Thursday night footy from Domain Stadium in Perth, and it was a shock upset, as the unfancied Western Bulldogs gave the West Coast Eagles an absolute flogging and finals “football lesson”. The Bulldogs trademark footspeed, run, carry, and pressure football was evident from early on, as they took risks and moved the ball through the corridor whenever possible.
The Dogs got off to a quick start, but were unable to convert early, before the Eagles kicked the opening 2 goals of the contest, and it seemed like they were set to make the Dogs pay for their inaccuracy. The intensity from both sides was up, and under the intensity of finals pressure, both sides were making very basic skill errors. The Dogs press was causing the Eagles all sorts of problem exiting their defensive 50, while the Eagles harassing of the Dogs ball carriers was keeping the Dogs from getting quality ball inside 50.
One thing that was evident early was the Dogs run and carry, as their uncontested possession count, and handball count was through the roof, on the back of hard running from the likes of Caleb Daniel, who was getting forward and looking dangerous, and Lachie Hunter, who was everywhere in the first quarter.
The Eagles were dominating the ruck and centre clearances, as Giles and Lycett were giving Shuey, Gaff, and Priddis first use. Every disposal was pressured though, the Dogs tackle count through the roof. When the Eagles did manage to get the ball forward – they were let down by their goalkicking – Mark LeCras missing a soda, as Luke Darcy took the time to remind us that the little Frenchman has never kicked more than 2 goals in a final. Say that again? The opposite was true for the Dogs – as Caleb Daniel and Liam Picken hit the scoreboard and were looking dangerous up forward, as the Dogs took a 13 point lead into quarter time. Bulldogs key defenders were holding up, however Easton Wood looked like he might have done an ankle – spending some time on the pine.
The Eagles came out in the second quarter and looked to have settled, playing with more composure early on. Their ball movement started to look more crisp and polished, while the Dogs seemed to be utilising the Dwayne Russell Chaos Ball into forward 50. West Coast seemed to be trying to take the pace out of the game by keeping control of the ball – however, the Dogs pace and press meant that the minute the Eagles weren’t spot on with their kicks, the Dogs could force the turnover, and then move the ball on quickly at any cost. The fast ball movement kept on creating chances for their small forward line. Dickson, Dahlhaus, and Hunter all continued to take risks, run forward and kick goals. Caleb Daniel’s clean ball use and creative handball in tight and out of congestion was a thing of beauty – and I don’t think I’d have complained if he’d been named the Rising Star winner. West Coast continued to waste their chances up forward – Elliot Yeo shanked a kick from straight in front, Jack Darling played on from 15m out and got caught with the ball, and the Eagles fans presumably decided to start a riot and boo the umpires for their teams poor performance. You stay classy Perth.
The Dogs took a 4 goal lead into the long break, however with Lin Jong out for the rest of the game with a shoulder injury, and so many players short of a run after injury – the expectation was that the Eagles would finish the stronger, and run over the top of the Bulldogs in the second half.
Only – someone forgot to mention that to the Dogs, as they came out after the long break and picked up where they left off. The Eagles lifted their intensity too, as did the Eagles fans – whose booing was starting to have an effect on the umpires – who suddenly and unexpectedly started finding free kicks for the Eagles out of nowhere. The Eagles pressure started to have an effect, as the Dogs forward 50 entries started to become high and slow, allowing the likes of McGovern and Barrass to dominate the air. However, a familiar story played out. The Eagles dominated the opening minutes of the quarter, only for the Bulldogs to take hold through the middle of the quarter. Jason Johannisen’s fancy footwork left defenders grasping for thin air and/or lying on the turf, Liam Picken and Clay Smith hit the scoreboard, and suddenly – the Dogs were out to a 37 point lead, and the Dogs were about 2 goals from putting the Eagles away. The Eagles must have sensed it too, as their output lifted – Masten and Shuey started to gain a bit more control through the midfield, and their forward 50 pressure lifted – the Dogs were having real trouble through the middle of the quarter getting the ball out of the backline, and Matt Suckling was struggling with his kick ins. As was the case most of the night though – the Dogs responded and steadied, Roughead kicking a nice running goal from 50, and at three quarter time, the margin had increased to 36 points.
It’s situations like these where coaches often make a fatal mistake. “We’ve gotta get the first one boys” is nearly always the refrain from a coach trailing at three quarter time. The implication being that if we don’t get the first one, we’re stuffed. Sure, sometimes it serves as motivation – but when the team fails to “get the first one” – the shoulders slump. And that’s how it seemed to go here. 2 minutes in to the final quarter, and Josh Dunkley snapped truly to put the Dogs 42 points clear. Suddenly, the atmosphere in the stadium changed as the Eagles’ supporters started to realise that their season was basically over, and the mood seemed to pass on to the players – who seemed to come to the same realisation. Then the Dogs entered party mode, as the previously well held Stringer and Bontempelli hit the scoreboard and pushed the lead out past 50 points, as the game fizzled out towards an end.
Great performance from the Dogs – exciting, fast footy that left the Eagles for dead. Best players for the Dogs were Dahlhaus, Daniel, Hunter, Johannisen and Boyd, while the best of the west were probably Gaff, Masten and Shuey. The Dogs will now face the loser of Hawthorn and Geelong at the MCG next weekend – and on tonight’s performance, have to be a real good chance. They certainly won’t fear anyone.
Western Bulldogs 14.15.99
West Coast Eagles 7.10.52