AFL Round 17 – Hawthorn v Western Bulldogs: Little wins

 By Andrew Gigacz 

When your team has been up near the top of the ladder for a few years it takes a bit of time to get used to the dark days when they return.

(Young Geelong fans might not even be able to compute that concept. Amazing that that could be the case, less than 10 years after the Cats ended their 44 year drought, but right now it seems like the Pivotonians will be a permanent fixture of the upper reaches of the ladder from now until doomsday.)

After four consecutive preliminary final appearances and with Barry Hall still kicking goals, I couldn’t believe at the beginning of 2011 that the Dogs wouldn’t feature in the finals again that year.

But we didn’t, and before the year was out, Rocket Eade was gone as coach. When 2012 rolled around, we had a new coach and I still thought that we were a side that would be around the mark. And until about half way through the season, I still believed it. The Dogs scraped a win in round 12 against Port Adelaide and it left us only a game out of the eight. “We’re in this season up to our eyebrows”, I conned myself.

We weren’t. The next week, 15th-placed Brisbane smashed us by 11 goals. And we pretty much got smashed every single week after that for the rest of the year. By the start of this year, I finally understood. The Western Bulldogs were a crap team and we would be that way for sometime yet. In fact, so bad was I convinced we were, that I placed us 18th in my pre-season ladder prediction.

I was almost swayed into believing we weren’t crap in round 1 this year when we towelled up NAB Cup winners Brisbane by 11 goals, but losses to Freo and Richmond quickly put my mindset back in its place.

Once you accept that your team is crap, you need to look at its games in a different way in order to sustain yourself and your sanity through the long, winless periods. Today’s game against Hawthorn is the perfect example. We have no chance whatsoever against the Hawks. Sure Buddy’s out, and Sam Mitchell too. But I’m not kidding myself. We still won’t get within cooee of them.

To keep us Dogs’ fans from losing it, we need to find little wins within losses, even within big losses. Firstly, in today’s game, what will an acceptable result be for me? What will a “par” score be, in terms of a losing margin? I ask this question of my son Oliver. Between us, we decide 60-points is our break-even target. It’s a bit steep but Hawthorn, even sans Buddy and Mitchell, are several classes above us.

The Hawks kick the first three of the match and lead by 20 points before the first quarter is halfway gone. We won’t come close to par at this rate! But this is where we start to look for and find “little wins”. We started this badly – worse – last week against Essendon but fought back to make a real go of it.

So it is today. Luke Dahlhaus pounces on a loose ball and kicks our first. Dahlhaus is another recent little victory. He’s been trying hard all season but having little impact. Last week he kicked three in the second half and he seems to have regained his mojo.

By quarter time the Hawks lead by 15 – that’s one quarter of 60, so we’re even par; almost a little win.

The second quarter’s a bit of a slog – that’s a little win. The Hawks use the ball far better than we do, but our contested ball work means we get enough of it to prevent them scoring freely. A little win. Two goals to one for the term and it’s Hawthorn by 20 at the long break. That’s 10 under par. A little win.

One second-quarter moment that isn’t a little win for us is too amazing not to be mentioned. With the Dogs only 15 points down and threatening to attack again, Ryan Griffen winds up to kick a huge drop punt deep into our forward line. But Luke Hodge throws his body across Griffen’s leg with abandon and smothers the kick. So effective is the smother that the ball bobbles around in his hands and then he takes control of it. He’s effectively marked the ball off Griffen’s boot. Not content with that incredible effort, Hodge keeps running and then bombs the ball through for a goal from outside 50. That’s no win at all for us but it’s a privilege to witness.

A similar path is followed in the third quarter. Little wins are popping up everywhere. First-year players Hrovat and Macrae get a fair bit of the ball and use it well. Liberatore junior burrows in time and again, gets the ball and also disposes of it quite well. We outscore Hawthorn for the quarter. A little win. At the last change of ends it’s only 15 points the difference. We are a massive 30 under par! That’s almost a big win.

The hope when the last quarter begins is that we don’t get blown away. That hope looks forlorn for the first 24 minutes as Hawthorn kick six goals to our two to jump out to a 44-point lead. Our par margin of 60 is under threat.

But we finish off the game with four little wins. Gia kicks one. Liam Jones takes a strong mark and kicks another. Griffen snaps one more. Dickson gets a free and kicks yet another. It’s back to 21-points. Victory will not be ours but I’m positively beaming with our efforts.

The last act of the day is a missed gettable shot at goal kicked by the much-maligned Jarrad Grant, playing just his second game of the year.  Grant ends the match with 16 touches and 1.4. Is that a little win? I’m not sure. Grant has threatened big things for a long time but has never delivered. In his two games, last week and this, he has played with renewed vigour. Whether he can sustain that sort of effort in the last few rounds and into 2014 remains to be seen. If he can, that’ll be a big, big win for the Dogs.

The final margin of just 20 points is 40 under my pre-game par. The Hawks might have eased off in those last few minutes but if they’d done the same last year we would not have taken advantage of it.  Today we have. Another little win. And when you get enough little wins, they equal a big win – an actual win win, where you finish ahead of the opposition on the scoreboard. We’re not getting quite enough of those yet, but I think we’re heading in the right direction. Maybe I’m deluding myself but I’ve been coming away from most games this year feeling quite pleased with the Dogs’ efforts. And that’s another little win in itself.

 

Hawthorn                    4.6       6.9       7.12     13.17 (95)
Western Bulldogs       2.3       3.7       5.9       11.10 (76)

GOALS
Hawthorn: Roughead 3; Lewis, Simpkin, Hodge 2; Whitecross, Breust, Puopolo, Rioli
Western Bulldogs: Dahlhaus, Griffen, Giansiracusa, Dickson 2; Grant, Jones, Addison

Hawthorn: Hodge, Smith, Lewis, Hill

Western Bulldogs: Griffen, Cooney, Liberatore, Giansiracusa, Picken

 

Umpires: Bannister, Schmitt, Fisher
Official crowd: 14,022

Our Votes: 3 Hodge (Haw) 2 Griffen (WB) 1 Smith (WB)

 

About Andrew Gigacz

Well, here we are. The Bulldogs have won a flag. What do I do now?

Comments

  1. After months of losing most one on one battles within massive floggings, it was good to have some teensy wins within an honourable loss (as it was the previous week against Essendon.) Still well in the tunnel Gigs, but there is a speck of light off in the distance .. let’s just hope it ain’t a firefly.

  2. cowshedend says:

    Great wrap Gigs,perhaps the “little win” shield can replace the doctor McClellan trophy, and T Bone i’m seeing that liittle glimpse of light as well, little wins,little wins, my new mantra.

  3. Peter_B says:

    Damn you Gigs, what am I doing reading this shit and nodding in sympathy. We are the Eagles. The mighty high flying Eagles as the song goes.
    But our feathers are faded, and there are many broken wings among the flock. The older birds lack the strength for another off-season migration.
    To paraphrase Churchill after Alamein – “this isn’t the end; or even the beginning of the end; but it is the end of the beginning.”
    And so we face of this weekend – a plucked bird against a dog still on its milk teeth.
    Be still my beating heart.

  4. Rick Kane says:

    19 points Gigs, so another small win. Lovely piece. Cheers

  5. Andrew Starkie says:

    hang in there Gigs. I feel your pain

  6. Thanks all.

    T Bone, I get more convinced each week that it’s neither a firefly nor an oncoming train. Of course, I have been known to get things wrong.

    CSE, the Little Wins mantra has enveloped me. “Om.”

    Peter, I reckon the Dogs might have one game in them this year where it all clicks. I’m kind of hoping for it this week but the odds are still with your wounded Weagles, I think.

    19 points a very acceptable “little win” for me, Rick. Thanks.

    Andrew, the strange thing is that the pain is pretty much gone. I still get frustrated and scream my head off at the games or swear at the telly but the “little wins” seem to be taking me to some kind of zen-like state once the game is over. It will probably all come crashing down around me at some point but for the moment I just have this weird kind of contentedness/peace within me.

    Bizarre, I know.

  7. MsKatieKatieKay says:

    Brilliant post. Captured everything about our last few years. I was just as self-deluded, but also believe Coach McCartney is building a team that will be great in three or four years. Great to be there on the ground floor.

  8. Gigs,
    Early in the season, it was easy to be patronising toward my wife, but right about now we are on a level playing-field.

  9. Thanks, MsKatieKatieKay. (That’s hard to type.) I’m not sure if Coach McCartney is channelling Simon the Likeable from Get Smart but every time I’m about to lose faith in him, he wins me over again.

    Smokie, I don’t know if I could maintain this zen-like calmness I currently have if I was a North supporter!

  10. You beat us. We are the best team to have only won three games this season. Go Saints!

  11. Who am I to argue with such irrefutable logic, Lou?

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