It was only to be expected in Round One.
Signs of rustiness. The occasional failure to gel together. Indecision and hesitation leading to errors.
I'm talking, of course, about the performance of the supporters.
Our ironical cheers if West Coast kicked out on the full were, it has to be said, ragged and ill-timed. The 'Bulldogs.Clap, clap, clap!!! stamp the feet' rhythm took a while to get established, and was frequently hesitant and staccato. Our timing and touch were off: we launched too early into boos when we got three frees in front of goal in the first quarter, failing to appreciate that it was Our Boys who were for once the worthy recipients of the umpires' largesse, and having to settle sheepishly back into our seats, muttering (a good ten minutes into the new season) that it was not before time.
There were valid reasons, of course, for this early lack of cohesion. After all we were mesmerised, almost hypnotised, by the insistent, distracting neon flashing signs around the ground. Puzzled about why, whenever we glanced up at the screens to get a closer look at action on the other side of the ground, the Brisbane- Collingwood match was playing instead. Bamboozled by our edgy banner: no more labored references to snarling, biting Bulldogs, or folksy pleas for us to support Bill's Beaut Meats, but a preview of the post-modern banners, perhaps: 'If you think Tom Boyd cost the earth, try buying a cup of coffee in Perth.'
And then a terrific match began unfolding before us, and we found our supporting rhythms at last. With the ball hurtling from one end of the ground to another, and the lead changing more than a dozen times, we remembered again just how much fun an exciting game of footy can be.
The Dogs on Saturday night may have only introduced one new player, but they definitely seemed like a new team, revitalised and fresher, an invigorated outfit, playing footy at the tempo of an exuberant Irish reel. There were daring, fast-paced handballs, audacious attempts, near-impossible at times, to link up with others in red, white and blue. When they didn't come off, the noise the crowd made was not the deflated one of disappointment, but the quick gasp of breath, the thrill of seeing a circus performer very nearly carry off an unlikely and risky stunt.
Saturday night actually reminded me of 2006, the carefree year before we really began to seriously challenge, the year when bright and shining hope alone was enough - before the knowledge that a flag was actually within our grasp became a shadow, hovering over our games and tempering the sheer joy of footy.
We were called in that year the most watchable club of all, and if Saturday night's match is any indication, that mantle might come our way again. Rebuilding will be a whole lot more fun if it consists of daring to win rather than doggedly attempting not to lose.
Three talking points from round one
'I wept from seeing greatness. Bontempelli was Royce Hart at his best, full of grace, intertwining his ballet seamlessly into a game of football' - a poster called 'Born in Droop St 54', Woof Footy forum.
There's a split second of stillness in the crowd every time the kid in the number four guernsey goes near the ball. It's an anticipation, a thrilling awe, about what might and could happen.
There's already a lot of debate about who he's like: with his composure and balance, is he the new Pendlebury? Perhaps the Bont is a bit like Koutifides in his size, versatility and strength? Are there touches of Ablett in his charisma, his uncanny ability to come into the match just when we need him most? Maybe, with his deftness and skills, he could draw comparisons with Robbie Flower?
Sometimes we daydream about where he will eventually fit in the Bulldog pantheon. Could he be as great as Chris Grant? Does he resemble Doug Hawkins pre-knee injury, with his elegant one-handed pick-ups, or is this what it was like to see the young Ted Whitten, a mix of power and grace, a pure footballer effortlessly able to dominate in a variety of positions?
But watching him on Saturday night, I realise I don't want to focus on what The Bont's future might be, or whose style he most resembles. I just want to enjoy, right here and right now, what he is doing, this exceptional, once-in-a-generation talent. I want to have more of those moments, like his extraordinary blind turn and pirouette through a cluster of hapless Eagles, where he freezes time. The Bont in those instants seems to be operating in some different dimension, effortlessly sensing a possibility that didn't exist before, in fact had no right to exist at all.
Twenty five rounds to go
It was a throwaway line in a post-match interview. Barry Hall (looking every bit as Big, Bad and bustling as ever, even though awkwardly constrained within his respectable Fox Footy suit) was talking with our new captain. When Bob praised our work on the night, he also mentioned the need to keep it up for 'the next 25 rounds.'
There was a small, wry smile from Bob as he made this comment, with its cheeky implication that the Dogs have every expectation of being there on the last day in September. The wry smile of a guy who has made no secret of his sense of loss and mourning as he comes to terms with the knowledge that now, cruelly, a premiership will not be among the achievements that Bob Murphy experiences as a player.
But I'd prefer to think that Bob, the great romantic, was stirred and inspired by what he saw around him, carried away for a moment by the exuberance and enthusiasm of his 'kids'. And that somewhere within that big heart with its boundless love for our club, Bob hasn't quite given up on that dream of somehow, improbably, being out there when our day comes.
'I'm really proud of the boys, the way they stuck at it. They've obviously had a tough summer. They've had to deal with a lot of ridicule and innuendo. They're terrific young men, and they really deserved the win tonight.' - Luke Beveridge
Not since October 1989 - the traumatic month when our entire footy club actually ceased to be when the AFL attempted to bludgeon us out of existence via a 'merger' - has there been such a tumultuous off-season for Bulldogs' fans as 2014. A beloved captain blindsided us with all the force of one of his trademark shimmies, and a coach was dumped.
I guess as fans we'll never really know the real reasons for what some have dubbed 'Shocktober' - why Ryan Griffen defected, and why Brendan McCartney was sacked.
There may or may not have been bullying, skulduggery, incompetence, duplicity or betrayal, but the fact that we don't really know gives us a stark reminder that as fans we're on the periphery. Our loyalty must indeed be blind because when it comes to the crunch we're not within the inner sanctum and aren't permitted to know what went on inside those closed doors.
The acquisition of Tom Boyd was a turning point in arresting the devastation and turmoil. Since then, his recruitment to the Dogs, paypacket and talent have been put under the microscope, analysed and mocked to an unprecedented degree.
Our new number 17 didn't star in his first match in our colours. But time after time, he presented himself for his team-mates, taking knocks and bruises with no free kicks and no complaints; he even had stints in the ruck. When he took the second of only two marks, in the last quarter, and lined up to shoot for a critical goal in this match of see-sawing leads, all in the stadium held our breath. When he kicked it, there was collective relief: that he had helped seal the match; that the burden of expectation had lifted just a fraction.
When the siren went, Luke Beveridge walked down from the coaching box down to the field. He reached out, slapping the hands of the elated supporters lining the fence and aisles. Later he struck the perfect note in his press conference, fiercely defending the integrity of our players and adding: 'As long as our fans walk away with a spring in their step, that's the most important thing.'
The song was playing, the team were gathered in the middle celebrating. But Tom Boyd, meanwhile, was doing a slow trek around the field, taking the time to touch hands with the rapturous fans spilling over the fence. Our modest crowd of 23,000 could well have been the biggest (and definitely the most excited) audience that the former GWS player has ever played before.
The era of Griffen and McCartney is over. Tom Boyd and Luke Beveridge will now play roles, big or small, in the next chapter in our story. It was good to see their generous spirits in reaching towards the success-starved fans; it made us feel that for now at least we're all in this journey together.
Coaches and players come and go but the fans' bond with the club endures, too deeply rooted for us to walk out on our 'contract' or negotiate for a better deal. Someone expressed it poignantly in the midst of the pain and hurt of 'Shocktober': there's no trade week for fans.
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.