This match report was contributed by Simon McInerney (follow on twitter @simmo_melb89)
During the footy season, my day is automatically made if one of two things happens: the Bulldogs winning and Essendon losing. Whilst Footscray victories have been few and far between in 2012, the Bombers’ nose dive from 8-1 after Round 9 has been hilarious.
On the Saturday afternoon before our match, Carlton – no champion team themselves – demolished Essendon by 96 points at the MCG, relegating Essendon to tenth on the AFL ladder. The smugness on display earlier in the year has evaporated and been replaced despair and bewilderment. I've taken vicarious solace in their demise, a brilliant sideshow in a largely dismal year.
After Saturday's hilarity it was back to reality a day later. Sydney, atop the AFL ladder, was $1.06 favourite to beat us in Victoria for the first time since 1987 - a streak spanning 13 matches and four different venues. Barring a miracle, the Dogs would relinquish a second long unbeaten streak in seven days.
Six changes were made to the side for our final home match of the season. Ryan Hargrave was suspended for a hit on Daniel Jackson last week. Michael Talia, Tom Campbell, Andrew Hooper and Jarrad Grant were all omitted.
The final omission from the previous week's side was Justin Sherman. Recruited from Brisbane in exchange for a valuable end of first round draft pick in 2010, Sherman has been a frustration. He showed so much potential early in his career but hasn't consistently delivered since his move south. I want him to succeed, but it just hasn't happened yet. Sherman is good for the odd goal, granted, but he doesn't do enough around the ground. His failure to pick up 15 disposals in any of his last six matches is testament to that - as is being dropped from a team on an eight match losing run.
The half dozen “ins” were impressive: Ryan Griffen, Shaun Higgins and Ayce Cordy returned along with defenders Lukas Markovic and Easton Wood after lengthy lay-offs. Adam Cooney and his much discussed knees also came back into the side. He began as substitute.
Usual full back Brian Lake again started forward and it took less than a minute for the move to reap rewards as he marked and goaled.
Buoyed by the early goal, Footscray played with tremendous desire and verve. The Dogs shot out like a greyhound bounding from the boxes. Our men took the game on and kicked long into an open forward line, a tactic which may well have surprised the table-toppers.
The sides went goal-for-goal. Sydney kicked three of them in the first term, but every time the Bulldogs responded with a goal of their own within two minutes. Pressure on the Swans’ ball carriers was fierce; their players were allowed no time.
The Dogs got to the ball first and were rewarded with some lucky free kicks, much to the chagrin of the Bloods faithful. Lin Jong alone got three for high contact. Though it’s only his second game, I love the way Jong approaches his footy already. He is fearless and courageous but also skilful and smart. We've found another player for the future - and the present.
Jong and 20 others were overshadowed, however, by the inspirational Ryan Griffen. Already a Best and Fairest winner, Griffen must have wrapped today's maximum votes up by quarter time. He collected 17 disposals and drove the team forward with speed and damaging foot skills.
At the first change the Dogs led by 18 points. 6.2.38 was our best first term score for the season and also the most points Sydney have conceded. The Swans' 3.2.20 was mercifully well short of their 9-goal blitz at the SCG.
The second quarter began. For how long can Footscray maintain the rage? How long before Sydney hits back?
The once maligned Lewis Roberts-Thompson put through the first goal of the term before Liam Picken responded. Sydney kicked another before second gamer Jason Johannisen received a hand pass from a stoppage and snapped truly to answer again. We were going stride for stride with the AFL's top team; it made for a surprising and pleasant change from our norm.
With the current Bulldogs team being so limited and inexperienced, however, it was surely a matter of when, not if, Sydney would gain control. The inevitable happened towards the end of the first half as they lifted to dominate clearances. Class shone through. Five goals in the last 20 minutes of the half gave them a 14-point lead at the main break.
Up to half time our leading ball winners were, as usual, Ryan Griffen (25) and Matthew Boyd (21). Without Jude Bolton, such a stalwart of their midfield, Sydney seem to lack a tagger – could that be a chink in their armour, perhaps? How Dane Swan, Sam Mitchell and Scott Thompson would love to run around unmarked in the September sunshine.
Boyd's 21 included several turnovers, and I've begun to notice a trend amongst fans to focus on what our captain actually does when he has the ball.
What will Boyd's legacy be? For mine, he'll go down as a great servant and ball winner. His stats are brilliant (it wasn't just parochialism which prompted me to pick him as Dream Team captain) and it's unquestionable that he's got the best out of himself. The likes of West and Johnson shade him as a Great, however.
Boyd accumulates more possessions than anyone in the game but not enough of his disposals are damaging - he's a superb grunt player but flair is in short supply. He was famously plucked from Frankston via the rookie list and though his game has improved over the years, it hasn't been modified. One can get away with long, hopeful kicks in the VFL but at AFL level they seldom come off. His habit of turning the ball over is the antithesis of leading by example.
It took just a minute for two-time Brownlow winner Adam Goodes to kick the first major of the second half. Based on recent form, the forecast for the second half was stormy for Footscray and with the goal dark clouds came circling ominously. Here we go again, I thought – another second half and another fade out imminent. Sydney took our best shot, responded and, now with a 20 point lead, was in the driver’s seat to assume complete control and cement top spot on the ladder.
And so the rains came. Sydney piled on four more goals before Tory Dickson momentarily stemmed the tide.
The deficit extended to 47 before Dylan Addison surprisingly bobbed up to produce a couple of goals and bring his tally for the day to three (he would eventually finish with four). After several years on the periphery of the team as a scrappy defensive player, his recent displays in the forward line have been a revelation.
Forward line pressure has been all the rage in footy for several years, with various incarnations of the strategy including 'Clarkson's Cluster', the 'Lyon Cage' and Collingwood's Press. The Dogs were left behind in implementing a 'press' during Rocket Eade's tenure and even today the likes of Daniel Giansiracua were seldom seen tackling or giving chase.
Just as important as his goals was Addison's “shut down” job on Rhyce Shaw. Sydney's dashing defender was restricted to a couple of first half disposals and had a limited impact. I think a new role, the defensive forward, has been found for DFA.
Adam Cooney was brought on for the subdued Ayce Cordy. Cooney's story is well documented and, in football context, tragic. A number one draft pick that became known for his speed and ability, he suffered a seemingly innocuous knock during the 2008 finals series – weeks before claiming the Brownlow – and hasn't been in peak physical condition since.
His knee has been described as “degenerative” and I've heard from reliable sources that he's cooked and will find it impossible to get 100% fit again. He's endured seven stints on the sidelines and two interrupted off-seasons over the past 24 months. It's a testament to how good his best is that the club have persisted for this long.
Since “taking Charlie home”, Cooney accumulated a relatively modest 13 Brownlow votes from 56 matches in 2009-2011 and its unlikely that he'll tally many this year. Once destined for legendary status, Cooney's body has let him down to the point of bit-part status and talk of trade and premature retirement.
The onslaught continued in the last quarter. 'Gia' turned and snapped a nice goal but it was a rare moment of pleasure as Sydney did as they pleased. Gaps appeared everywhere and our backline fell to pieces.
When I heard the ladies who sit directly behind me start to discuss who they like from Masterchef and whether the new Big Brother series will be worth tuning into, I knew it was about time for us all to go home for the year. Today's defeat gives me a depressing personal tally of one win – against the embattled, dysfunctional Port Adelaide – and 10 losses at Docklands this season. Some “home” record.
The Swans finished with 10 last quarter goals to win by 82 points. After our spirited opening term, Sydney kicked 23 goals to seven and played with the swagger of a team that was Premiership-bound. They're fit, fast, settled, experienced and will stay atop the AFL ladder for a seventh straight week.
Of the Dogs fans who actually bothered with the bitter end – and credit should go to those who did – a decent proportion applauded the team off the field. Yes, the group is young and learning and undermanned but, given the complete disintegration of resistance and lack of pride in the last quarter, those wearing the jumper can go and do one in my eyes.
This is a team who have contrived to lose nine games in a row, our equal worst run since 1982. Eight of the defeats have been by six goals or more, demonstrating a lack of tenacity and accountability to defend.
The virtuoso performance by Ryan Griffen will distinguish this thumping from all of the others in years to come. Our number 16 finished with 47 disposals, eclipsing the club record set two decades earlier by Simon Atkins – a feat which even the likes of Scott West and Matthew Boyd have failed to achieve.
Griffen was everywhere. He collected 22 contested possessions, racked up eight clearances, eight inside 50s and two goal assists. All of that against the league’s top team - with only Boyd and a gaggle of kids as a supporting cast.
The usually reserved, team-orientated Brendan McCartney described his display as “extraordinary”. In the Herald Sun Griffen scored the maximum five votes and he was also named B.O.G. in The Age. McCartney and John Longmire both awarded him maximum points in the Coaches’ Association Award. All of this in a team smashed by 82 points.
A debate about the identity of the next Bulldog captain – who the bridge will be between Boyd and his long term heir apparent Mitch Wallis – has bubbled in recent months and its worth asking where Griffen fits in the equation. If leading by example is the most important prerequisite, no one is better suited. He’s a naturally shy person, from all reports, and seeks minimum limelight – in other words, captaincy might not be in his DNA. Despite his excellence, the thought of Griffen replacing Boyd still seems unusual and mystifying.
The next best today were Boyd (35 disposals) and, encouragingly, Smith (23) and Johannisen (20).
My year of footy attendance wraps up next week, with a chilling trip to Geelong. The day will take on an “end of school year excursion” feeling. Not a year full of impressive grades, it must be said.
Before the round 19 match against North Melbourne, the Western Bulldogs hierarchy took the unusual step of dispatching the following letter to 16,000 member households:
We write to you as a valued member of the Western Bulldogs Football Club. So far, we are sure you would agree it has been a tough year for the Red, White and Blue.
As leaders of the Club, we want you to know that while we share your disappointment, we are 100 per cent focussed on building a successful and sustainable football club. We are confident that we are on the right path and are committed to the challenges that will present themselves.
Over recent years we came close to achieving our on-field aims, but not close enough. In light of this, we have taken decisions and made the changes that were needed to give us the best chance of success.
We have started this journey, one which will require patience, perseverance and discipline for all of us to stay on track and to not deviate from our path.
Our new coaching panel is dedicated to educating, training and developing our players under a total football program that will give them the best opportunity to maximise their potential. This process has started and is on the way.
We are regularly fielding one of the youngest sides in the competition. On average, we have played 12 players per match with less than 50 games experience to date, while our competitors, outside of GWS and Gold Coast, have averaged just seven.
We will continue to give game experience to our younger players and to give others their opportunity before the season ends. Stick with us. Your continued support for the team is very important.
We are sure you will be excited by the likes of Luke Dahlhaus, Mitch Wallis, Clay Smith, Ayce Cordy and Tom Liberatore as they grow into the players we know they will be.
Off the field we have never been in a better place to support a period of development.
The club has posted five consecutive profits in recent years, wiped almost $1 million off our debt, completed the $31 million re-development of Whitten Oval and secured solid membership numbers in 2012 – reaching 30,000 for only the third time in our history.
We are also making significant in-roads into our strategy to 'Win the West' and stamp the Western Region of Melbourne as our own, while continuing to increase the Club's investment in our core business of football – growing our resources and importantly, football staff.
Now, more than ever, is the time to stick together to ensure we maximise the opportunity for us to taste success.
Thanks again for your continued support.
The letter – signed by Messrs Smorgon, McCartney, Grant, Garlick and Boyd – was dispatched against a backdrop of poor form and odds of $8.00 against North Melbourne, a team that not long ago we wiped the floor with constantly.
The Roos are one of the most watchable teams in the competition at the moment. They remind me so much of the 2005 Bulldogs. Some of the similarities include: the ability to move the ball with pace and sharp precision; aggression; high score tallies; making a late lunge for the finals after years of mediocrity; a driven coach at the helm; a smattering of experienced players on hand to steady the ship when needed.
North are an emerging side with unheralded players. They've won six of their last seven games and rank an impressive number 2 in Points For in the competition, behind only Hawthorn. Conversely, their defence is ranked number 15.
Once again Brendan McCartney made so many changes that I had no hope of memorising them without a notebook. In came Nathan Djerrkura, Tom Campbell, Zeph Skinner and Dylan Addison, as well as Michael Talia and Jason Johannisen – our 7th and 8th debutants for the season. Out went Luke Dahlhaus (rested), Daniel Cross, Lindsay Gilbee, Liam Jones, Patrick Veszpremi and Tom Williams. Some of those names have walked in and out of the revolving door so often this year that they’ll soon fall down with dizziness.
Weekly tinkering like this can't be good for continuity, but I don't think continuity matters right now. I read the constant changes as McCartney wanting to look at as many players as possible, as often as possible, so that the footy department makes the right decisions about who goes in the looming end-of-season cleanout.
I was one of just a handful in red, white and blue to board the train at Footscray just 40 minutes before first bounce. I remember catching St Albans and Werribee line trains as a kid and standing shoulder-to-shoulder with the Faithful. After stirring wins, a rendition the club song would be belted out in the carriages. Those were in the pre-iPhone days. Who needs strangers to sing with now?
Where has our support gone? Perhaps they've all given up for the year; melted memberships smouldering in microwaves throughout the region once known as the Land of Boulders.
It’s not as if Footscray was deserted. Groups of people were out – families, teens – enjoying their weekends and the precious few hours of mid-winter sun above. They were going about their lives – carrying bags of groceries from the bustling Footscray Market; heading to and from Highpoint; bouncing basketballs or cruising along on skateboards.
Mainly migrants, these groups seemed oblivious to the footy. Oblivious to the plight of “their” team. The team that supposedly represents all of us in the “fastest growing region of Australia” as David Smorgon would put it. Migrants from the horn of Africa, second generation Vietnamese, families in housing estates at Caroline Springs – these are the people the funky new 'Western Bulldogs' fishing net was supposed to catch.
Perhaps our appeal would be greater if we took one of those Premiership chances in 1997-2000 or 2008-2010. My partner’s housemate, a fella from India who works in IT, is into sport generally and enjoys watching the footy. He doesn't have a team yet. It was suggested to him that he should support the Dogs, his local team. I’m sad to report that he's still holding out for a better offer because we're “shit”. Did we give up our Footscray name in an attempt to lure people like that?
The game's first goal came courtesy of the hard working Tory Dickson. It was the third time from 18 attempts this year I've guessed the Dogs first goal kicker, meaning I gain a point in the Peter Street Pocket’s 'Trent Bartlett Golden Ugg Boot' award. The leader, Waffs' old man 'Honest' Peter Egan, also selected Dickson and thus moved to a near unassailable five points in the competition. A large man of few carefully selected words, he smiled wryly and reclined back in his seat in celebration.
For me, our outstanding player of the first quarter was Clay Smith. Typically, teenagers can lack physicality and presence in their early AFL years but that's no problem for Smith. He won the contested ball and cracked in hard – traits which no doubt thrilled the coach. He hunted with enthusiasm and made tackles hurt.
The Dogs kicked the first two goals of the second term to establish an unexpected buffer. The boys moved the ball faster and played more attractively than in recent weeks. Dylan Addison, a man who has spent his entire career playing anywhere but the forward line, was thrown into attack. North weren't expecting this and didn't seem to have a match-up for him. 'DFA' ended the first half with 2.1 on the scoreboard to augment 10 disposals.
The Kangaroos were way below their best whilst we were somewhere near ours. Late goals gave them a slender 41-45 half time lead.
I enjoy fixtures against North Melbourne because the games have spice. The clubs are geographically close and have supporter bases of roughly the same size. Neither set of fans like one another and today, as usual, verbal arrows were shot back and forth in the stands.
North are the only decent side (the only side in the league's top 13, in fact) we've beaten to date this season. With the margin so slim, their fans might have been jittery about the prospect of a stinging 'doubling' at the hands of a poor Bulldogs side. If they’re to play in September, the only option for the Roos today is victory.
Gradually, North Melbourne took command of proceedings. Third quarter fade outs are the most depressing symptom of the overall malaise of our team. We've now lost seven of them in a row, this one by a relatively acceptable 20 points.
Both teams had more handballs than kicks up to three quarter time, an illustration of how many games in the AFL are now played.
Jason Tutt went off for substitute Djerrkura before North kicked three goals in the first seven minutes of the last quarter. This had the potential to get ugly, which would be an unfair outcome for the boys who were so valiant for a half.
The Roos finished with seven goals to one in the last term to run out 54 point winners. We lost every quarter of the match but most alarming was another second half fade-out. These are our last seven second halves:
Opponent Points For Points Against
Brisbane Lions 20 61
Essendon 33 61
Fremantle 29 64
Hawthorn 10 63
Carlton 32 69
St Kilda 14 66
North Melbourne 20 77
We endured the fade out alongside a group of painfully irritating North fans who became increasingly pissed as the Saturday afternoon passed by. As the margin increased, so did their alcohol-fuelled bravado and by full time I was eager to leave and get away from their sly goading and witless running commentary. That huge chip on their collective shoulder remains.
There were some positives worth noting. Teenaged Jason Johannisen was solid on debut and Liberatore and Wallis played very well.
Zeph Skinner was well off the pace but deserves more chances. Reading the Bulldogs Big Footy forum, I was surprised by how many people are ready to write him off. Fans called on the club to cut their losses, or perhaps “delist and re-rookie him”. “I made a point of watching Skinner today as I haven't seen much of him,” posted tassiedog. “I’ve watched the bulldogs for over 40 years and would find it hard to recall someone who looked so lost in a game. He had no clue today.”
This match report was contributed by Simon McInerney (follow him @simmo_melb89)
I don’t mind winter. Some people love it, others hate it and I put myself somewhere in the middle. Aspects and features of winter I like:
I’ve done two interstate trips before, to Canberra (vs Sydney) in 2009 and Gold Coast in 2011. We won both times. Fremantle was chosen as the trip of 2011 and so for the first time I trekked (read: flew) west of Adelaide on Australian shores.
The chances of extending my personal unbeaten interstate were low. Waiting at Tullamarine, 5:30 Friday morning, I opened the Herald Sun and saw that just a single tipster – our number one ticket holder, Julia Gillard – out of 28 predicted us to win. On the flight over I was handed a complimentary copy of The Australian, and found their expert tipping ledger was also in Freo’s favour, 6-0.
Given those figures, you might be surprised to know that Fremantle sat just one spot above us (in 13th) heading into the round. The Dogs’ form had been terrible though, and our last trip to Subiaco was the 123 point pummelling handed out by West Coast last year.
Again, there is a lot to report on from the selection table. Heading out of the revolving door was the Brownlow Medallist Cooney, All-Australian Murphy, the experienced Hargrave, the maligned Jones, the injured Addison and the inconsistent Roughead.
In came Lindsay Gilbee and Jason Tutt for the first time this year, along with Djerrkura, Wallis, Austin and Cordy – all players by now familiar with the revolving door.
The 22 was an uninspiring mixed bag of war horses, youngsters, recyclees and Ryan Griffen. 13 of the side hadn’t yet reached 40 AFL games. Counting Cordy as one, the line-up included three ruckmen.
Take a look at the Dogs’ ‘Points For’ averages under Eade and McCartney:
Of the six forwards named on the team sheet – not that team sheet positions matter much in 2012, with rotations and enormous ball-following clusters – Luke Dahlhaus was the most experienced with 25 games, a crazy stat. The highest career goal kicker in our side (and second highest on the whole ground) would be Lindsay Gilbee, a half back who hasn’t played all year. Ross Lyon-coached sides are renowned for miserly defence, especially on their home patch. The facts don’t add up to much. Would Footscray manage to kick a goal?
Fremantle don’t exactly play like the Harlem Globetrotters either. They used to be a fun side; a joke for the state of Victoria with their flamboyant colours and inconsistent performances. They were the only team Fitzroy managed to beat in their last season. They’ve never been a threat to the competition but was once fun to have around, perhaps like a harmless young cousin who shows promise performing circus skills.
The Dockers had players with funny names, like the Dickensian Clive Waterhouse and Antoni Grover, a moniker belonging in Sesame Street. The Dogs took so much of a shining to some of their characters that they were recruited – Bandy, Koops, Wira and the brilliantly named Kingsley Hunter all moved from Fremantle to Footscray. Ross Lyon now has them playing boring, incredibly dour but increasingly effective football.
I walked out of my backpackers accommodation into glorious Perth sunshine; bright weather completely at odds with my worst hangover for a long time. A night out clubbing meant I didn’t get to sleep until 6:30 on match day morning.
Surrounded by purple, I took the Football Special train two stops to Subiaco and went for a stroll in the sunshine when there. I discovered that even when the Dockers are playing, the company who run the stadium pizza van is called ‘Eagle Boys’: They’re forever in West Coast’s shadow.
Needless to say, I was out numbered roughly 100-1. A thing I love about interstate games is the closeness felt between Bulldog fans. Winks, thumbs ups and nods of approval are exchanged with complete strangers walking by.
I had a superb seat at the front of the second level behind a set of goals, although staring into the blazing, low sunshine made viewing difficult. Luckily I’d been warned and brought sunglasses to mitigate the damage.
The banners went up. Footscray ran through an advertisement for the Victoria University Open Day – as if people at the ground would actually consider flying across the Nullarbor and attending – whilst Fremantle’s banner disintegrated in the wind. It’s hard to decide what was worse. I’m all for tradition in sport but of them are quaint verging on ridiculous. Perhaps except for Grand Finals, run-through banners have had their day. Lame, corporate and embarrassing is now the norm.
The game began with Jason Tutt wearing the green vest for the Doggies. The opening was, as expected, cagey. Neither side played an attacking brand and short passing seemed the flavour of the afternoon. The players on both sides combined for two goals in the first 26 minutes, as if sharing my hangover.
Chris Mayne won a lucky free kick right on quarter time and scored to give Fremantle a 7 point lead.
The relatively experienced Luke Dahlhaus was looking our most dangerous forward and put through two goals right in front of me early in the second. Tory Dickson then snapped one which gave us the lead. At least the boys were giving a yelp this week!
Despite perfect weather, the game was punctuated by many stoppages: Just how Ross Lyon likes it. He would have also enjoyed numerous ‘home-town’ decisions which led to Fremantle goals. It was frustrating to be undone like that after the defence held out so well. At half time the Dockers were ahead 31-28.
Something I noticed at the ground was how young Fremantle’s support is. Entire families clad in purple filled the ground. That colour was dominant, in a similar way to how South Korea’s fresh red illuminated stadiums and cities at the World Cup in 2002.
For obvious reasons Victorian clubs have a much larger quota of elderly fans and grey hair was a rare sight at Patersons Stadium. Despite the Dockers’ miserable lack of success since inception in 1995, their membership is strong and crowds are decent.
Several factors lead me to think that Fremantle will, in time, become a powerful club. Firstly, West Australia is booming and Perth is a two-team town. Freo’s support is so young that all of those purple-clad kids, teens and young adults have breeding ahead of them. Dockers to beget more Dockers. Those who are fans at present will stick around, indoctrinate their kids and their grandchildren will wear purple also.
All it will take is success and Fremantle will soon outgrow Subiaco.
Matthew Pavlich, an imposing presence who threatened to explode during the first half, started the second with two goals in four minutes.
The aforementioned Grover and Easton Wood collided heavily when contesting a mark in the Dockers’ forward line. Grover came off worse and was given a free kick - an awful decision. The local crowd, now ‘up and about’, had got into the umpires’ ears. The goal was nailed and for the first time Fremantle had breathing space.
Ryan Crowley added another and Matthew Pavlich booted his fifth to make the margin 31. With Pavlich destroying us, why isn’t Brian Lake moved to him, I thought? Something had to be done.
Lukas Markovic turned over a kick-in – the ball went straight to Fremantle’s Nick Lower – resulting in another goal. All of the honest toil shown in the first half went out the window as Freo took command. The dam wall had burst.
Tory Dickson kicked the quarter’s final two goals, including one after the siren, to provide a glimmer of hope. The last change margin was 22. The boys were kicking our way in the final term. Could they do it? Could they keep my unbeaten interstate record alive?
After eight tough, goalless minutes Chris Mayne broke the deadlock. If Rex Hunt was in the stadium that would have been the Fat Lady’s moment. There’s no way a side as impotent as the Dogs would be able to muster five goals in 20 minutes on the road. Notching seven in 100 minutes has been an exhausting grind.
Home-town decisions continued to irritate. Even more frustrating was the Dogs, with 25 minutes elapsed and time running out, attacking out wide and down the flanks. They refused to take Fremantle on. The boys seemed to be playing with fear. With our team so inexperienced it was time for the likes of Gilbee, Boyd, Lake and Cross to stand up and make the difference but no one took command and led; we seemingly had 22 followers.
The final margin was 38 points. Without the precise, reliable kicking of Bob Murphy we just couldn’t mount enough decent attacks to kick a winning score. Matthew Pavlich, with 6 goals and 2 behinds, was literally the difference.
After the siren I sat in my seat for 10 minutes and pondered. Simultaneously, the players trudged off at the opposite end of the expansive stadium without acknowledging our small but passionate block of Bulldog support. I’d spent $1000 I spent on the trip to see them play, to see them struggle to grind out eight goals and eventually lose. For 10 minutes, I pondered: where is our season at?
I’d been warned about hostile Fremantle fans – a lot of rough dock workers, apparently – but didn’t cop a single jibe all day. The atmosphere was flat, perhaps because of the Sunday afternoon timeslot or low quality of opposition. Not even at the Subiaco Hotel, where I met up with my not-interested-in-football partner and enjoyed dinner and a sombre post-match drink, was I on the receiving end of any baiting.
We arrived back at the hostel drained around 7 o’clock. I got some necessary shut-eye after a day spent sitting in the sun watching a mediocre footy match with a hangover. I crawled out of bed at 9 to watch the Wimbledon final with my partner and whoever else was in the common room.
I don’t usually care much for tennis – I’m apathetic towards individual sports in general – but the Wimbledon final is one of sport’s truly great events, so we settled in to watch with glasses of milk and blankets dragged from our dorm.
There were about a dozen weary backpackers in the common room for the tennis; a male-only crowd. There were old, restless travellers; Irishmen who’d journeyed halfway around the world to look for work in mines; exiled Victorians; a token Englishmen. Nobody said much and the book I was reading was my friend between games and during the inevitable rain delay.
The 2012 decider was an unmissable event pitting Roger Federer, perhaps the greatest player there’s ever been and this time searching for a 7th Wimbledon title, against local hope Andy Murray – a player who’s been near the top of the tree for a few years now and a name the people of Great Britain desperately want engraved on that Men’s Singles trophy. No Brit has won Wimbledon since Hitler was in power and Queen Elizabeth was in Primary School.
Despite strong form and winning the first set, it was almost inevitable that Murray was defeated. Federer is a born winner; Murray a perennial bridesmaid. At the time of writing, nine Grand Slam semi-final appearances have yielded no titles for Murray.
As the clock ticked past 1:30 in the morning, I couldn’t help but equate the two players to Geelong and Footscray – especially given their respective records in finals. Like the Dogs, Murray is stoic and endearing. Anyone with a functional heart would have sympathised with him as he broke down in tears – again – during the presentation. The lack of British success since 1936 is a massive burden on his shoulders, just like several generations of Bulldogs players have been made wary of failures past.
The commentators mused over whether Murray will ever get there. I wondered the same thing about my footy team.
This match report was contributed by Simon McInerney (@simmo_melb89)
The Geelong Football Club. Those words alone make many Dogs fans queasy. It’s true the Cats have won 29 of the past 42 matches against us, dating back to 1988, but that lop-sided statistic doesn’t do justice to the torture we’ve suffered at their hands.
Geelong, historically, can only consider themselves perhaps slightly bigger than the Dogs in most measurable aspects – crowd sizes, membership, newspaper inches. I’ve never felt like they naturally deserve to win more games and Premierships than we do.
However, in the years spanning those 42 matches they’ve played in eight Grand Finals (compared to our none) for three Premierships. In that period we’ve been unlucky enough to meet them in MCG finals on six occasions – for six defeats. Fortunately, I’m too young to remember Billy Brownless’ infamous winning goal against us in 1994 or Gary Ablett and co racking up 48 goals (48!) against our hapless backline over two finals matches in 1992.
I can vaguely remember 1995 when we finished the home and away season 7th and Geelong 2nd. Brownless again destroyed the Dogs as Geelong – even without Gary Ablett – won by 82 points, only two weeks after we memorably won down at ‘the Cattery’. ‘The Win of a Decade!’, as our 1995 year book put it.
Fast forward to 2008, our first Preliminary Final for a decade. We went to the MCG hoping for a minor miracle. After Footscray started the match brightly I turned to Murph and said we should “give it large while we can!” That Geelong would take control of the match and make yet another Grand Final was as predictable as night following day. When it comes to the crunch, Geelong would be too good for us; we’d seen it all before.
In 2009 we had the best chance I can remember to win a flag. The Dogs were a seriously talented team at their collective peak, loaded fully with match-winners and a proven coach. The stands at the ‘G were packed with our tri-coloured hordes for the first final against Geelong and I felt that secretly, deep down, our supporters were quietly confident. In the last three rounds of the season we’d knocked off three finalists – Brisbane away, Geelong themselves and a strong Collingwood.
What happened next was a disaster. A limp performance against a Geelong team who were too strong, too skilful, too fast and had too much belief. The final margin of 14 points flattered us, as for most of the day we were well off the pace.
But wait, there’s more. Geelong hasn’t only beaten us in September. In 2007 they were on a long winning run and the Dogs were the proverbial Joker in the finals pack. We had the chance on a Friday night to come out against them and make a statement. We lost by 75 points.
Before Round 16, 2008, the Dogs – after finishing 13th the previous year – had amazingly only been defeated once, and that was to North Melbourne when Brad Johnson missed a shot after the siren. Geelong had only been defeated once also. Our fixture at Kardinia Park was a 1-v-2 blockbuster, an important day for the club: were we really contenders? Did we really have a right to belong in this nose-bleed ladder territory? The hype was massive; tickets were changing hands on the secondary market for hundreds of dollars. Geelong beat us by 61 points, though, and our campaign never fully recovered.
More recently, in Round 20, 2010 we came into the game 4th and them 2nd. Again, a chance to make a statement; a chance to put a marker down just prior to September. Geelong beat us by 101 points. Notice a pattern? We only won two more matches in that year and limped out of the finals.
This cat-alogue of losses has been mentally scarring. I feel like Geelong have always, and will always, beat us and that’s just their rightful place, or the natural football order, or something similarly illogical. I never expect to beat them. If they were last on the ladder and us first I still wouldn’t have hope. I feel like Cats are destined to lord it over Dogs, forever.
And yet, in spite of this gloom and defeatism, I came to the footy tonight viewing it as an escape. An escape, firstly, from the bitter Melbourne wet and cold. I first got drenched on my way to a morning coffee in Footscray. My feet then got soaked going to and from a physio appointment at Western Hospital. I got drenched again buying a pair of dry socks on the way to work – the best $2.95 I’ve ever spent. I saw the purchase as insurance against pneumonia.
I looked at my weather app on the way to the ground and saw the temperature was 10.4 but “Feels Like” 1.1. I didn’t dispute the feeling. How do they (whoever “they” are) come to that “feels like” figure, Waffs and I wondered. Does someone get sent out of the weather bureau naked and come back with an uninformed temperature guestimate? Do citizens text in what the air feels like and BOM just publishes the median figure?
Anyway, going to a footy match under a roof with 29,000 others is, at least, a way of escaping weather which “feels like” 1.1.
I wasn’t just escaping from the weather though. Hand fully healed, I’d just finished my first full week of work since February. Finally having money again was great but the work itself was awful. I’d been told – admittedly by some slightly loopy mates – that I must work in a call centre once in my life, just to experience the characters and general bullshit that I’d find in one. So I did.
I came to the Geelong match fresh from 38 hours on the phones trying to convince Victorians to change electricity retailer. Energy is a boring subject and – unsurprisingly – consumers were usually not impressed by the cold calling. The pitch was repetitive. All day I told people that they can save for paying on time; that nothing physical would change about their energy supply; that we were a Victorian operated company. Yet time and again the people I spoke to on this mammoth database brushed me aside – some with more hostility than others.
Some of those I spoke to were old, some didn’t speak English as a first language, some were disabled, and some were all of the above. Occasionally I’d ask to speak to someone who was actually dead. The calls were painful and the sales culture surrounding me wasn’t much fun either.
I would constantly be asked “how many I was on?” How many sales, that is. In the tea room, in the dunnies, during lunch. How many are you on, Simon? How many have you got for the week?
I felt like my worth as a person was being measured each day by a numerical value. I noticed bosses greeting me more enthusiastically as my “scores” improved over the week. I was the best newbie by a long way, but I honestly didn’t care.
I gas-bagged with those around me; I spent extra-long in the bathroom; I wanted lunch breaks to last forever. I wrote about football at my desk as a “way out”. I raised my voice in a battle to sell electricity against crap, loud music coming from speakers overhead and 30 desperate people around me trying to do the same thing. Someone compared us to caged chickens. We were told to get sales “by hook or by crook” (those exact words); we were shouted at.
I’d endured a week working in a call centre. Another beating at the hands of Geelong wouldn’t seem so bad after all.
Both sides came into the match at 4-4 but the Cats, the reigning Premiers, were overwhelming favourites. Youngsters Cordy, Grant and Smith went out of the side along with the suspended Dylan Addison. Cooney, Roughead, Veszpremi and debutant Daniel Pearce came in. Zephaniah Skinner began as our substitute.
The Dogs marketing department took advantage of the Friday night timeslot, kitting out the team in ‘Hall of Fame’ jumpers. There’s a lot to say about the old-fashioned logo centred on the promotional jumper, but I still missed the hoops.
Pressure and intensity early on was low. It was as if the players were still warming up; as if they still felt like the mercury was 1.1. Geelong got men loose “over the top” easily. Our boys looked like they didn’t know where to stand or whom to mark. I could hear ‘Kepler’, Waffs’ uncle, audibly whinging a few rows back. The Dogs were 0-21 down already. A long night beckoned.
The tide was stemmed somewhat and the deficit at quarter time was 16.
The second quarter was a lot better. A Liam Jones set shot goal – always cause for celebration – was one of five we kicked for the term. Geelong added only three. One of them was kicked by Tom Hawkins after Brian Lake conceded a free kick which was dubious at best. Mass booing echoed around the stadium as a replay was shown.
The rest of Lake’s performance was almost unblemished. Two days before the match The Age published a revealing article where Lake declared doubts over whether he’d ever return to his 2010 best. Last year he only managed the five appearances and looked “horribly out of sorts”. This year he’s gradually returned to form, holding together a backline which has had, at various stages, Easton Wood (hamstring) and Lukas Markovic (hamstring) missing, in addition to Tom Williams, Lindsay Gilbee and Dale Morris, all of whom are yet to play. That Mark Austin, a number 76 pick in the rookie draft, has been drafted in and relied upon demonstrates the desperate state of selection. ‘Aussie’ was excellent again tonight on James Podsiadly.
The Bulldogs were scrappy but started getting first to the ball more often and were cleaner with it when they got it. They hit targets and took contested marks. Young Mitch Wallis was excellent. The team ran off the field to rapturous applause. Could we really upset the reigning Premier?
Daniel Giansiracusa, so often maligned by our support, put through a goal after the half time siren to reduce the margin to 7 points (seven behinds, that is – Geelong’s kicking for goal was woeful).
Geelong hasn’t just smashed us over recent years. They’ve done it to Hawthorn and Collingwood; they’ve done it at home, they’ve done it outside of Victoria and, most importantly, they’ve done it at the MCG. They’re a champion team with an admirable trait of winning from any position. Bartel, Chapman, Johnson, Enright, Scarlett, etc. Individually, their famous names seem endless. Collectively, the aura surrounding them is greater than any. Did our young side have the necessary belief to overcome Geelong?
In the fourth minute of the third quarter Tom Liberatore brought the deficit back to a solitary point before Paul Chapman steadied with two goals in 90 seconds himself.
The Dogs kept fighting. Shaun Higgins kicked his second goal for the night before Geelong – looking rusty; a shadow of the team who lifted the Premiership cup last October – turned the ball over in a dangerous area. Luke Dahlhaus, the beneficiary of said turn over, decided to pass to Mitch Wallis instead of going for glory himself. The ball went back to Geelong.
Zeph Skinner came on for Patrick Veszpremi. Just prior to three quarter time, Liam Jones marked 25 meters out but missed the kick to reduce the margin to five points. The groans were painful; the passage of play summed up the Jones conundrum in a nutshell.
The skill level of both sides was down but with a quarter remaining the result was in the balance. Being just 10 points down, our players, coaches and supporters alike sensed an opportunity to claim a big scalp before our eyes. It was Friday night football against the reigning champions and they were there for the taking. Come on boys, 30 minutes to make a statement, I thought.
Not for the first time this year Jordan Roughead missed a crucial set shot early in the final term. He repeated the feat two minutes later. “That’s what costs you in preliminary finals”, Waffs bemoaned, predictably.
Despite Geelong being pretty awful I still felt like our boys didn’t quite have the desired belief to go on and win it. After the Cats scored the first 21 points of the match the Dogs reduced the margin to ten; Geelong then led by 18 and again we fought back to reduce the arrears to one. But again, we couldn’t get in front.
Goals to Tom Hawkins and Steven Motlop extended their margin, again, to 21 points at the 11 minute mark of the last quarter. Surely that was it, we felt. They’ve taken our best shot. Two spirited, gallant fightbacks had already been achieved but surely Bartel, Chapman and co had finally shaken us now. Or not.
Zeph Skinner had given the team a new dimension after coming on. In a side with a lot of honest plodders but not much by way of flair or magic, his introduction was well received. Every time he went near the ball people roared. Every time he took hold of it we thought something would happen.
He helped Giansiracusa and Higgins to goals on the run and then nailed one himself to reduce the deficit to just three points. Three points! A trio of goals in just as many minutes brought the match to life again. The crowd found its voice. The Cats looked surprised at our run. The Dogs – again – were coming! We could do it.
But then the dream died. Steven Motlop and Jimmy Bartel steadied before James Podsiadly kicked the goal to seal a 20 point win at the 29-minute mark.
Geelong by 20 - exactly my pre-match prediction. A boost in the tipping charts was scant consolation though. For fleeting moments we looked close to doing the improbable. Geelong just had too much class and belief, too often.
The main difference between the Cats and Dogs was Steve Johnson. I don’t usually get excited by opposition players but the way he plays is hard not to enjoy. The balance he maintains; the tricks he pulls off. He plays the game as it should be played. He also plays with arrogance. A triple Premiership player, he’s entitled to. To paraphrase Bob Murphy in his weekly column after the match, Johnson only needs a parking space to work magic. Johnson ended on 36 disposals and Murphy was full of praise.
After the St Kilda debacle we’ve won four games and lost the other two narrowly to last year’s Grand Finalists. Progress is evident, especially from our young players. Mitch Wallis is second favourite for the NAB Rising Star award.
This match report was contributed by Simon McInerney (@simmo_melb89)
"As is always the case when heading to the first game of a season, I made the journey to Docklands thinking that anything was possible. Today was all about a new coach, some new players, a new (or old) uniform and hopefully a new attitude. Even the weather was splendid – mid 20s and sunny. If it wasn’t for a footy match and all that can go wrong in one, the day could have been perfect!
I tried not to think for too long about our prospects, for I knew that would just dampen the buzz. In truth, deep down, I expected this to be a transition year for the Dogs and predicted only 6-9 wins. The Dogs made consecutive preliminary finals appearances in 2008-2010 before sliding to 10th last season. Most AFL fans will be familiar with the logic that you must “go down before you go up”, the part of the cycle frustratingly called bottoming out. Cycles. Bottoming out. Premiership windows. Modern footy jargon.
The theory goes that once a group of older, experienced players fade into retirement they must be replaced by players who are younger and lighter bodied, therefore less likely to win games and finish in the top half of the ladder.
This logic is so well known and agreed upon in footy that it’s even been said Hawthorn won a Premiership “too soon” in 2008; a belief that I’ve never really grasped. A Premiership is the ultimate. Can you get a job promotion or have a lottery win too soon?
In winning that flag, Hawthorn beat Geelong – a side who’ve won three Premierships themselves in recent years. Two of those flags were on schedule, and one was after they were supposed to have peaked. Can you win a flag “too late”?
Our new coach, Brendan McCartney, was one of the assistants at Geelong during their dynasty. On the way to the game I read a feature article in the Herald Sun, which painted a picture of the Brendan McCartney story.
At 52, he is the second oldest coach in the AFL – the next oldest is 45. He could easily be a father to any of the players and, from the outside peering in, appears to exude a paternal influence on those he organisers.
Intriguingly, McCartney lives on the grounds of Geelong Grammar (where his wife works), which is bizarre for an AFL coach in the modern era. He is part of a rare breed of top level coaches not to have played at VFL/AFL level. He isn’t a normal rookie coach.
He’s plugged away through footy ranks for over 20 years and admits that when he led the Newtown Reserves to 8th in the Geelong Footy League in 1990 he never would have thought that he would eventually coach an AFL club.
McCartney has a real world background which the likes of Nathan Buckley, those straight from playing the game at the highest level, wouldn’t know. The article told of how on his 35-minute drive to training he stops at the Werribee roadhouse for food and coffee and talks to the three ladies who work there. He could easily be a labourer driving to work each morning, stopping there and doing the same. It’s so real world.
His main message to the playing group is a simple one about going in and getting the ball when it’s their turn to do so. He expects the players to put in physically, just like a labourer.
Today’s opponents West Coast finished 4th last season and 2nd in the pre-season competition and are clear favourites today - even away from home. The Eagles are well balanced and boast highly regarded players on every line. This is a difficult fixture to begin the year with.
At the opening centre bounce Nik Naitanui won tap to Scott Selwood, who in turn booted it long to Josh Kennedy who juggled a mark. West Coast’s impressive key forward was lining up for goal after 7 seconds.
Immediately, you could hear the fresh groans of our faithful; returning sounds we’ve been able to store away with folded up scarves since the first week of last spring.
The Dogs commitment in the first half couldn’t be questioned, and the boys seemed to be as fired up as one expected them to be. Despite some sloppiness we kept pace with the Eagles and went goal-for-goal.
Clay Smith on debut was elusive and snared three quick goals – our unknown quantity caught West Coast off guard. Liam Picken snapped another whilst Luke Dahlhaus was typically lively. Tom Liberatore impressed.
At the other end, Josh Kennedy continued to prove a handful and was far too good for Lukas Markovic, a decent player but one with limitations against star men in the Kennedy mould. We went into half time with a 13 point deficit.
Early in the second half Liam Jones, our oh-so-important tall forward, squandered multiple opportunities in front of goal. West Coast then made us pay for that profligacy and suddenly the lead swelled to 34. I knew they’d taken the best shot of our young team in the first half and at the start of the second, when those chances went astray.
“You’re there to kick goals” my mate Waffles loudly said next to me, annoyed with the habit of Jones to give the ball off and not attack the sticks with confidence.
Our captain Matthew Boyd was typically accumulative, collecting 38 disposals, although his kicking efficiency was down to 30%. He was to bemoan this himself when talking to media after the game.
The final margin was 49 points. It was disappointing to lose by so much, but we were simply beaten by a better side, one expected to finish the season in the top 4.
A Bulldogs online forum made for interesting reading. As always, there was plenty of knee-jerkism:
It’s going to be a long year. At least we still have important players to return including Ryan Griffen, our best midfielder, as well as Dale Morris and Justin Sherman.
After a weekend of close matches including the thrilling Fremantle vs Geelong, we’re sat 16th on percentage. Things can only go up.
WESTERN BULLDOGS 4.3 8.5 10.11 12.15 (87)
WEST COAST 6.2 10.6 16.9 21.10 (136)
Goals: Smith 4, Dahlhaus 2, Higgins 2, Jones, Cooney, Giansiracusa, Picken