On Saturday, Western Bulldogs will be taking part in their first AFL/VFL Grand Final since 1961. It’s a dream come true for thousands of Doggies fans, as they ride the wave on emotion that has been the heart and soul of there organization from the very outset. From EJ to Dougie, Libba & Granty the torch of what it means to be a bulldog has been passed onto Bevo’s boys and a new generation. And guess what, there ready for the fight!
In their early days under Luke Beveridge, the Bulldogs were labelled “sexy” for their attractive football. While it has certainly been exciting to see how they throw the footy around when they’re at their best, “sexy” doesn’t do them justice.
Individually, the Dogs have made it this far playing more like old-fashioned scraggers.
If you lined them up against the Swans, as will happen for the national anthem on Saturday, it will look like men against boys. If you were studying them like thoroughbreds in the mounting yard, you’d think the Swans would win in a canter.
Josh Kennedy, Daniel Hannebery, Luke Parker and Kieren Jack versus Tom Liberatore, Luke Dahlhaus, Caleb Daniel and Lachie Hunter.
Liam Picken is another great example. Compare him to, say, Parker and it’s a Tuesday runner at Echuca compared to a group 1 star at Flemington in terms of physical specimen. But in recent weeks he’s proved to be just as damaging.
As we’ve seen so many times this season, these Dogs have something that’s hard to measure.
In the words of the great Ted Whitten: “You’ve got to show me all the guts and determination you’ve got in your body. You’ve got to inspire me!”
In 2016, the Dogs have done exactly that.
On form many considered GWS would be a tougher proposition for the Swans on grand final day, having beaten them in their past two games.
But the Dogs have managed the same feat, and at the SCG – a ground that should have suited the Swans’ contested style more than the MCG.
It makes for another really intriguing battle, given Beveridge’s men have already shown they can hold their own against much bigger-bodied opponents.
The standard of the entire finals series has been at such a high level and clearly who can win it at the coalface and deliver cleanly will go a long way to winning again.
Despite all the obstacles they’ve had to overcome during the home-and-away season, the Dogs have produced a consistency of effort that has almost been unrivalled.
So how have they done it? Is it the type of player they’ve recruited? Maybe. There is no doubting they play with real mongrel.
So many times they’ve defied the odds with two or three efforts from each player, who all seem to share the same passion and desire.
While Marcus Bontempelli might be the Dogs’ pin-up boy, and has been able to deliver in a number of big moments, they don’t rely on him or another player to perform.
I can’t remember the last time we had a grand final that had two sides with such an even spread across their 22.
Lance Franklin is obviously a hugely influential player for Sydney, but no longer does he need to dominate for them to win the game. His move up the ground has ensured the Swans are now using the right option more often than not.
“Buddy” is preparing for his fifth grand final after winning two and losing two and he’d be entering this one feeling more comfortable than ever, knowing the match doesn’t rest entirely on his shoulders.
That freedom should take the pressure off and make him even more dangerous.
Closer to goal I think he’ll get Dale Morris but up the ground he’s likely to play on Joel Hamling, who further highlights the difference between the two sides in terms of size and experience.
Hamling would need to run around the shower to get wet and he’ll be up against a 100-plus kilogram forward who can move as well as just about anyone.
“Buddy” was clearly the best player on the ground in the first quarter against Geelong last week, ensuring the start is once again massive.
In the past three grand finals, Hawthorn almost had the game won at quarter-time and in recent weeks the Swans have also been electric early on.
On Saturday it could be like a pinball machine with the ball bouncing around, but if the Dogs can stay level at the first change I think they can pull off an upset.
In 1996, no one in our team had played in a grand final, but it was never spoken about. We just knew we were ready.
Despite the Dogs’ lack of finals experience, they should be thinking the same thing.