Round 1, March 30
Exhilirating. Surprising. A whole lot of fun too.
Of course, we're keeping a lid on it, not getting ahead of ourselves, taking it one week a time, and a few other cliches, but as I write, the Bulldogs are on top of the AFL ladder.
To me the wins where expectations have been low are always the sweetest. We arrive up only hoping to see improvement - many commentators have us wooden spooners. I'm not that pessimistic, but I know we have a long way to go, with, apparently, half our list under 21 years old.
Etihad stadium has had quite a few name changes since we moved there in 2000, yet it's become a home of sorts. I've written before about the transition from the Western Oval to this new ground. Some things lost, some things gained..but there's a kinship there now, friends and acquaintances that we've now sat near for many years, people whose babies are now young kids with numbers on their back. It's home, I guess. I realise it's good to be there, our new field of dreams.
There's lots of firsts to the day. The first goal, of course, with the gangly Ayce Cordy, who still seems like a colt that hasn't grown into his impressive frame the unlikely scorer. The first burst of indignation at the umpires (can't remember what it was for now, but definitely, certainly, we were hard done by). The first puns on the name of our new recruit, Brett Goodes. The first calls of 'Go for percentage, Dogs' and 'Blow the siren!' Actually, they were both after Ayce's goal, come to think of it.
We greet each of the Bulldogs' six first quarter goals with high fives and that slightly deranged laughter which comes from having expected a belting. Instead we see a team that not only were desperate and hard-working (as they were last year) but which from somewhere had picked up polish, poise and, somehow, a sense of fun and adventure that had gone sadly missing in the dour, aimless and dreary year that was 2012.
The players seem, well.. effervescent, as though they had freedom and belief. Our motley crew of friends and family come to life too, with high fives all round and new nicknames. Confusion about identifying the pale skinned, red-headed lookalikes Cooney and Tom Young means that the latter gets christened 'Coon Two.' Either that or one of them will have to get a spray tan, is the general consensus.
We hold our breaths every time Dale Morris went near the ball with his characteristic braveness, yet he never flinched or missed a beat. It's been, amazingly, 595 days since he suffered a career-threatening broken leg. Reading about his rehabilitation - months using a bedpan, having the indignity of being showered by his heavily pregnant wife - you realise just what players and their families suffer. He was the feel-good story of the afternoon.
At halftime we still can't quite believe what we were seeing. 'We could be on top of the ladder tonight,' muses one friend after realising we're 37 points ahead. 'Of course,' he added, being a seasoned Bulldogs' fan, 'We could also lose.'
We didn't lose, we increased our lead, strolling out 68 point winners.
We still don't know yet if the improvement is an illusion, the product of an opposition that were well off their game. Yeah, yeah, all that sounds sensible, level-headed and sober. And probably right.
I'd prefer to hold in my mind the freak goal from Bob Murphy. it might be an unlikely comparison given Bob's Celtic complexion, but something about the way he plays seems to have been conjured up from an Indigenous dreamtime. In the split second before he kicked that goal, it somehow felt that the crowd held their breath, knowing something outrageous was going to happen, knowing that he saw a possibility that no one else did. And then we all roared.
Previewing the season
The Bulldogs' Facebook page tells me it's 'one more sleep' until season 2013 gets underway. We start the season tomorrow, with a match against Brisbane.
Despite my passion for the Dogs, I'm not someone who gets excited pre-season. I don't follow the draft picks, I merely glance at our practice match efforts, happy enough if we win, but ready to rationalise it if we lose (I mean, Hawthorn haven't set the world on fire, right?)
I don't agonise about who's looking good at training or who's injured again (well, just a little...Tom Williams, will you ever get your body right and be the player we know you could be?)
So I expect tomorrow will see me a little confused about the unfamiliar faces. But that's a scenario we've faced a few times the last couple of seasons, where there have at times been so many new blokes running out for us that someone exclaimed, 'Pass it off quickly to, um, Anonymous'!
Last year was, well, dismal. The most disappointing thing was our fade-outs, our seeming lack of fight, and dare I say it an unattractive brand of footy that seemed bereft of purpose.
So that's what I'm hoping for the most this year. Improvement in the kids that seemed to have lost their way. A bit of spark, imagination, and liveliness in our approach to the match. And a Brownlow for the unassuming and phenomenally talented Ryan Griffen would be great too - he's carried the midfield on his back the last couple of years.
So one more sleep, hey?....
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.