We’re not known to be buoyant about our team’s chances, no matter what the situation.
Ten goals up with five minutes to play? We’ll be the ones still gnawing our fingernails, checking the record books to see how many goals are technically possible to be kicked in that time, and wondering if the time clock has actually malfunctioned. ‘Wasn’t there time on for injury, too?’ we’ll ask each other nervously.
About to play the competition easy-beats (assuming that’s, for once, not us)? Well, that’s a worst-case scenario for Bulldogs’ fans. We just know it will be even more humiliating to lose a game where we are raging favourites. Flippant comments about how we're looking forward to thrashing an opponent, no matter how lowly, are most certainly never on the agenda.
But we felt justified, on Sunday, to be, at least, ‘a little bit confident.’ We'd seen a lively, accomplished performance against Brisbane in round one. A creditable, spirited loss against Fremantle in round two. Young players who seemed to be taking huge strides forward, old stagers who still seemed to have a crafty trick or two up their sleeves. We’d be respectable, I thought. Maybe even a chance.
That little bit of confidence evaporated probably around the time that Deledio charged unopposed towards goal, leading to that intimidating Tigers roar. I believe it was the ten second mark of the first quarter.
Fumbles. Bulldogs’ players competing strongly – against each other for a mark in our own forward line. Blind panicking kicks to nobody, or at least nobody wearing red, white, and blue.
If one of our players did manage to lay a tackle it inevitably led to the ball spilling out to an unattended Tigers’ player and his three best friends.
We couldn’t even blame our old foes - the usual standby in the wake of a bad defeat - the umpires. Even the Bulldog Tragician couldn’t see why we got some of the puzzling decisions made in our favour, although this is only admitted here in the privacy of this blog. But we were in no position to do an Adam Gilchrist and make sportsmanlike gestures to hand back the free kicks made in our favour.
Watching our cavalcade of mistakes and downright ineptitude, I thought again about confidence – how it seems to even affect the bounce of the ball. It taints that split second of hesitation, sowing a momentary thought that a mistake is coming up. Will Minson, for example, who in round one seemed to be wresting marks from the sky with sheer force of character, had them slipping constantly through his big mitts on Sunday. The carefree abandon, the dare and imagination that we saw in Round one is slowly but surely ebbing away.
The Tigers looked like us in 2008, one of the best footy years I’ve seen a Dogs’ team play. They ran confidently (there’s that word again) from the backline in waves, looking up to see a plethora of scoring options, windows of opportunity and patterns of possibilities opening up easily all over the ground in contrast to the crammed, congested Bulldogs. We seemed simultaneously to have too many men on the ground, all clustering hesitantly and getting in each others’ way near a rare scoring opportunity, and far from enough whenever the ball hit the ground.
Later we would hear that three of our players have serious injuries. Shaun Higgins, one of the unluckiest of the unlucky, will miss the season with a broken foot to go with what he’s endured in the past: a broken elbow, thyroiditis, groin injuries, and an ankle break that was likened to a car crash victim. Shaun Higgins is 25 years old.
We don’t know that as we’re leaving the ground, trying to block out rollicking versions of ‘Yellow and Black.’ While we’ve been inside the stadium, it’s begun to rain. Hard. It’s a wet and cold trudge back to the car.