Each year, during October I keep an eye out for any unexpected news items concerning my football team - an announcement that we've been merged out of existence, for example (1989) or that our captain would rather, well, not be (2014). But from that point on, in the twilight world called the off-season, I develop a mellow, detached perspective.
I reach the philosophical realisation that having my well-being tied to the deeds of 22 blokes, three oh-so-fallible umpires, the fickle bounce of a Sherrin, lamentable decisions by players to handpass too high in the dying moments of a winnable final, is far from ideal.
I have only the most passing interest in the draft, and avoid any mention of trade week, which is far too pragmatic and ruthless for my sensibilities. (I was crushed, though, when Ayce Cordy was cut from our list. Not because I thought the gangly one, who didn't even attain Extremely Tall Player Cult Status, was potentially the next Scott Wynd, or even a Peter Street. It was chagrin, as I lamented that I would now never be able to use my long-planned blog heading if Ayce and brother Zaine took the field together: The A to Z of Cordys).
I'll 'fess up to the odd moment of deranged fury if I spot people wearing 'Three-peat' t-shirts, and agitated moments when I wake from a clammy nightmare muttering: 'But who's on Eddie Betts?'
But apart from such understandable lapses, I develop something approaching tranquility.
In fact, I hadn't even got around to watching the video 'The Ride', chronicling our 2015 season. That's how zen and uninterested I was.
And then, two weeks ago, I did. And the veneer of fake tranquillity was smashed to smithereens.
I became so excitable, reliving our Year of Wonders, that I began firing off feverish texts to unsuspecting family members: This is OUR year! We have the team to win a flag NOW! I can feel it!
( I may have even strayed into triple exclamation mark territory).
My equilibrium was, you could say, seriously disturbed. And then, just as quickly, I plunged into terror. Because to Bulldogs fans, there's nothing more scary and threatening than that ominous, detestable, four letter word: hope.
After all, 'The Ride' ended with our loss to Adelaide rather than improbable premiership glory. Even knowing the outcome, it hurt. Another finals disappointment. Another match where we were dominant but profligate, thrown away by lack of composure. A tale too familiar. A story too often told.
The emotions that 'The Ride' had stirred up kept floating back to me as I made my way to our Round One match against Fremantle. It was a trip that took a lot longer than usual - I was driving in from Lorne, where I'd spent the Easter weekend.
Any doubt about whether I'd interrupt my holiday to make the two-hour trek, was banished when on Thursday I received a personal - yes, you got it right, directed at me only - text from Bob Murphy, taking time out from training, sponsor obligations, and media commitments to implore MY presence. If Our Boys needed me there, in the red, white and blue, who was I to argue?
First quarter: the Dogs exploded from the blocks like men possessed. Our fears that our exhilarating but high energy football couldn't be sustained, that wily foxes like Ross ('The Process') Lyon would have been scheming on ways to ruthlessly dismantle our game plan, that the carefree abandon on 2015 would of necessity have to be tempered and modified, already seemed ridiculous when by the 14-second mark we'd hit the scoreboard.
In the almost stunned moments of the quarter time break, after a seven goal to none opening quarter blitz, 'The Ride' was back in my thoughts again. I remembered Bob recounting the words of his new coach just before a 2015 NAB match, words that gave me goosebumps to recall. Beveridge warned his fresh-faced charges: 'There's going to be an ambush.' A theatrical, dramatic pause. 'And that ambush is going to be us.'
The things I'd fretted about - whether we could recapture our freewheeling, devil-may-care style, and the follow-up fear (there's always a few stashed away in my repertoire), whether this would have to be curbed if we were to go the next step - were both being answered in compelling style.
Easton Wood was still going for - and achieving - stupendously acrobatic, fearless, marks, yet he wasn't letting his opponents have a sniff either. His fellow Men's Department employees cruised effortlessly forward time and again. They made it look so much fun that a rather startled Dale Morris found himself caught in their slipstream, charging towards goal and launching a wobbly shot. If it had been a goal, the tide of affection towards our most selfless and unobtrusive champion would have surely had even Ross 'The Process' on his feet and applauding. (Maybe). Meanwhile Shane 'Pornstar' Biggs and Nathan Eagleton (sorry, JJ) were not only racking up midfielder style numbers but, in a bizarre case of 'Trading Places', emulating Dale Morris's scrooge-like approach to shutting down their opponents.
The 2016 Bont is stronger yet just as graceful and creative; the under-rated Jackson Macrae set up so much of the blitz with his deft little touches; 'Wee Man' Caleb Daniel uncannily made something of nothing every time he went near it. And the guy who missed all the 2015 fun, Libber the Second, played like a man who knew that footy mortality can come quicker than you think. The roar of emotion from the crowd when he kicked a goal on his wrong foot within minutes of the start was enough to sweep up even Ross 'The Process' in its wake and bring a smile to his face. (Perhaps).
Telling though our so-called 'sexy' football was, the fact that last year's minor premiers and masters of defensive football could only manage five goals while we rattled them on at will, said that we had improved, that the hunger for success still burnt.
There was also another player who you may have heard of. He wears, like an increasing number of awe-struck young fans, number nine.
Our somewhat introverted fans often, I think, have a fear of the cult of personality. A cringing 'stop that' reaction when the media gushes over Jake's Ablett-style prodigious talents. Embarrassment when BT shrieks that he's a 'package.' But it's getting harder and harder not to embrace and revel in the Jake Stringer hype, to watch his highlight reels again and again. You could feel a ripple of amazement and then crazy laughter go through us when, in one moment he launched himself to the heavens to attempt to steal mark of the Year from Easton, and in the next half second soccered a goal, on his left foot, past three flatfooted opponent.
Our coach fronted the media post-match, after a win that brought that four letter word stealthily creeping back into our hearts. There was little talk of The Process from our Plantaganet-look-alike, lycra wearing, Men-of-Mayhem-creating coach.The media pack instead heard this pronouncement: “We need to be good in the phone box and we need to be good in the TARDIS. We were good in both today.’’
The TARDIS stands for Time and Relative Dimension in Space. The police box where Dr Who travels instantaneously in time and space. Or, perhaps, the milli-second in which Libber knows where to squirt out those handballs, the fraction of a blink in which Bont decides to blind turn an opponent, or Bob thinks he will launch a 50 metre switch kick across the ground to Easton Wood running at full tilt. Or Jake The Lair sees a goal, where none should really exist.
It was the moment that I knew - or maybe I decided, for footy is all about faith - that the 2016 Ride was going to sweep me along again and that I'd be need to hang on again for dear life in its irrepressible wake.
About the Bulldog Tragician
The Tragician blog began in 2013 as a way of recording what it is like to barrack for a perennially unsuccessful team - the AFL team, the Western Bulldogs.