It's the time of year for the champs to be rested. Is this the reason that the Bulldog Tragician - who makes extravagant claims about undying devotion to the cause - was again a feeble no-show for the match against North?
The baton was again passed to Dan Oakes. He had his own struggle to get to the match, but was at least closer to the action, on a couch in Melbourne, than the 'missing in action' Tragician.
Here's Dan's account of a win, which meant that that 'F' word, which was first raised as an almost laughable concept after THAT win in Sydney, is actually a reality, or to quote from He Who Has Led Us From The Wilderness, now 'a mathematical certainty'...
"A Bulldogs-supporting acquaintance, a journalist at a major daily newspaper and a tough operator, texted me last week ahead of the game against the Kangaroos. 'We might get whipped. North is a bogey team for us.'
It was a point of view the 10-year-old had also been spruiking during the week when I pushed him on whether we would be going to the game. I wouldn't go so far as to say this level of pessimism is unique to Bulldogs fans, but as the owner of this real estate frequently points out, it is a recurring theme.
My friend the hack brought this up to explain why he was not going to the game, and the 10-year-old was inclined to follow his lead. Geelong's loss on the Friday night, which guaranteed the Bulldogs finals footy, was the clincher.
The 10-year-old decided that his beloved Dogs did not need his support against the Kangaroos, but his soccer coach, who plays for the mighty Bayside Argonauts first team, did. If the Argonauts won, they went top of the table and were a shoe-in for a finals place.
So, shaking my head at the fickleness of modern youth, I wandered across the road on Saturday afternoon and caught some of the Southern Football League finals match between Murrumbeena and Keysborough at Cheltenham's Jack Barker Oval (named for the father of Saints legend Trevor, and, incidentally, one-time home of Footscray Brownlow Medallist Peter Box, who played for Cheltenham before heading west), then ambled a couple of hundred metres with the boy to Shipston Reserve to see the Argonauts take on Endeavour Hills in the round ball code.
All of which is to say that, to my eternal shame, I've written two guest blog entries about games I watched from my couch.
Nonetheless, when we got home and settled down for the Dogs game (on a slight delay), we did so with a sense of anticipation. This was a different proposition to the Eagles away. You know with North there's a fair chance they aren't going to turn up for the game.
And also, North themselves. I feel like I should like them. Another smaller, working-class club, punching above its weight, threatened over the years with relocation or merger. But somehow they just rub me up the wrong way. They just aren’t…I don’t know…loveable.
All that said, though, and I know not everyone will agree with me, why boo Shaun Higgins? The bloke gave the Bulldogs decent service for years and decided he wanted a change of scenery.
With Griff, there is a real and reasonable sense of betrayal simply because of how much the Doggies faithful loved him. You can't say the same for Higgins (and I tend to think he was treated a bit harshly by the fans. Injuries and being played all over the ground didn't help), so what exactly are people angry or disdainful about? If we never really took him to our hearts, why expect loyalty in return?
Anyhow. There are few sights I like less than seeing Drew Petrie getting the ball in his mitts early in the game. Whether this is borne out by evidence or not, when he is on form against us, I feel like we're in a bit of strife. So it felt a little like an omen when he kicked the first, albeit 11 minutes in.
On the flipside, it was great to see Lukas Webb running around again. Although we haven't seen him at senior level since his cameo of a couple of rounds early in the season, he showed enough back then to suggest he may be the pinpoint-kicking heir to Murph or the re-modelled M Boyd in years to come.
Roughy, another welcome returnee, kicked our only goal of the quarter from a beautiful little snap, and it was a dour affair all round.
Then, bit-by-bit, the Bont edged into the picture. Cruising around, seemingly sweat-free, the boy wonder started to show signs this would be a special performance.
He kicked our first goal of the quarter in the 13th minute, which was followed by one from Honeycrunch (when we drafted young Mitch, the 10-year-old, not an avid fan of the written word, squinted at the paper and said “who’s this bloke…Honeycrunch?”), and a rapid-fire pair from Dead-Eye Dickson (after a beautiful break by McCrae and the Bont) and The Lair to leave us ahead at half time.
I think it’s fair to say that JJ is one of the slightly unsung heroes this year. While the bouquets have rained down on the Bont, Hunter, Wood, The Lair and Mitch Wallis this season, Johannisen’s remarkable improvement has gone less noticed.
There was genuine ecstasy on the couch when he materialized in our forward 50 and took a lovely grab, after Webb bombed it long, then slotted it.
Waite and Higgins pegged a couple back for the Kangas, but Crameri kicked one after being caught high in the square just before three quarter time.
So, the stage was set. The 10-year-old, despite all my entreaties regarding Higgins, let loose with a “get stuffed you flog!” as the former Dog kicked the first of the final term.
But then it happened. The play that encapsulated our season. The Bont came off half back, spun gracefully out of two tackles, then banged it long towards our forward 50, The Lair got there first and plucked the ball off the deck, brushed two North players aside like they were pink batts, handballed to Wallis, who dished it off to Picken, who ran inside 50 and banged it home. Cue semi-tears of pure joy.
Another lovely little string of tackles and handballs in the forward 50 for Dickson to score, and we were looking good.
Then another beautiful passage of play: Roughy sacked a North player in the centre square, The Lair picked it up and ignited the invisible afterburners, carrying it Judd-like towards our forward arc. He went for the square (although, truth be told, given who we’re talking about, most likely for goal) and Crameri took a lovely grab and goaled.
The rest of the quarter was a procession. JJ kicked his second, Zaine Cordy laid a massive tackle on Higgins inside 50, setting up a goal for 'Honeycrunch', Crammers chipped in with another, and, as if things weren’t insane enough, Biggs kicked one, and then another from within the centre square!
The final quarter really was an encapsulation of the way we play at Etihad, which leaves you feeling strangely conflicted. I mean, it is a terrible stadium in some ways, emblematic of the corporatisation of sport. Cold and sterile, and why shut the roof when the weather is fine?? But clearly our chances of going more than a week deep in the finals are only enhanced by an Etihad final. It will be interesting to see who we draw, and what our glorious leaders request.
So, what does this performance mean overall? When I arrived at work on Tuesday, I overheard a colleague of mine on the phone to the ABC library with an interesting request. “Yeah, can I get some vision of the Bulldogs’ 1954 premiership?”
PS. The Argonauts lost. And it rained.
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.