Spotlight welcome in Freo s new world
Luke McPharlin at training. Pic: Ian Munro

Luke McPharlin remembers a time, not so long ago, when Fremantle would be the first team picked by league bosses to make the long trek to Launceston or to trudge out in front of a few thousand fans at Manuka Oval in Canberra.

Now with a grand final appearance behind them, the Dockers couldn't wait to be involved in a clutch of big-ticket Friday night matches this season, the 2012 All-Australian defender said yesterday.

Fremantle will open the premiership season against Collingwood at Etihad Stadium on March 14. A fortnight later they will travel to the MCG to again play under the glaring spotlight of Friday night football in a clash with premiers Hawthorn.

In all, the Dockers have four Friday night fixtures this season, as well as hosting Carlton in a Thursday clash in round 19. The scheduling is recognition of their new-found heavyweight status.

McPharlin conceded game-day nerves could have contributed to the basic mistakes that marred the team's 2013 grand final performance, but he said the players would be ready this year for the pressure that goes with top billing.

"It's great for our young team to experience some Friday night football against some of the top sides earlier in the year," he said.

"I think we've certainly pushed ourselves into that bracket where we do play some prime-time games. That's terrific.

"I can remember parts of my career where we only played on Sunday afternoons in remote venues. We weren't playing good football. We weren't a big football team, so by virtue of that fact we weren't on the prime time.

"So to be put on front and centre is fantastic for our team. We have to be well prepared and we're doing everything we can."

Now 32, McPharlin had to wait until his seventh season just to play in finals for the first time.

He said he was immensely proud to have been a core part of Fremantle blossoming from league easybeats into a serious premiership contender.

"I like to walk around Fremantle now and see the fans and know that they've got a football team that they can be really proud of," he said.

"That's great for them that they have watched us for so long, but even for some of the older players who have been around and really seen the transition over the years. It's been remarkable and it's great that we have a club that is considered a serious challenger and a serious powerhouse at the moment."

McPharlin said his body was holding up well in his 15th pre-season, although he and fellow veterans Matthew Pavlich and Aaron Sandilands had become used to team officials pulling them out of some sessions to manage workloads.

Soft-tissue injuries have long been managed by McPharlin in his 225-game career. Last season was no exception, with a torn calf disrupting his run into September and raising doubts over his fitness before the grand final.

McPharlin's contract finishes at the end of 2014. Like Pavlich, who is also 32, he will not decide about whether to play on until the season is over.

"I'm enjoying the experience of playing football still," McPharlin said. "There's no thought for the future beyond the next training session really.

"I know at the end of this season some decisions will have to be made and I'm happy to look at that when it presents itself."

Fremantle's big three - McPharlin, Pavlich and Sandilands - missed a combined 37 matches last season. It didn't stop the team achieving a record 16 home-and-away wins.

McPharlin said he was confident the Dockers would now be in safe hands when the senior trio retired.

"In previous years without Pavlich and Sandilands, we would be easybeats," he said.

"But we managed to sustain good levels of performance right through the season. That's a credit to the culture we've built here in a relatively short time … it's become a powerful thing."

The West Australian

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