How Nat Fyfe and David Mundy are setting the Dockers up for success

Before Nat Fyfe was drafted to Fremantle in 2009, David Mundy was already firmly entrenched in the club's five-man leadership group. Working alongside then-skipper Matthew Pavlich, as well as other club greats Aaron Sandilands and Luke McPharlin, Mundy began honing and developing his style of mentorship.

When Pavlich stepped down as captain at the end of 2015, it was Mundy who was given the nod for the following year, before handing the reins over to Fyfe ahead of the 2017 season. The transitional period never caused a rift between the pair, and now, six years on, the Dockers duo are working harmoniously to inspire the next generation of youngsters coming through the club.

"I guess I'm the day-to-day operations, the CEO-type operator and [Mundy's] the chairman of the board," Fyfe tells ESPN. "He's the guy that takes a broad view on what he thinks we need and he knows when to apply the sugar and honey, or when to be firm with players.

"He's great for me as a sounding board or a resource. Sometimes when I'm not seeing things because I'm so caught up with the day-to-day, he can tap me on the shoulder. Whenever I have questions, I fire them to Dave and he gives me rulings. He's really a mentor and a guiding voice. It's been invaluable to our environment."

The Dockers have started the 2022 season 2-1, including an impressive Derby win over cross-town rival West Coast in Round 3, and that's been without either Fyfe or Mundy on the park.

Mundy, who enjoyed a career best 2021, missed the opener against the Crows with an ankle injury before being placed in COVID-19 health and safety protocols for the past fortnight.

Fyfe, meanwhile, underwent two successful shoulder reconstructions in the off-season and appeared to be in line for Round 1 selection before discovering a nerve issue in his back. Last month, he again went under the knife, this time for microdiscectomy surgery, setting the dual Brownlow medalist back a further six to eight weeks.

But despite the impressive start, Fyfe, who was recently announced as a Therabody ambassador, says he, Mundy and the leadership group "never look at expectations or setting a bar" either before or during the year.

"Setting expectations, bars and lines in the sand doesn't help," he declares. "As humans, we're programmed to do better than we did yesterday. As a footy club, we're programmed to want to do better than we did last year. We're a young group and clearly we're all waiting for that moment for when we can take that leap into the eight, and ideally into the six or the four, and become a competitive AFL side vying for the flag. Time and games will tell."

Fyfe is the type of AFL captain who leads by example; someone who inspires his teammates by the bulldozing and ferocious way he approaches the game. So when injury strikes, and he's forced to watch on from the sidelines, it does pose a different challenge.

Since taking over the captaincy at the beginning of the 2017 season, Fyfe has missed a total of 23 games - basically a month of football each year. So learning how to impact off the field has been crucial, and something which has lead him into somewhat of a coaching advisory role.

"Not playing is incredibly frustrating. But if you weren't frustrated or disappointed by injury, it probably shows you don't care enough," he says. "I've learned a lot over the last six years that I've been captain. [When I'm injured] I know that I've still got a pivotal role to play in being a stable presence around our young group and driving our standards of culture. For me, it's how I show up to the workplace each day. It's how I attack my rehab - which is going well. Therabody approached me and asked me to come on as an athlete. [The partnership] is perfect for me because I'm always using their products."

You need to send signals to show that I haven't checked out or gone anywhere.

"I'm doing what I can and am helping with some coaching. I've probably sat in the coaches' box about 30 times now. From the Ross Lyon days -- where it was an incredibly daunting, hostile and highly emotional environment, with some pure brilliance, as well -- to now, which is a great learning environment for me to be able to pick up how the coaches see it. But I feel that I can give my opinion from a player's point of view, which may have added value. It's a great learning environment."

That advisory and mentoring role doesn't end at the ground, either. And while some football stars and other AFL captains may overload the younger players with information, Fyfe has developed his own technique.

"I tend to discuss as much as they're willing to learn. As much as their curiosity leads them to ask questions, I'm willing to share," says Fyfe. "For Andy [Brayshaw], that's been a number of conversations. I remember he came over to do some recovery in my backyard and he was asking about how he can go to the next level. We also spent some time at his house going through some tag stuff.

"Caleb Serong is another one who has just been banging down the door with questions and they're the guys you want in your environment because they just fuel you. Really that's not me giving them information, that's them figuring it out for themselves.

"Footy's high performance but not everyone's high performing, and that's okay, not every needs to be an obsessed athlete. But for someone like me, in the second half of my career, to have young, hungry individuals asking questions and wanting to learn, that motivates me to work harmoniously and keep driving our standards up."