It's half time at Docklands. The Dogs are 28 points down. It's a disappointing outcome, which doesn't reflect our effort, the commitment of our players, or our overall domination in most measures.
It's unfair, but that's the Bulldogs' 2018 season for you.
To add to the ever bulging injury list, Zaine Cordy is now off the field and in the back of an ambulance, with a broken forehead, which I didn't even know was a thing. We've valiantly driven the ball into our forward line time and time again - unfortunately more LIKE a Valiant than a smooth-running Mercedes - but unless we're trialling a new game plan called Kick and Hope, the results have, er, left quite a bit to be desired.
Looking back at the first half, I develop a theory that, in some sort of inversion of the Talia-gate scandal where our game plan was pinched by the Crows, there's been Shinboner infiltration of our club. By methods unclear, a Brad Scott-instructed mole has silently and stealthily breached the coaching inner circle, and each Bulldogs' player has been instructed to kick it to Majak Daw at every opportunity.
For all our bravery, the spirited efforts, the multiple but fruitless forward entries, we've been let down by a lack of what Bevo Our Saviour calls 'qualitative sheen.' Hard-fought territory would be gained, players would be running hard, and then we'd unleash an ugly high floating kick to the tallest player on the ground Majak Daw, who would mark it just like The Chief in One flew over the cuckoo's nest.
It's unlikely we can recover the five-goal deficit. North have plenty to play for, a spot in the finals up for grabs. And our third quarters have been abysmal. Okay, we broke that pattern with a sizzling, attacking third quarter against the Saints in last week's match, but surely that was more of a reflection of their forlorn season than an indicator that our best, premiership-winning footy had finally returned.
In last week's rather unexpected blitz, one man more than most displayed qualitative sheen aplenty. I may have mentioned him once or twice on these pages - a player wearing number four, a bloke called Marcus Bontempelli. The Bont has had a curious season, patchy in form by his stellar standards, looking sometimes lame and unfit, perhaps even burdened by the leadership that has been thrust his way prematurely by the avalanche of injuries. And that was how it had seemed early in the game against the Saints, where his head was often bowed, his steps slow and uncertain, his instinct for footy dimmed. But for champions, the tide can turn quickly. He caused sudden mayhem with his raking left foot, his vision for the goals reminding us that if he wasn't a pretty handy midfielder, he'd be a nightmare matchup as a permanent forward.
We'd only managed four goals in the first half against North, but two of them were from the Bont, those elegant entries into the huff and puff of the game that are his trademark. He looks, this afternoon, to be running more freely. And maybe with the recent slow clawing back of the injury carnage - with seasoned bodies like those of Dale Morris, Tory Dickson, Jackson Trengove and Jordan Roughead finally stringing some games together - there is less of a weight on the shoulders of the Bont, the guy who is still - STILL!!!!- eligible for the Under 22 squad.
Who knows what happened during the half-time break - maybe someone finally cottoned onto the North subterfuge and confiscated the 'Kick it to Majak Daw' game plan - but suddenly the Dogs went berserk. The team that has battled this season to painfully construct even one goal began piling them on.
It was exhilarating. It was unexpected. It seemed like a physical breaking of the shackles that had bound us this year, where footy became a chore for players and fans alike.
For the first time since records were kept, three players from the one team racked up more than 40 possessions: Lachie Hunter, whose relentless and selfless running has been one of the few highlights of 2018; 'Celeb' Daniel, motoring smoothly out of the backline with his deft kicks; and predictably, Jackson Macrae, whose competitive nature has never flagged in even the most miserable of our dreary performances.
And of course there was The Bont. He didn't manage over 40 possessions but let's face it, Bont at his best needs much fewer than that to scythe through an opposition and turn a game on its head. His are creative, seeing possibilities others don't; they open up the game, they lead to goals.
For some reason he has always performed brilliantly against North, which may reflect why the Shinboners' squad of Fake Tough Guys - including their latest recruit in more ways than one, Shaun Higgins - has always been determined to try and physically target Our Golden Boy up, and at the same time the reason why those efforts will always fail.
Meanwhile Dale Morris, 35-years-old and with a battered and beaten up body, played a game that was like a time capsule of his career. Others may dream, in their milestone matches, of being the centre of attention, doing the showy, the spectacular: kicking the winning goal, flying for a specky. Even one of our most dour defenders, Matthew Croft (it's his late-arriving fist that you see trying to spoil Wayne Carey time and again in the 90s) played his last game in the forward line where he managed five goals and lairised with an inside-out banana kick. Dale's fantasies of how his milestone game might play out, you imagine, were of a different ilk. They would have involved moments like the third quarter when he made that characteristic Dale lunge on the goal line to thwart a North goal; or when, as only Dale can, he beat two North players half his age in the last quarter to win a critical contest. And that's not even mentioning the multiple, unobtrusive, sacrificial acts that we have seen in every single one of Dale's 250 matches: the support for a team-mate, the willingness to offer his body as a battering ram, the ability to extract the energy for one last determined punch of the ball, one last super-human tackle.
The Dogs registered an unexpected win, one that makes you dream again of what could be possible sooner rather than later, even though it's only our seventh win of the season (for the never magnanimous Bulldog Tragician, solace is taken by the fact that two of those wins contributed to the wrecking of the finals chances of teams coached by the petulant Scott brothers, while another was against the Bombres).
When the siren sounded, Dale was instantly mobbed - not by his premiership team-mates, but by the young defenders who've been privileged to play alongside him, who've seen at close quarters the courage and commitment of one of our all-time greats. The others soon followed. Their love and admiration for Dale had surely helped our team over the line.
Dale's 250th match had a distinct lack of qualitative sheen, but it was, said The Age, 'brutal and important.'
It was, said Bevo Our Saviour, 'a pretty good eight-possession game.'
The 'old boy', said The Bont irreverently, 'is simply inspiring.'
We all stayed in our seats to applaud him, to give thanks. The players formed their guard of honour and we waited to see who would hoist Dale on their shoulders and carry him off the ground. Unexpectedly I felt a lump in my throat when I realised one of them was Roughy, the heart and soul player who grew up barracking for the Dogs, who risked his sight to play in our premiership win, who as one of our more senior players had played alongside Dale in lean years as well as good. The man who some say will part ways with our club at the end of the year. The other is our captain The Bont, his smile broad, his spirit light. Bont later shared a photo of the moment he and Roughy carried off the warrior on Instagram, with two perfect words: 'Precious cargo.'
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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.