The hunger game
You know the drill.
The Libba Sisters were, of course, on the couch. In the Rising Sun apartments, across the road from the Whitten oval. Just as we were for the loss to West Coast. And the loss to the despised Acronyms.
Those lucky spots on the couch – it's fair to say they're not proving all that lucky in 2017.
We were feeling nervous and apprehensive, even though the Tragician had boldly declared after the premiership victory, that the battle between hope and dread, optimism and fear - the hallmark of Bulldogs supporting experience - had been decisively, conclusively, won.
That Tragician. She sure can speak a lot of drivel.
All week I’d cringed at every mention of Ye Olde Kardinia Park Hoodoo. Grimaced at the parade of gloomy statistics about just how long it’s been since we beat our bogey team. Broken out in clammy sweats with each new article highlighting Geelong’s dismal tackling, the fact that they'd never lost more than three games in a row since 2006, the spotlight that was being shone upon Joel Selwood and Patrick Dangerfield.
I was nervous and apprehensive that in a year where we’ve struggled to get our best players out on the field, we’d made so many changes.
Nervous and apprehensive that ten of our premiership players are missing – and most worryingly, some of them were omitted for reasons of form, not forced on us by injury.
Nervous and apprehensive that the media, by harping constantly on Geelong’s so-called lack of fire and physicality, were providing motivation and ammunition for a team that have never exactly needed it against us.
Mainly ... I was just nervous and apprehensive.
I was succumbing to that old style, defeatist, loser mentality, not befitting of the 2016 premiers.
That's why I double-checked the Geelong team-sheet, just to reassure myself that those tormentors of so many matches past: Corey Enright, Jimmy Bartel, Billy Brownless, Gary Ablett (Senior, let alone Junior) – even Peter Riccardi (I once saw him winking, I repeat winking, to some mates in the crowd as he and his fellow Cats were demolishing us with ridiculous ease. And I still bear a grudge) – were not surprise selections.
Once that was established, our match-day experience went something like this:
Libba One: Our Boys are switched on. That's the best start we've had in ages. We've even kicked straight.
We’ve really locked down well on Corey Enright too. He’s been completely unsighted!
Libba Two: The Cats have thrown a whole lot of things at us, but we’ve withstood the challenge.
Sure, Joel Selwood and Patrick Dangerfield have been getting it a bit. They’ll probably get tired for the rest of the match.
Libba One: That was unbelievable. Unbelievably bad.
We didn’t even touch the footy. There’s no way we can come back from this.
Didn’t Geelong thrash us by 10 goals around this time last year? I can feel it in my bones – we’re in for a repeat.
Libba Two: Pass the chocolate.
Three quarter time
Libba One: I knew we'd come back! What a team! What self-belief! You can never write these boys off! We're the premiers, remember!
Libba Two: (massive eye-roll).
Libba one: I’m really REALLY sick of being beaten by Geelong. Bloody Selwood.
Libba two: I’m really REALLY sick of being beaten by Geelong. Bloody Dangerfield.
There were questionable umpiring decisions of course, but I’ve never been one to harbor grudges for years and years, or go childishly on, and on, and on, about them. That sort of person might point out that Bob Murphy’s “holding the ball” when he actually KICKED the thing, was just exactly like a spectacularly awful decision in the ’09 preliminary, against Ryan Hargrave, if I recall rightly. (Nobody is fooled - I recall it with crystal clarity). But hypothetically, IF I were one to harp about the umpiring and never let go of these horrendous injustices, even after we've won a flag, that’s the sort of thing I’d be banging on about.
Friday night was the first time I’ve seen Bevo (Our Saviour) looking genuinely dejected after a loss. And there was something in Our Boys’ reaction that made me uneasy. Bewilderment, annoyance at what’s going wrong. A weariness, that week after week, hungry challengers are fired up to the max, ready to knock us off our pedestal; and even when one is despatched, another lurks in the wings.
I don't think we're complacent. But there's a little edge that's been lost. The hunger isn't as acute. It's not sustained over entire matches, by all players, in every quarter, every week.
The last two years have been a journey, an exploration of how good we can be. Losses just pointed to where we needed to improve. Now there's frustration, even boredom, at having to absorb – again! - the painful lesson, that footy is hard, that success is precious but oh so rare. That to win another premiership, the mountain has to be climbed all over again; you don’t get to start half way up.This rather obvious fact hadn’t somehow percolated into my consciousness. I’m not quite sure why. I guess I haven't had much experience in this whole Post Premiership mindset.
But my thoughts, spinning around in the wake of the dispiriting loss, make me unaccountably tired.
I think about The Bont, brutally crunched several times during the match, getting up just a little more slowly and gingerly each time. It was a rarity, a game where our star had little impact. Next week and the week after, he will have to do it all over again. His name is the one circled on each opponents’ whiteboard. His body is the one that each opposition player hopes to slam into the turf at every opportunity. His influence is the one that every other team is most desperate to curb.
I think about Murph, the oldest man on the field, trying to create a last-minute spark by setting off on a dash into the forward line, hearing the thundering footsteps of Tom Hawkins behind him, feeling the indignity of the Cats' fans triumphant roar. Moments like that - they weren't quite what motivated him as he embarked on the grind of rehabilitation, the slow journey back to fitness and confidence.
I think about Libba (the Second) and Toby McLean and Fletcher Roberts and Shane Biggs and Zaine Cordy, trundling around at Footscray in front of a couple of thousand people for a pedestrian VFL encounter, wondering where the magic has gone. Wondering if they still have the fire. Remembering what it took. Unsure, right at the moment, whether they can pay that price again.
I think about ‘Matthew’ Keith Boyd. His preparation has been limited, his form not reaching the heights of last year’s All-Australian performances. The internet has begun to buzz as armchair critics circle, agreeing that he’s played one year too long. He’s ‘slowed up’. He’s making errors. Our valiant former skipper, the man whose tiny toe-poke to JJ in the preliminary final was just as vital, just as magnificent, as the chain of play to which it led, is already being ruthlessly written off, by our own fans no less. It’s a heartbreak to me whenever this speculation begins, accompanied by those inevitable words: ‘He’s been a great servant of the club. But...’
I think about those words, too. Of all the meanings and implications. It's a strange concept. 'A servant’ of a club.
I think about Mitch Wallis. The boy destined to succeed, with his distinguished footy pedigree, his leadership qualities, the boy who requested, demanded, the famous number three jumper, who was an important part of our 2015-16 rise. The boy who broke his leg horrendously last August, who had to sit in the MCG grandstand watching his team-mates living out his dream.
Mitch was our best player in his comeback match on Friday night. He was at the bottom of packs. He didn’t shy away from the bruises, the physicality, the slippery turf, the parochial crowd, the never-ending relentless of getting to one contest...and then the next.
For his team-mates, the road ahead over the next three months probably feels right now as though it's strewn with boulders. It might be hard to remember the scent of warm summer grass, the thrill of finals footy; the obstacles might be looming larger than the destination. Mitch won't be seeing those hindrances; the rewards, after what he's been through, must seem close enough to touch.
We can be heroes
One day a few years ago, as I was leaving a Bulldogs' match, I came across a man pushing a twin pram. Fast asleep inside were two babies, only a few weeks old. They were wearing little Bulldogs’ jumpers, and their pram was decorated with red, white and blue ribbons.
This was deep in the interminable gloom of the BMac era. Ten goal drubbings, a grimly defensive style of footy, and a dearth of starpower: these were our lot. We were excruciatingly bad, once losing nine games on the trot.
I caught the eye of the twins’ dad as he trundled along with an all too familiar air of stoicism.
‘Teaching them resilience,’ he explained with a wry smile.
Resilience. It's a term bandied about a lot in the lead-up to our match against Geelong.
The players were dealing with the aftermath of the horrific injury to their team-mate Mitch Wallis and a third knee reconstruction for Jack Redpath with 'resilience’, Bevo Our Saviour told the media scrum.
Endearingly, he could not hide his own tears and quavering voice as he spoke.
Another reason to love our Plantaganet-look-alike, Willy-Wonka-quoting, skateboard-riding coach.
But when the team selections were announced on Thursday night many wondered if even Bevo had already conceded the match as a certain defeat.
The losses of Wally, Redpath and Dale Morris were expected. But we had no inkling that we'd also miss the two Matthews, Boyd and Suckling, both out with Achilles' strains.
The team that was named would run out as the youngest and least experienced of all those fielded on the weekend. (Don't be fooled by the hype around the 'Baby Blues'; the despised 'Acronyms' - GWS; or even the deservedly enfeebled 'Bombres.' With an average of 23 years and 10 months and just 66 games, we'd eclipsed them all.)
And we were facing the Cats at their fortress; one from from which, as I seem to hear Craig Willis solemnly intone, so few Bulldogs’ teams have ever emerged victorious.
In fact, EJ Whitten, so the story goes, never once drove back down that highway a winner.
And whether at the Cattery or elsewhere, we've failed to defeat the Cats since way back in 2009. Even a few weeks ago, when our list was in much better health, they had no trouble dispatching us and inflicting the heaviest defeat of our season so far.
I always think of Geelong as holding up a two-way mirror to our club. After both clubs were seen as equally talented up-and-comers in 2006, their path diverged into premiership glory; ours of course did not.
Yet their very success also provides a window showing what can happen, how a flaky under-achieving club can finally smash through their history of non-achievement and then build a success-hungry dynasty, a new narrative of success, an aura of invincibility.
That dynasty is still very much alive, with at least six (it was too depressing to do an exact count) of those triple premiership players in the line- up.
In the time-honoured tradition of opposition players achieving milestones whenever they face us (how did Brent Harvey mis-time his record-breaking match?) the Cats would also be celebrating the glorious careers of two of their triple premiership heroes - and serial Bulldogs tormentors - Corey Enright and Jimmy Bartel. The crowd would be revved up, parochial, and at fever pitch. Only a small contingent of Dogs' fans would be there, given the exorbitant price the Geelong club demands for the small number of available seats, to attend this miserably cold night, when our depleted team is expected to cop a shellacking.
Our players, right from the opening bounce, had different ideas. They stunned us all with their intensity, their overwhelming determination to win.
You’d think that last week’s horrible events might have made them hesitant; that there might be moments of tentativeness, a sharper instinct for self-preservation. Yet they were fiercer, braver, more committed, than ever before.
Unlike a couple of other teams I could name Our Boys didn't resort to over the top fake toughness or bravado. There was no posturing, no 'line in the sand' statements. This was a different, more difficult form of courage. The footy world, we the fans, would all have forgiven, excused, accepted a heavy loss. But Our Boys hadn't abandoned their courage, the courage to believe.
Leading the way with an imperious performance was Libber (The Second). He was playing, you felt, for his fellow father-son recruit and lifelong mate, the wounded Mitch Wallis, as much as himself. Despite his own injury woes – last year’s knee reconstruction, a visit to hospital with busted ribs only a couple of weeks ago – Libber played as though, as his famous dad did so often, his own over-sized will could - and would - drag us over the line.
It was a little more surprising to see another Tom instrumental in our impressive start: everyone’s favourite whipping boy, the Bulldogs’ answer to Jack Watts, he of the much discussed pay cheque, Tom Boyd. There’s always been a rather placid air about big Tom, little sense that he could use his big frame in the wrecking ball style of Clay Smith, no real evidence that inside him burned the competitive flame of a fierce athlete, but on Friday night it looked like he'd had enough of the gibes, enough of the caricatures. Under pressure that's unimaginable for a 20-year-old, he showed the 'blue chip' talent that Bevo talks about, the potential champion he can become if his fitness base builds up and injury fates (not, admittedly, our friend of late) a little kinder.
The first quarter siren sounded with the Dogs only one point down. The Cats looked, if not shell-shocked, nettled and aggrieved.
Our depleted team had somehow reached somewhere deep, somewhere perhaps even they didn't know they could, and had shaken a defiant fist in the direction of the footy universe. They were playing with heightened recklessness on behalf of - or because of - their injured comrades. And I wished that I was there, to stand with my fellow Bulldogs' fans, and applaud them and give them our thanks.
The second quarter unfolds: like soldiers, we begin to slowly concede ground in a war of attrition. The Cats start to realise that there is no need to join our players and scrabble at the bottom of the pack; they can afford to have one player standing outside, ready to coolly sweep the ball down field, where our defensive gaps are painfully exposed. The toll of our relentless efforts, our frenzied domination with so little effect on the scoreboard, threatens to - but never quite does - inexorably grind us down.
The days of dazzling Round One 'sexy' footy are long gone; it's hand-to-hand combat in which we now must engage.
And yet we see, with an air of disbelief, that our hardiest soldier, Libber, is off the ground. Yet again, the wretched sight of an essential player, squirming in pain, concerned doctors by his side. Libber will not return for the rest of the match.
Another of our best, Luke Dahlhaus, who's lit us up with his trademark energy and enthusiasm, begins to tire. Umpiring decisions don't go our way. The Geelong players begin to exude that air they've always had over us; they look taller, stronger, fresher, faster.
More ... uninjured.
Yet even though the Cats' authority over the match grows, it's never unchallenged. A few times, it seems a dam wall is about to break and they will rampage over the top of us, but we bob up irrepressibly again - I'll never quite know how.
We're still threatening, still surging, even in the last quarter, when we lose yet another player, Jack Macrae, that unobtrusive, tireless runner, who'd been doing a fine job on Joel Selwood and still got 20 possessions himself in three quarters.
Old-fashioned words come to my mind as the final siren sounds, and the Dogs register a 25 point loss. Gallantry, and grace.
We'd played the game, as a certain song that we've heard too many times goes, 'as it should be played'.
Our Boys stayed on the ground as Enright and Bartel were chaired off. Their heads were held high. They weren't losers. They'd just lost a game.
There are ten-goal wins that have not made me as proud as this.
In those painful BMac years, throughout those tedious, repetitive losses, it was sometimes all I could do to unearth one little nugget of hope, one little moment to be proud of. Maybe it was a first gamer in whom we could invest all our hopes and fantasies, or a plodding journeyman who had somehow, unexpectedly, had a breakthrough game. It might be - it often was - a moment of suicidal Daniel Cross madness as he backed fearlessly into a pack.
There were many nuggets to choose from on Friday. But there are two that I have decided I will always cherish in my memory bank.
The first one was the vision of Libber on the sidelines, heavily strapped, knowing - as he must have - that he faced weeks on the sidelines, the surgeon's knife. He was watching the game as intently as the most devoted fan, clapping his team-mates, urging them on.
The other nugget was the splendid sight of The Bont taking the opportunity to set Joel Selwood smartly back down on his derriere (this is a family themed blog). Like every Bulldog fan for so many years, The Bont looked sick and tired of being pushed around by Geelong.
Agh, The Bont. Exquisite skills - check. The leadership and character of a champion -check. Just the right amount of aggression, just the right time to send a statement - wouldn't you know it, our 'golden boy' has the right stuff for that as well.
And yet, while we're proud, we the fans, who have been patient so long, must absorb the knowledge that we must, it seems, be patient once again.
We'd all nurtured hopes that in this even season, with no standout team, we could snatch an unexpected flag (though, after a 61 year drought, the words 'snatch' and the phrase 'unexpected' aren't exactly what I'm reaching for).
It's getting harder to imagine us, with our injury toll, slogging our way through gruelling finals and featuring on that last day of September, 2016. But judging by Friday night, Our Boys aren't accepting that as an inevitability. Not one little bit.
The little twins, in their Bulldog jumpers, must be pre-schoolers by now. Maybe, like my own little boy at that age, they insist on starting the day by running through a banner - a makeshift sheet that I was required to hang from a doorway for this purpose. I imagine them running around the backyard, kicking a footy with their patient dad. They probably wear the numbers four and nine on their backs, like most western suburban kids I see wearing red, white and blue. Or they could be wearing 21, for Libber. Number 3, for Wally. They're learning resilience. Bulldog resilience.
Footy. The game of heartache
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.
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.