The Bulldogs graduate to the big dance by winning the greatest final of the modern era.
First of all, a couple of apologies. The first is to the readers for getting this story up so late. I was on a little sneaky weekend away with no laptop or internet, but thankfully had television access. The second is to our Chief Football Writer Dave Bremner, who got stuck with the most boring final one can remember on Friday night, while I got this cracker.
So, the Bulldogs hey? I’m not really sure what I can add to this topic that every sports journo, blogger and social media pundit hasn’t already expressed, other than to say that this is one hell of an impressive football side, and one that encompasses every single thing you’d wish your team to be. Passion, guts, resilience, belief, you name the stereotypical underdog sporting analogy, and these underdogs are it. Their supporters are also up and about at the moment, and let’s face it, who can blame them?
I will, however, try and concentrate more on the game itself rather than the story that is the Western Bulldogs, because regardless of which team ended up in front at the final siren, this game was one for the ages. The Giants may have had plenty of help to get where they are, but it was no more help than Gold Coast got, and I don’t remember the Suns playing in a preliminary final that will go down in AFL footy folklore. Draft concessions or not, they still had to get there, and get there they did.
The build-up to this contest was bigger than for any other game I can remember. The very under-rated Spotless Stadium was buzzing well before the siren went, and even though it was just 20,000 people there, it sounded like a Grand Final crowd. There were side stories everywhere you looked; Ex-Bulldogs captain Ryan Griffen on one end, and the Million Dollar Baby Tom Boyd on the other, being the most notable, and both copped the wrath of the crowd.
The first quarter was a real scrap, both on the scoreboard and on the ground, and both team’s relentless pressure meant that goals were very hard to come by. The Bulldogs got the early ascendancy, thanks mainly to a terrific quarter from captain Easton Wood, who set up his own wall across half back that stopped almost every thrust forward the Giants tried. The early dominance wasn’t translated into scoreboard pressure though, and when the Giants got a few late goals before quarter time, many (including myself) wondered if the dogs had wasted their chances.
The second quarter continued both the arm wrestle and the actual wrestle, as tempers continued to flare and spot fires continued to pop up everywhere. Heath Shaw and Libba continued their nasty little battle, and Jordan Roughead took it right up to Shane “The Giant” Mumford. In fact, if I was to score the Roughead V Mumford push-and-shove, I probably would have given points to the young dog, which is a pretty fair effort. Unfortunately for him, he copped one of the nastiest ‘falcons’ of the season, which saw him leave the ground never to return, and will still be in doubt for next week. The Giants didn’t go unscathed either, losing gun midfielder Callan Ward to a nasty concussion thanks to a stray knee to his chin in a marking contest. At half time, the Doggies lead by 9 points, and both teams were down an important member of their side.
If you had told me at the start of the year that the Giants and the Bulldogs would be playing off in a Preliminary final, I would have imagined it being the Jake Stringer V Jeremy Cameron show, but neither had fired a bullet at half time. For Cameron, that would still be the case at the final siren, and apart from some very important touches in the last, Stringer didn’t fair much better. It was, in fact, a couple of previous hard-luck stories who were doing the damage, with three-time knee reconstrucee Clay Smith having four goals to half time, and two-time reconstructee big Jono Patton looking the most dangerous of the Giants forwards.
The third quarter was just like the first two, and every time one team looked like running away with a small lead, the other simply reeled them back. Back and forth, to and fro. It was gripping stuff.
The last quarter saw some very special football, although it was the Giants who looked like they may have finally found their free-flowing game they are renowned for, and the danger signs looked ominous. All-Australian Toby Greene was everywhere, Tom Scully was playing one of the games of his life and half way through the quarter, they skipped out to a 14 point lead, and many (including myself) were beginning to wonder if the doggies had fired all their shots.
Nup. Wrong again
Enter ‘The Bont,’ who calmly kicked a goal that set up the doggies final resurgence, which saw them claw back in front. Then Zaine Cordy put them 7 points up. Then big Jono Patton kicked his fourth. Then Jack Macrae kicked one. Then Devon Smith’s running shot from 50 just went wide. It was heart-in-mouth stuff, but in the end, it was some clever composure from the invisible man Jake Stringer, who calmly spotted up Tory Dickson in the dying minutes to ensure the Doggies held onto their slender lead.
The scenes after the siren were simply incredible, and the Doggies celebrated like it was 1954. Injured skipper Bob Murphy was his usual classy self, and despite the brave and simply ecstatic face he was putting on, you really have to wonder how he was feeling deep down. As an Essendon supporter, I also shared a thought for poor Stewie Crameri, who missed the season due to some little mix up with some supplements or something. I dunno, I can’t remember, it wasn’t really publicised at the time.
For the hard-luck Giants, you get the feeling that their time will come. As for the Bulldogs, well momentum is a major factor in football and they have all of it. Let’s hope that the emotion of this win doesn’t carry over into the week too much, because as much as everybody loves a fairytale, second place might as well be last.
I’m on board the hype train with 90% of the country, because a Bulldogs premiership would be the best thing for football since… I dunno, since before I was born probably.
Carn the Doggies! Do it for football. It’s sorely needed.
GREATER WESTERN SYDNEY 2.1 5.2 9.7 12.11 (83)
WESTERN BULLDOGS 2.3 6.5 9.6 13.11 (89)
Greater Western Sydney: Patton 4, Greene 3, Lobb 3, D. Smith, Shaw
Western Bulldogs: C. Smith 4, Dickson 4,Cordy 2, Daniel, Bontempelli, Macrae
Greater Western Sydney: Kelly, Scully, Patton, Coniglio, Wilson, Greene
Western Bulldogs: C. Smith, Dahlhaus, Dickson, Morris, Wood, Johannisen, Macrae, Picken