We've become used to selection intrigue in 2014 but still Luke Beveridge pulled off a massive shock in announcing the team to face West Coast. Out with alleged general soreness were wily veterans M Boyd and L Picken but few predicted the sidelining of B Tragician. (Caroline Wilson is hot on the heels of a story entitled : 'grave fears held for Tragician's mental state after last weeks bizarre positive post.)
Into the ranks came fresh faced rookies R Smith, D Pearce and one Dan Oskes who will be penning the blog while the Tragician freshens up for the finals.
Take it away, guest blogger Dan Oakes:
When the owner of this space asked me if I wanted to fill in for a couple of weeks (she did not elaborate on why she was "MIA", but the geo-tag for a well-known tropical resort on her tweets gave some clue) I was understandably chuffed. But a small, nagging voice in the back of my head did wonder whether it might prove to be a poisoned chalice.
And, lo, so it did come to pass.
Horrible as it is to acknowledge that Gary Lyon was correct, Sunday was a test, and it was one the Bulldogs ultimately failed.
In the lead up to the game, I told my parents - English migrants with a sporadic interest in Aussie Rules - that Luke Beveridge, deprived of Matthew Boyd and Liam Picken, had selected Daniel Pearce and Roarke Smith to replace them, two pups with a total of five games between them.
The selection was, I told them with a sense of pride, a demonstration of what distinguishes Luke from the rest of them. All year he has given the kids their chance, and none have let him down, even the Lukas Webbs and Bailey Dales, whose time in the seniors has been limited.
And I think after the last three months, an almost delusional optimism has taken hold: no Picken and Boyd, two newish, young kids, a road-trip to Perth, teetering on the brink of a top four (maybe even top two!) place, with the all the nervousness and pressure that entails. No problem. In Luke we trust.
The 10-year-old pointed out repeatedly in the 48 hours before the game that Masten would be out, after treating Suban as a giant jerky strip, as if that final piece of luck would be all we required.
As the camera panned across the pre-match huddle, the sight of Roarke Smith jiggling nervously at the back generated a little lift of the heart, ahead of what was arguably the most significant game the Dogs had played in a few years.
It was a strange, tense game, from the start. The commentators were rhapsodising from early in the piece, but we were somewhat puzzled in the Oakes lounge room. Yes, there was plenty of running, plenty of action, but there were also a lot of mistakes. It put me in mind of professional wrestling, when the two wrestlers repeatedly run past each other, turn and rebound off the ropes, until finally one sticks out his arm and clothes lines the other.
Um, yes, but anyway. It was heartening to see Crameri pick up where he left off against Melbourne early in the piece, wheeling away onto that left foot and smashing it through from 40 metres out.
Still not sure what he is. Wingman? Forward? Gutting running midfielder? At his best, he’s reminiscent of Matthew Richardson in that year he almost won the Brownlow playing on the wing.
There was Dale Morris launching himself horizontally, like a missile, to gather the ball, dish it off, and all of a sudden Big Jack Redpath had a goal and we were ahead. Then Josh Kennedy, looking more like the lost member of Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young every day, kicked his first of the day.
Sprawled on the couch, we saw an errant Bulldogs handball in the defensive 50, and all of the sudden the Eagles were ahead. “Who the hell was that?!”. “Oh, Murph….carry on.”
At quarter time, there were only a couple of goals in it, but Nic Nat was toweling up Campbell in the middle, and Kennedy was looking menacing. The Lair was looking sharp for us, and Hunter and McCrae were seeing plenty of the ball.
Mrs Oakes looked up from the paper to say “oh dear” as Kennedy kicked the first of the quarter. But Wallis demonstrated in a cameo what has made him so valuable this year, stripping the ball from a West Coast defender for The Lair to goal, and keep us in it.
With the benefit of hindsight, given the way the game panned out, the latter stages of the second quarter were an ominous signpost. The Eagles just seemed to have more time with ball, they sling-shotted it back from defence quicker, and Kennedy and Nic Nat were simply too good for their Dog counterparts.
It was nice to see it was an old-style day for the forwards, but unfortunately Big Jack is still not the gorilla that Kennedy is for the Eagles. Perhaps that day will come, though.
The second half started in frenzied fashion, as if the Dogs realized this was their last chance to haul themselves back into it. The two sides traded goals, as the scoreboard, at least, suggested we were still in it.
The Lair motored towards the forward 50, turned, kicked it left-footed across the arc looking for a teammate, and shanked it horribly. Human after all. But shortly afterwards he kicked the Dogs 12th goal.
From that moment on, it was all down (Josh) hill. The former Bulldog kicked the last two of the quarter, and although it was only four goals the difference at three-quarter time, we knew in our hearts it was over. “Yep, cooked”, texted my mate Dave, a born westie and lifelong Dogs man.
The sight of Biggs rucking against Nic Nat in the final quarter did not bring slightly disbelieving giggles, as those mismatched ruck duels have done when we’ve been winning, but resigned groans. And as the Eagles cruised home, I put the dinner on and the ten-year-old went back to his favourite past-time: standing in front of the fire with his hands thrust down the front of his tracksuit pants.
The equanimity with which he took the result was, in the end, an indication of the real expectations we brought into this game.
I was a relatively late convert to Aussie Rules, having grown up playing and watching soccer. But when I became a sports reporter, I felt it was incumbent on me to choose a team. These were the Peter Rohde years, so nobody could accuse me of chasing success, but there was something about the Dogs that drew me. I grew up a supporter of West Ham, a working class club that was never hugely successful, but drew plenty of neutral admirers and produced some titanic, much-loved figures. Maybe there’s a clue there.
But the 10-year-old was born a Doggie, and spent his formative years in Seddon, even if we’ve now moved across town. An old lady used to walk her dog in the nearby park, and never failed to stop and have a chat as we kicked the footy. When he told her his namewas Charlie, she waxed poetic about Charlie Sutton as he looked bemused.
The Doggies players would pop into Le Chien cafe, in Seddon, while we sat there with our morning long black and babycino, and when the club made those prelim finals in the late 2000s, the rash of red, white and blue ribbons and balloons across the suburb revealed how deeply those colours still ranin the inner-west.
He goes to the clinics, he pesters me to take him to VFL games, and, let me tell you, he wears his jersey with pride on ‘wear your footy colours to school’ day, as the red, black and white tide swells across the playground of his bayside primary school.(His younger brother is a Saints fan, but that’s a story for another time).
All of which is to say: he cares, and he cares deeply. When he was sick earlier this season and he couldn’t go to the game against Melbourne, watching it on TV instead, he ripped his jersey off at the final siren and lay on his bed sobbing for some time afterwards.
So, his lack of distress at the result of Sunday’s game was the purest demonstration of what our real expectations were, but also of the enduring optimism the season thus far has instilled in him. Meh, a blip.
What’s done is done. There was still a lot to like in the performance (The Lair, The Bont, Murph, Jack McCrae and Lachie Hunter, Big Jack in parts), and we can forgive some of the others for being overawed or out-muscled against a bigger, older side, playing at home for a top two spot.
Saturday’s has the potential to be a cracking game, and we greet it with a renewed spring our steps, and half an eye on the finals. Richmond? Surely not….