RICHARD Hadley was glad to be back on the field last Saturday for East Fremantle in its win over East Perth after a nasty eye injury threatened his season, but now he is just focused on helping the Sharks find their best form this Saturday against Peel.
Hadley returned as East Fremantle beat East Perth by seven points at Medibank Stadium last Saturday with that win guaranteed the Sharks to at least finish in third position and a home first semi-final that will be against the Royals.
There is still an outside chance that the Sharks finish second to get a double-chance if they beat Peel and Swan Districts is upset by Perth, but for now Hadley is just glad to be part of an East Fremantle team that has qualified for a second finals appearance in three years.
The 29-year-old brings into the finals plenty of experience as an AFL premiership player with Brisbane and 66 games with the Lions and Carlton under his belt.
If it happens to be that the first semi-final is against East Perth, he expects another tough challenge.
"It's just good for the club to be guaranteed of a home final to get all the supporters down there. It has been a long time between drinks for the East Fremantle supporters so it's good there is a bit of positivity around the place and we will try to now have a good game against Peel to sharpen up a bit more for the finals," Hadley said.
"I think both teams had a couple of blokes out so personnel could be a little bit different which can change things, but they are just a very physical team. They are always there for a big, physical game and we just know that we have to match them in that way. If we do that, it can lead us to play some good footy if we can match their physicality."
East Fremantle had to work hard to beat East Perth on Saturday with the Royals kicking the first three goals, and then also coming back from a 26-point last quarter deficit.
However, the Sharks' best football on the day saw them have too much run through the middle for East Perth, saw the forward-line of Brad Dick, Jack Perham and Brock O'Brien prove a handful and the defence of Mitch Brown, Andrew Stephen, Tom Howlett and Steven Dodd was outstanding.
"It was very hard work and they played really well, but it was a bit of a grinding win from us. I probably think we didn’t play our best footy but they were very good. It was good just to get the win in the end and at least get a home final, which is great for the club," he said.
"We have a lot of guys who are good runners and once they get up and moving, and we are cracking in and winning that first ball then we can get it out to those guys. We probably weren’t doing that enough, though, especially in the first quarter and that is our strength. If we can get in, win the ball and get it out to the runners then we can go about our play from there."
Hadley returned from his fractured eye socket suffered back in Round 19 against Claremont in an incident that his former Carlton teammate Luke Blackwell copped a three-week suspension for.
There were some scary moments afterwards with Hadley losing complete eye sight in the eye for a time, but a few weeks on it's now feeling fine and there were no ill-effects out on the field on Saturday against the Royals.
"It was just a flush blow and unfortunately it affected my eye sight and did a bit of structural damage, but I got a couple of second opinions and got back a little earlier than I thought. It's feeling fine now. I didn’t even think about it once I was out there," Hadley said.
"When I lost complete eye sight it was pretty scary and when that happens all doctors are pretty cautious about letting you go back to play in case that repeats because that could be bad long-term. I did due-diligence, though, in checking out opinions and I still had three or four weeks off in the end, and it's fine now."
This Saturday against Peel for East Fremantle is all about ensuring everyone is in peak form and fitness heading into the finals the following week with some positions on the line as well with some AFL players potentially pushing to come back.
"It's all about timing and you want to be going into the finals cherry ripe. We don’t feel we were cherry ripe this week, so against Peel we want to play our best footy so that we are ready for the finals," he said.
"It varies with those Eagles and Dockers players with us. We've got Sutcliffe and Brennan and those sorts of guys who are all qualified, and can strengthen us up. Max Duffy is probably going to find it hard from here.
"He did some decent damage to his leg and he's still in a moon boot. There is also a few guys pushing up from the twos and whoever is out there for us, hopefully we play our best footy against Peel."
Hadley wasn’t the only experienced East Fremantle player to return last week against East Perth either with 162-game veteran Leith Teakle back to play his first league game since Round 10. He played well across half-forward and Hadley for one was delighted to have him back.
"Teaks was awesome. He's had an injury-interrupted year so it's been hard for him, but his last five weeks on the track, in reserves and now pushing back up this week has been superb," he said.
"His effort has been fantastic and he will only get better after this run again with the senior team. It's never easy in that first game back, but he will be better for the run and it's great to have him back in the team."
Even though last year's disappointment of losing the last two games to Subiaco and South Fremantle to miss out on finals has been used to spur on East Fremantle in 2012, Hadley is reflective enough to acknowledge just how far the club has come in recent years from the worst period in club history.
A finals appearance in 2010, going close last year and now being guaranteed of at least a home final in 2012 all point to the fact that East Fremantle is doing plenty right.
"It was disappointing last year the way we finished, but it's all part of the development. We have now come a long way over the last five or six years, and sometimes those things don't go your way, but it's all about a process and I think we are on the right track," Hadley said.
"It's great to be in the finals. It's what footy is all about and you look forward to crunch time, and getting together with the boys and passing on some of your experience from 10 or 11 years in footy.
"It's similar for Goughy and our other senior players. You just try and approach the guys to take each game as it comes and we are in a position where these opportunities don’t come around all the time."