Eighteen weeks ago our season began. I drove to our first match along the Great Ocean Road, past people revelling in the autumn sunshine, swimming and paddling in the aquamarine water.
We cheered our players onto the field, eager to start the much-anticipated 2016 season. Beneath the rarity of an open roof, we were ready to test our mettle against Fremantle, a team that had won the minor premiership the previous season, and played off for a grand final the year before that.
Our boys were tanned, fit, brimming with hope, confidence, desire and self-belief. We rattled on seven first quarter goals, with Jake the Lair at his explosive best. There was kamikaze, men-of-mayhem footy, daring dashes into the forward line at breakneck speed. Bob Murphy cut elegant swathes up and down the field, leading a posse of attacking half backs that reduced the Fremantle opposition to a measly five goals.
We basked, not only in the mellow warmth of the day, but in an overwhelming conviction that our surprise emergence as a 2015 finalist would not be a one-off. Not with this much talent. Not with this much hunger for success, the passion and commitment of our young group, the boys who were daring to dream.
Footy, the beautiful game, had us in its magical thrall. And all things were still possible.
That crisp and sunny day in March could not have felt further away as we arrived on Saturday night at the stadium to confront a team that has so often given us pain, the Saints. The roof was closed; even so, we were rugged up against the biting cold winds, the bleakness of a grey and drizzly Melbourne winter.
Since our bright, dazzling start to 2016, there have been more wonderful wins, mixed in with mundane 'get the job done' wins; some, even in this short timeframe, blurring into one. (Do you remember our Round 5 clash against Brisbane? Me neither).
There have been losses - but only a couple - that stung. Mounting injuries that we somehow overcame. Stirring victories in close matches, coming from behind, or holding off fast finishing opponents. Gritty wins on the road.
Despite a testing run with injuries and the loss of our talisman Bob, our Dogs, against the odds, sit in the top four. Yes, we're playing one of our bogey teams, yet surely, given what's at stake, our boys will meet yet another stern challenge and rack up the crucial four points.
When we walk out of the stadium, having lost the match and so much more, it feels like footy's version of the winter solstice has arrived. The darkest day, the point where hope seems to shrivel, where one too many obstacles are flung in our face.
At this point we don't know the full extent of Mitch Wallis' injury. Just that it's bad, real bad. We're pretty sure that Jack Redpath has done his knee, for the third time. No one can say why Dale Morris, our warrior brave-heart in the backline, was unable to take the field for the second half. But even the rare sight of him in his tracksuit top had brought shivers of unease. We knew well, and it was soon confirmed, that we would miss him badly, his braveness, his selflessness, his composure, his unobtrusive but essential leadership.
My mother, who's been barracking for the Dogs for 62 years, has stayed up in Cairns after the Dogs' win against Gold Coast last week. She sends a text imbued with Irish fatalism.
God doesn't like the Bulldogs very much.
My feet never thawed out the whole game. There hadn't been much jumping up and down with excitement, few inspirational passages to get us off our seats and get the circulation flowing. Not many moments where the stadium rocked with the Bulldogs' chant and chilblain-infested toes could do the stamp. Just a few instants when the Bont threatened, with a quarter of awe-inspiring individual brilliance, to single-handedly wrest the game back in our direction.
The Dogs lost by 15 points. We didn't score in the last quarter. Literally. We couldn't even scrounge a rushed behind.
There's a heaviness among the fans, mirroring what unfolded on the field. Doubts, never far away when you're a Bulldogs' fan, creep in. Our dysfunctional forward line. The calibre of our second tier players. The fatigue of the players, the missing dare and spark. The skills, or mystifying lack thereof, the wrong options taken time and again.
Footy. It's a stupid game after all.
I arrive home and with sinking heart begin reading about Wally's injury. He has broken both bones in his leg.
I listen to the harrowing description of the scenes in the room from an ABC reporter whose voice trembles on the verge of tears as he depicts the terrible scene. Mitch's screams in agony, heard and witnessed by his team-mates, friends and family. Shell-shocked players in tears. Bob Murphy breaking down, sobbing uncontrollably.
In the rooms with Mitch are men for whom this agony is all too real. Dale Morris and Jake Stringer know what it's like to fracture a leg. I recall a poignant article where Dale's wife talked about the dreary, awful details that an injury like this entails, of Dale in a wheelchair, needing help to be showered - yet only every second day because it was too difficult - and toileted.
Dale, aged over 30 at the time, the premiership window that he'd been part of seemingly slammed firmly shut, wondered if he would ever play again.
Jake Stringer broke his leg in the same almost ridiculous way as Mitch, somehow kicking into the back of his leg; he was 17 years old, touted as a number one draft pick. With the horrible injury he was suddenly hovering on the precipice of the footy scrapheap. Jake has spoken of what it is like to watch elderly neighbours lap him as he limped slowly around the footy oval in those tedious slow months of recuperation and rehabilitation.
In the rooms, too are Clay Smith, who at 23 has endured three knee reconstructions; and Tom Liberatore, who missed all of last year with one; and Bob who is recovering from his second and has resolved to play on, but must be shaken to the core as he hears Mitch's excruciating screams and sees his desolate team-mates.
We the fans can't know the pain, physical and emotional, that these players endure. The fear that they must experience every time they go out there, that this time it could be them, stretchered off to the polite but apprehensive applause of the subdued fans.
At times like this I have the feeling of the players inside their own bubble, a world that only they know - because to them, the club and their team-mates are home, workplace, friendship group and family all at once. Only they can truly appreciate Bob's grim humour when he tweeted about donning hospital-issued undies and hairnets before being wheeled into surgery. The indignities of needing help from a wife or girlfriend (worse still, a parent) whenever they need to use the toilet. The loneliness at 3 a.m.when you're racked with pain, or as Nathan Brown described, lying drenched in sweat from the painkillers and the agony that even a sheet over your injured leg can spark.
And the doubts, of whether you'll come back as good. Come back - full stop.
And now, our footy season lies in the balance. In Saturday night's performance even before the injuries, we saw a team whose resilience had begun to crack, who looked weary of the effort, who've seen one too many team-mates go down, who couldn't muster yet again the urgency, the intense approach of a must-win game.
The headiness of Round One, the joy of a new season with its tantalising horizon still ahead, seem like a technicolour dream. Now all things are monochrome. We're stranded in the bleakest and toughest stretch of a long and arduous season. The goal that kept them focused as they trained on 40 degree days or endured marathon sessions in the gym - the dream of spring days, finals footy and more - is, right now, so very far away.
For the fans, there is of course the pragmatic realisation that these new body blows make our 2016 dream that much harder. We know that not just these injuries but the cumulative effect of the unusually heavy toll this year could be starting to wear us down. Yet even as we try to turn our minds to the question of how we will regroup and who needs to step up, there is a sorrow at what has befallen our injured players that is more than just a calculation of the impact on our premiership hopes.
Quaint as it may seem in an era of fans re-badged as stakeholders, and ham-fisted gimmicks to enhance our 'match-day experience', the club and the players are so much a part of our lives that we too have our own sense of loss and sadness at what they're enduring.
While as fans we are outside the inner sanctum, it's not far-fetched to say that watching the pain of those injured and close to them - their pain both physical and mental - brings us our own measure of grief and mourning. Because as the carriers of our dream, the living representatives of our 130+ -year old club, we are connected and invested in them - even though we may have never spoken a word to any of them, or our contact might never have extended beyond a high five along the boundary line.
We start to bond with them as awkward spotty draftees, look forward with over-the-top enthusiasm to their first games, build stories around them based on a few stilted interviews, delight in their progress, and hope (and pray) for them to succeed.
Our knowledge of them is sketchy and incomplete, snippets based on how they present on the field and the carefully crafted images that clubs put forward.
But some of them we feel - we are sure - are special from the outset. Mitch Wallis has occupied a special place in our imaginings, the boy who grew up to wear the colours of his dad's footy club. A future captain, many who know him say, born to lead; he proudly wears the most famous Bulldog jumper of all: the number three of EJ and Chris Grant. There is no more romantic fable than the dream that he, and Lachie Hunter, and Tom Liberatore, will stand on that premiership dais one day, redeeming the heartache of their father's generations, and of course ours as well.
So we share just a little of the pain of Mitch, and that of fan favourite Big Jack Redpath, and become more than a tad misty-eyed whenever Clay The Beast Smith shows that after almost three years in total on the sidelines, his appetite for a crunching ferocious tackle has not diminished.
As I've tried to shrug off the Tragician persona built on too many years of under-achievement and disappointment, so too have I tried to rid myself of the feeling, so common among many of us, that our club is cursed. It's hard not to lapse back into that mindset as we ask why we could be so unlucky again - why when the future is as bright as we've ever imagined, so many have been randomly struck down. You could hear it in the voices of so many on Saturday night as we grappled with this new challenge, when we've had to weather too many. My mum indeed captured the mood. God doesn't like the Bulldogs very much.
Of course we will all begin to claw back optimism. As dogs do, we will retreat to lick our wounds, before slowly, painfully moving on. We'll start to talk about who'll come in for the injured players, how we can regain our mojo, how much of the season there still is to play. The holy grail is still there to be won.
The Cats at the Cattery? Jake will be back, and maybe even Dahl. Bevo Our Saviour's bound to have a few tricks up his sleeve. We've won 12, lost five; still a great season by anyone's standards. We're not done yet, we say, defiantly.
Photos begin appearing on Instagram: Wally in his hospital bed, looking pale, but giving a thumbs up.
The image makes me go searching for that article about Dale Morris. I need to read again about how, after almost 18 months on the sidelines, he made his way back to take his place alongside his club, his team-mates, and us the fans. Dale described those awful few hours after he broke his leg, moments that Mitch will be living his own version of now too:
"I'd had the x-rays and I was lying there with a million things going through my head and in walked Matty Boyd. He'd come straight from the game.
"I don't even think he'd had a shower, and he just sat with me. We had a little bit of a chat, but he didn't even have to say anything."
Another team-mate, the injury-plagued Tom Williams, brought over a laptop loaded with dozens of movies - "he knew what was ahead of me" - and Daniel Cross's wife Sam dropped off some containers of home-made pasta sauce at the Morris home.
Although Morris faced months on the sidelines, that weekend confirmed what he had always known: that Whitten Oval was and would remain his second home.
"If anything it really felt like I was even more a part of a team," Dale said. "That's the beauty of the Bulldogs."
Footy. The game of heartache.
May 4, 2015. Swans v Dogs
Bulldog Tragician story: "One more song"
"One day after a match at Geelong, when Tony Liberatore was at his pesky, annoying best, my sister and I (a petite pair) were walking out, proudly wearing our Bulldog scarves. A Geelong wit saw us, turned to his mate and rudely chortled: “Look! it’s Libber’s sisters!"
The nickname has endured. And at 2 pm on Saturday the 'Libber Sisters' are in position on the couch, ready to watch our Dogs take on their latest challenge, the Sydney Swans. Together we will be critiquing the match and offering a balanced, fair assessment of the opposition and the umpires.
The Other Libber Sister now lives in an apartment in the former Rising Sun hotel, a recognisable landmark whenever you travel over 'Mount Mistake', down Geelong Road. It still bears the quaint signage: Official suppliers of beer to the Footscray Football Club.
It's only a few hundred metres from the Western Oval. You can hear the crowd’s rumbling roar whenever our re-born Footscray team plays there.
For decades Dogs' fans would spill over the footbridge (now closed) and gather on Saturday afternoons at this traditional working class watering hole. I imagine a rambunctious atmosphere would have been the norm, as fans crowded in to celebrate the wins or obliterate their sorrows with the assistance of Footscray Football Club-sanctioned beer.
The Libber Sisters are not yet rambunctious. We’re excited, tense, hopeful, expectant, uncertain. The Dogs are about to face last year’s Grand Finalists, masters of contested footy, on their home turf."
2015: The Dogs win a famous victory by four points.
Western Bulldogs 11.1177 d Sydney 10.13 73
Highest disposals:Picken 33, Stevens 27, Dahlaus 27, Murphy 24, Bontempelli 23
Bob Murphy: It's the best win, ever.
July 2, 2016: Swans vs Bulldogs
The Libber Sisters are on the couch again
While the Libbers' location in the Rising Sun apartments block is the same, many other things are different as we go into the 2016 version of our encounter with the Swans.
Then, the Dogs' rise from the disastrous 2014 off-season was a mesmerising, but still unlikely, fairytale. Each win was a novelty to be celebrated for its own sake; with no expectations, we just enjoyed our spectacular rise, revelled in our devil-may-care style of play, and basked in the new-found freedom that our players so enthusiastically embraced under new coach Bevo (not yet 'Our Saviour'. But we had our suspicions).
In 2016, while we're still not favourites, much more is expected, indeed, should be expected. Brave, gallant showings will not suffice. Not for where we want to go.
Yet over the bye weekend, as the piercing cold of a Melbourne winter descended, our most recent loss, a disappointing showing against Geelong, loomed too large in our memory banks. It cast a shadow over our achievements in getting to nine-four despite an appalling run of injuries. And as we dropped to a more vulnerable position in the bottom reaches of the eight, a little shiver of apprehension went through us. A poisonous seed of doubt about whether the momentum could be sustained in the second half of the year.
Commentators scrambled to downgrade our premiership hopes: the chatter became a din. They agreed that we’re still too young, and the injury toll had unsettled us too much, to make a real impact in September. These critics reminded us that we had not yet beaten a top four side; they pointed to a lack of scoring power, especially in our losses, as a consistent and worrying theme.
In fact, on the morning of our match against the Swans I heard the 'experts' discussing the eight and who might be vulnerable to dropping out for Port Adelaide by seasons' end. The Bulldogs could be that team, they agreed. I wasn't sure whether to seethe at the unjustified lack of respect continually accorded to our club, or listen for a moment to the whispering ghosts of seasons past, saying just maybe they were right.
Bevo Our Saviour is attuned to a different vibe, as well as radio frequency. For our match against the Swans, he rattled the cage and brought in five new players. While it was exciting to at last see the names Wood, Johnannisen and in particular Clay Smith, there was surprise that he'd also punted on Lukas Webb and Will Minson. We wondered: was this too many changes, perhaps too many underdone players, returning too soon?
Before the match, my thoughts returned nostalgically to the thrilling 2015 win. How, I wondered, could moments like Easton Wood's brilliant "superman'-style goal, and his incredible leap and spoil to save us the game with seconds to go ever be surpass by anything that transpires today? Last year's win was so perfect, so wonderful; it still shines like a diamond in my memory. Yet in the wake of Bob's injury there's now a tinge of melancholy in that recollection. It is bitter-sweet now to recall how we shared his overflowing emotions post-match; his joy as he realised the premiership dream wasn't over and he could ride the magic carpet ride again with his precocious young team-mates. And though the match took place hundreds of kilometres away, somehow that day we couldn't have been any closer, more as one with our captain, and our team.
And so we go into the re-match of that celebrated afternoon, with that same crazy mix of excitement and apprehension. The Libber sisters take up our positions on the couch again: we ensure we sit in the exact same spots that we did in last year's win. (Sure, you COULD call it a silly superstition. But do you really want us to risk a situation where a gloomy Luke Beveridge, facing the media post-match, looks down his list of statistics, trying to explain what went wrong, and realises, in consternation, that the all-important "Libber Sisters On the Couch" metric had cost Our Boys the game?)
The first quarter unfolds, and to our relief the Dogs look sharp. Their intensity and spirit are good, but frustratingly, 13 entries into our 50 yield just one goal, one point.
The Libbers, of course, spot countless missed frees to the Dogs, freely disparage the commentary team, and shield our eyes in terror whenever Clay Smith goes near the ball. Hearteningly, this is often.
Since debuting at the age of 18 in 2012, Clay Smith has played only 34 games. He is still just 23. Yet three times he has endured the agony of a knee reconstruction, the pain, boredom and self-doubt of rehabilitation, the loneliness of being on the sidelines. The story goes that Clay went back on the field, knowing he'd done his knee, in last year's match against St Kilda, just because he believed - and for a moment accepted - that he would never play again.
It's impossible not to hold our breath whenever Clay goes near the ball. Fear for his well-being, though, is soon replaced by renewed appreciation: Clay is unswerving with his fanatical commitment, desperate and uncompromising. And as he lays crunching tackles and flings himself into every contest, we remember that this is not just a feel-good story of a comeback; this marks the return of a vital player, whose contribution and toughness are going to be of immense value as the season goes on.
The first quarter is something of a standoff, but the second quarter opens with the ever mercurial Jake 'The Lair' slamming two trademark goals. He threatens to single-handedly turn bust the game open in the same way that he monstered through the Swan's defence. But, as is his wont, his contribution too quickly fades away. There are worrying signs that the pattern of our losses is reasserting itself: lots of the ball, a stout defence, but too many aimless, energy-sapping entries into the forward line.
Meanwhile, at the other end of the ground Buddy Franklin exudes danger and menace, dwarfing even the powerfully built Marcus Adams, who in the presence of this superstar looks every bit the inexperienced and nervous 11-gamer that he actually is.
The half-time break is an opportunity for contemplation. (And for the Libber sisters, cake, and cups of tea). Several players are down, we agree. The Bont isn't at his best, following up from a rare poor performance against the Cats. Jake is playing too much from behind. The Path has barely had a possession. Tory is having too many 'nearly' moments. Woody has looked tentative and a bit rusty so far. And Libber the Second - well, he's been quiet-ish too.
We're unprepared for a third quarter explosion. The Dogs crank up their attack on the ball to fearless, insane levels. Suddenly there are Dogs' players rampaging everywhere; there's run, there's space opening up. Our 'Men of Mayhem' stun the opposition and wreak havoc on the SCG.
Leading the charge is one Tom Liberatore. Three goals are either directly his or created by him. Some players float through games with all the time in the world, relying on languid ability and freakish talent; others like our Libber (the Second) will themselves into contests through burning intensity. He wrests balls out of hands, he dominates every contest, he tackles with the demented ferocity of his famous dad.
Not to be outdone (and in keeping with an Italian theme), Marcus Bontempelli enters the stage. Some of the things The Bont does in this third quarter, where he amasses 13 possessions, are downright ridiculous. There is an almost hypnotic passage of play where the Bont scoops the ball up from the turf in the Swans forward line, runs at full tilt, bounces the ball, handballs it to another player who returns it to him; and then as a Swans player closes in on him, handballsbackwards over his head perfectly to a running team-mate; he somehow keeps running and presents himself in the forward line. It was rather like those imaginary games little boys (and girls now too) play in their heads: 'Bonti to Bonti to Bonti and who does he kick it to? BONTI!!!' The fact that he didn't take the mark (though he very nearly did) was the only thing that showed you that the Boy Wonder is occasionally - just occasionally, mind - a human.
There's tension aplenty at three quarter time. Deep breaths, calm and nerves of steel are required.
It's probably the same among the playing group at the SCG.
We watch our boys gathered around Bevo. All teams, all players, no matter what stage of the game, each week do the ritualistic huddle and emit snarls of intent before a last quarter. But the Bulldogs' faces are something else as they listen to their coach. I see 'Celeb' Daniel, his eyes locked onto his coach; he's almost in the armpits of The Bont, who's in the same spell. These two different young men, one the power athlete, the other the pure footballer: both have that same look. That of young men who can't, and won't, contemplate losing.
And yet, you know the Swans will come back at us. We are, amazingly given our injury catastrophes, the number one defensive team in the competition; but Sydney are number two. We are the third best contested possession team; yet they are just ahead of us at number one. They've still got the aura, the know-how, the experience of a recent premiership team and regular finalist. And they have the X Factor: the competition's best player, Buddy Franklin, who is about to cut loose. He destroys us in only minutes. He's too big, too powerful, too strong. Too overwhelmingly talented.
The Swans take the lead. There's still 11 minutes to go. It doesn't seem melodramatic to feel our season is on the line. It's not just our top four prospects. It's the statement that we want to make to the footy world, the story we want to tell about a different Bulldogs future. One that has overcome the decades-long stigma of choking in big games. A new group, who will banish our reputation of frailty in close matches.
The Swans pound relentlessly into their forward line. We're like a bloodied boxer on the ropes. Just one more Swans' goal will surely sink us. Standing firm time and again are three leaders: Dale Morris, Matthew Boyd and our captain since Bob's injury, Easton Wood. Their desperation holds the Swans out, but you don't know how long their heroic efforts will keep holding up. And even if we succeed, there's a question: how are we to manufacture that answering goal, that precious, elusive goal?
The Libbers are no longer sitting demurely in their lucky spots in the couch. Once again there's pandemonium in the Rising Sun apartments. Our Boys have been so brave. But the minutes are relentlessly ticking by.
By sheer will we begin to turn the tide. Now it's the Dogs who are attacking, but with the advantage of the lead, the Swans turn our forward line into a sea of congestion, crowded with players of both sides. There is not a chink of room. Not an iota of space.
The Swans try to clear the ball out, but Jack Macrae sends it back in. Clay Smith applies a monster tackle, and Wally hands off the ball to 'Celeb'. In the frenzied atmosphere, this 19-year-old has the stillness, poise, and calmness to make the perfect decision and somehow execute a perfect kick to his team-mate. It's The Bont. Of course, it had to be The Bont.
He's kicked crucial goals to win us close games this year and re-write our history of failure in big games. It couldn't be in safer hands. Could it?
There's hardly time to ponder the question: the Bont makes his own perfect pass, to JJ. Jason Johannisen's game has proven two things: never doubt Bevo Our Saviour's selection decisions, and just how much we've missed his pace and electrifying runs. But ... JJ? Is he the man for a moment like this, to win us the game in a cauldron where 33,000 fans scream their lungs out?
I can't believe how calm he looks. I realise that in all the hype about some of our stars, a guy like JJ gets overlooked. I can't remember any massive anticipation around his first game, as I can with The Bont's or The Lair's; I can't remember a moment where we began to see him as an indispensable player, recognised him as an elite talent.
But as he steers the goal through, as though it's just a regulation snap at training at the Whitten Oval, I think - I know - that moment has well and truly arrived.
There's two seconds to go. Yes, I regret to report it was long enough for me to imagine a nightmare scenario where we stupidly allow six men in the centre square, the Swans are awarded a free kick, and then a 50 metre penalty is awarded against Will Minson for arguing about it. (I guess this 'hope and positivity' business is still a work in progress).
The siren sounds. Our magical, maddening, wonderful team have delivered us another jewel for the memory bank; along with that 2015 moment when Easton saved the game, we will remember, always, the day that JJ kicked his matchwinning goal. And, I will reflect afterwards, maybe the most telling thing of all was that JJ demanded the ball from The Bont. Unlike some of the more fragile teams of days gone by, he wanted to take the kick, and backed his own talent, not content to merely hope that his team-mate would deliver that goal.
The Dogs celebrate wildly before they run around the SCG. It's not rainy and sodden like last year, but we are victors again. Libber the Second, whose dynamic third quarter swayed the game, shares an embrace with his famous dad, who'll probably be very happy to be simply known one day as Tom Liberatore's father. The players run down the race. Bob, a spectator today as he will have to be all season, is there to greet them. The boys belt out the song with extra fervour; the Libbers, back in Footscray, provide an enthusiastic if off-key accompaniment.
When the song ends Woody, Boyd, and The Bont share an enormous hug. These three leaders have had to fill the void left by Bob. It's not a void, though, really, because the team that's out there still has Bob's heart, and young men, JJ, and 'Celeb' and Libber and Wallis, who are mastering new ways to win those close ones, learning the steel and the belief that we'll need in September. Watched over by those old stagers Boyd and Morris, who have the glint in their eyes of men saying: 'There's a flag coming soon and I've got to be a part of it.'
A few hours later, it's still hard to come down from the high of an extraordinary win. I find myself remembering again the brilliant third quarter played by The Bont, the once-in-a-lifetime player who we still can't quite believe we're privileged to watch.
A few weeks ago the Bont became the AFL's youngest-ever winning captain, leading us to victory in a high-pressure game against the Eagles. Just 20-years-old, he'd gathered the boys around him in the moments before the match. Who knows what platitudes or stirring phrases get uttered in these moments, and what difference they actually make? But the Bont must have done ok, because I saw Matthew Boyd, almost 15 years his senior and a former skipper himself, give him an affectionate ruffle of the head and pat on the back. A passing of the baton, I guess. 'The kid is all right,' I imagine the rather stern Matthew 'Keith' Boyd saying as he ran back to take up his backline position, a re-born defender playing his own part for the future that's so near.
2016: The Dogs win another famous victory, also by four points.
Bulldogs 13.5 83 d Swans 11.13 79
Highest disposals: Boyd 32, Hunter 31, Bontempelli 29, Picken 28, Wallis 25
Luke Beveridge: "This win is worth 10 wins. You hold your faith, you keep your nerve when the chips are down."
Read my story about our 2015 win: One more song
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.