclaim his spot on the list, then claim his spot in the club’s best 22.
Michael Walters “acted his way out of, then acted his way back into” the club by changing his diet and almost halving his skin folds.
But “dog-hungry” Crowley is as good a story as any.
The tagger looked to be on his way out of the AFL after struggling to hold on to his spot in an injury-ravaged Fremantle in 2011.
Playing as a defensive forward, Crowley’s spot on the list was under threat until Lyon arrived and challenged him to return to his more renowned role as a run-with midfielder with a one-year contract to prove himself.
Crowley’s first response was to shed 9kg, starting the season in the best shape of his career.
His more prolonged response — one which has lasted all season — was to impose his will on the best midfielders to the point where Gold Coast skipper Gary Ablett was moved to tweet in support of fellow champion Chris Judd, who was getting a good old-fashioned working over in a round five match at Patersons Stadium.
Ablett sarcastically labelled Crowley a “joke”, but midfielders have found the dogged Docker no joke.
Only Sydney’s Josh Kennedy in round two and Essendon’s Jobe Watson in round 13 have serious claims on getting hold of Crowley, who has restricted most of his opponents to well short of their season averages and played a critical role in several Fremantle wins.
Just as he has imposed his will on midfielders all year, Crowley got the better of the club’s list managers when, after a stalemate over the length of a new contract, the Dockers extended their original one year to two, keeping Crowley out of reach for free agent hunters.
“Ryan has had a really solid season so far and we are very pleased that, on the back of that, he has committed to the club for a further two years,” general manager of player management Brad Lloyd said.
“He’s … a highly regarded member of the playing group and integral to our aim of achieving sustained success.”