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Curley wants Bulldogs players to experience what he didFriday, September 20, 2019 - 7:02 AM - by Chris Pike

PRELIMINARY Final days might have caused him plenty of pain over the past 30 years, but Grand Finals have much better memories for South Fremantle coach Todd Curley and he's hoping his Bulldogs players create their own lifelong fulfilment this Sunday.

Not only had South Fremantle lost the last three WAFL preliminary finals to Peel Thunder in 2016, Subiaco in 2017 and West Perth in 2018, but that continued a history of heartbreak on that second last weekend for Curley that stretches way back.

While at West Perth as a player his preliminary final experiences were fruitful beating Subiaco in 1993, the Lions again in 2002 and then East Perth in 2003, the memories of the devastating losses in the AFL with the Western Bulldogs in 1997 and 1998 were shattering for all involved.

Then upon taking over as West Perth coach following retirement as a player following an outstanding 148-game WAFL and 118-game AFL career, Curley did well with the Falcons but it was again ever so close on preliminary final day against Swan Districts in 2008.

That will be a day tough to forget with the Falcons leading by 35 points midway through the third quarter but a crunching Nic Naitanui tackle on Mark Seaby changed the game, and Swans went on to win even if the game ended up with two finishes thanks to a premature siren.

Curley's next involvement in a WAFL preliminary final was the last three years in the losses for South Fremantle, but he and the Bulldogs shook that off for an impressive 30-point win against Claremont last Sunday at Fremantle Community Bank Oval.

That now sees Curley coaching a team into a Grand Final for the first time in what will be his 171th match as a senior coach in the WAFL on top of the three years he spent back in the AFL system with the Fremantle Dockers.

So 14 years after first beginning his coaching career, Curley is now preparing his team for a Grand Final this Sunday when South Fremantle takes on Subiaco at Optus Stadium.

Having experienced two premierships as a player at West Perth in 1995 and 2003 he knows what that feeling is like and now as a coach, what he wants more than anything is to provide his South Fremantle players with the chance to find out for themselves.

"I know how good it feels when you play and win so really for us as coaches we are just trying to help in whatever small way we can the players we've got to experience the same things that I was lucky enough to a couple of times as a player," Curley said.

"They've got their opportunity now and what they do with it, I know they certainly won't die wondering. 

"It would be fantastic to be able to see these guys that I know and have grown to love the way they go about it, I would love them to experience what I have before. They've given themselves an opportunity and I'm sure that they will have a red hot crack at winning."

While happy with the part he and his coaching staff have played in South Fremantle booking its spot in Sunday's Grand Final, Curley is happier for the players to now get this opportunity and he is proud of the resilience they've shown to get there in what is the fourth attempt for the club in-a-row.

"It's fantastic because it's the reward at the end of how much work you put in, but it's not about me. I'm just so happy for the players and some of these boys have been here with me since I started five years ago and then there's Suban and Schloithe who I knew before that at Fremantle," he said.

"I'm just happy for the players really, they're the ones who put in all the work and sacrifice more than any. They've earned the right and everyone talks about the prelim losses, but to get that point four years straight shows that we've been a good team for a long time. 

"It shows some real resilience to keep backing up and this group continues to do that. Resilience is one of our really good traits. I'm really proud of them and I look forward to watching them on the big stage on Sunday because I know they haven’t left anything in the tank, and they won't this week either."

While South Fremantle was playing in a fourth straight preliminary final last Sunday against Claremont, the reality was this was a very different group in 2019 following the departures of Ashton Hams, Ryan Cook, Shane Hockey, Ben Saunders, Cory Dell'Olio, Marlion Pickett, Steven Edwards and Matthew Parker.

Kade Stewart, Glenn Byron, Zac Dent, Andrew Haydon, Josh Collard and Matthew Ward were all playing in their first preliminary final out of the four so while a lot was made of it being a fourth straight preliminary for the Bulldogs, Curley knew it was a new experience for many in 2019.

Then once they got the job done against Claremont to book a spot in the Grand Final against Subiaco, Curley got the immediate impression that his group was excited for the opportunity ahead.

"Half the group has never been in this situation really before though. Everyone gets weighed down by what's happened in the past but that has no impact on this group," Curley said.

"The overwhelming feeling I got from the group was opportunity and excitement, and they can't wait for the week to come around. It's a Grand Final. 

"That's why we're all here to have the opportunity to play in one and that means you have the opportunity to win one. We don't hold any fears, we'll play our way and the scoreboard will hopefully take care of itself."

The key to the preliminary final win was the fact that South Fremantle had such an even contribution across the board even despite losing Zac Dent and Josh Collard along the way.

Curley knows that's the key to any success the Bulldogs experience, is to have everyone stepping up and playing their role.

"That's probably been the story of our year to be honest. Losing eight to 10 of the team that played last year and then young guys got opportunity," he said. 

"For some reason, the younger you are you tend to remain a bit more fearless because you haven’t experienced the lows that you rack up over a long career. Our young boys were fantastic because that's what young guys do I think, but our leaders were just desperate to not allow a negative result again. 

"They were just desperate to go through and it's such a different feeling. I didn’t get a feeling of relief after the game, I got a feeling from the group of excitement and opportunity. They are really looking forward to this week. Subi have been a great team for a long time but as of now, you only have to win one game and you are the premiers."

As for the two players that got hurt in the preliminary final, Dent remains a good chance to shake off his knock and get up to play in the Grand Final on Sunday, but it's devastating news for Collard who has ruptured his anterior-cruciate ligament and will require a knee reconstruction.

That means the Bulldogs will have to make at least one change for the Grand Final and it opens up plenty of options where they could go tall and bring in Blair Della Franca, provide a fairytale for 115-game veteran Adam McIntosh or bring in a youngster like Seaton Thompson, Tom Blechynden or Daniel Cabassi.

"Zac just got a knock so we'll wait and see how he pulls up. Unfortunately it's been confirmed that Joshy Collard has ruptured his ACL," Curley said. 

"So there's one vacant ticket there and there's probably five or six blokes who have put their hand up depending on how we decide to go.

"We'll put 22 fit boys out there and there might be a late opportunity for someone, but it doesn’t matter. The strength of our group has been that ability for guys to come in and for us to not lose too much."