IT is hard to ignore the tremendous job Peel Thunder coach Cam Shepherd has done to pull his group together for what is now a third consecutive WAFL finals campaign and he feels the key is having a strong group of experienced players setting the tone.
Three years ago Peel had never played in a WAFL final and never really threatened to do so and there were question marks over whether or not the partnership of the Thunder with Fremantle would breed success either consider the players wouldn’t get to train together and had different ambitions long-term.
However, the job that Shepherd has now done in particular over the past three years must be admired and it began with Peel's maiden finals appearance in 2015.
Even though the Thunder lost those first two finals appearances against West Perth and East Perth, it was a ground-breaking performance and then Shepherd had a great challenge to blend his Fremantle and Peel players for the finals last year.
He did so in outstanding fashion with Peel beating East Perth, West Perth, South Fremantle and Subiaco in comprehensive fashion to steamroll all the way through the finals for the Thunder to claim a historic first WAFL premiership.
The 2017 season has again had its challenges for Shepherd and Peel, but the end result was a third-place finish with a 12-8 record and they then came out and played tremendously to beat South Fremantle by 18 points in last Saturday's qualifying final at Fremantle Community Bank Oval.
That takes Peel just one win away from a second straight Grand Final appearance as the Thunder prepares to face Subiaco in Sunday's second semi-final at Leederville Oval.
What Shepherd feels is the key to Peel being able to blend the Thunder and Dockers players into a successful outfit is because of the core group of senior players they have that lead the way, are desperate for success and set the example for what is largely a young group outside of them.
"I think it's born over time and in essence to start with we have good, quality people and players at Peel and it's similar at Fremantle so the leaders drive most of that," Shepherd said.
"The senior players have driven that chemistry we've built and it's about massaging that and knowing what our goals are internally.
"This year we've got Jonathon Griffin, Zac Dawson, Rory O'Brien, Garrick Ibbotson and Nick Suban who are experienced footballers who are really committed to this team. They are the senior players that are pushing this group along and I think that was pretty evident last week."
The challenge was ahead of Peel last Saturday in the qualifying final against a South Fremantle team who was on a nine-game winning streak and having finished second for the second straight season, but the Thunder were too hard around the contest and too well-drilled.
Aside from a 10-minute purple patch for the Bulldogs in the last quarter, the Thunder controlled the contest and that was the aim for Shepherd and his Peel team to now get a crack at Subiaco this Sunday in the second semi-final with a Grand Final berth on the line.
"We were really strong around the ball and South Fremantle are a very good side so to come away with the win and to now face up to Subiaco this week is what we wanted. We are looking forward to it now," he said.
"We know that there's a side we are playing who has won 19 straight and they have been the benchmark for the year, and for the last three years.
"It's a great challenge for our young group and we've got four or five teenagers who will trot out for the game again and it's great learning for them. We are up for it."
Shepherd is fully aware of the big task ahead of Peel on Sunday against a Subiaco team who has won 19 straight games heading into the clash at Leederville Oval.
But at the same time, Shepherd is confident it can end up being a good day for the Thunder if they can replicate their performances in their last five finals encounters.
"Any side that has won 19 straight is pretty complete with their side so they have got a good functioning forward-line, they win a lot of contested ball, they are clearance kings and we have to join in and play as we did last week by taking up the challenge to them in the areas they are good at," Shepherd said.
"Then hopefully we can put them on the back foot with our ball movement and by getting it into our forward half and locking it in there."