Western Bulldogs versus Melbourne
4.40pm, Sunday, 1 September
To most people this game meant very little and was appropriately buried in the Fathers’ Day twilight zone at Etihad. Nostalgia for a “shotgun” conclusion like 1987 – and the Demons’ triumph at the Western Oval was part of that dramatic Saturday – is emphatically squashed by AFLHQ and their “broadcast partners”.
Finals focused, footy followers will scan the score and note a 20 point Doggies victory. For the record, Melbourne began energetically, the Western Bulldogs shrugged their malaise and booted 9 second quarter goals and then Melbourne showed some grit to win the second half.
Neither set of fans had any delusions of finals but they turned up today to acknowledge the past and peer ahead.
Bizarrely, each club will front their B&F nights upbeat and claiming to have delivered on promises. This had looked improbable many times during 2013. When Melbourne beat the Tricolours in late June we despaired. “Was Melbourne’s list, with some talls to fill their spine, better than ours?” Since then, however, the Pups have grown. Again today it was Libba who, with big Wilbur Minson, dominated clearances while other “sons of guns”, Mitch Wallis and Lachie Hunter, warmed the cockles of old Bulldogs’ hearts. Crucially, supporters believe in the direction for 2014.
Melbourne fans have Jack Viney, a chip off the old block, to link generations, and Jeremy Howe to excite the next. In any era this bloke is an absolute gem. He takes at least one screamer every week and kids should wear his 38 on their famous Blue with Red Yoke as they take hangers in the schoolyard. During this catastrophic season, littered with misfortune and mismanagement, MFC’s edict has been to address the off-field shemozzle. By this criteria they may yet succeed. Added to a new President and CEO is the conviction that Paul Roos will be appointed coach. Through his perspective, then, the faithful looked to see today who might survive the inevitable cull. Few individuals put up their hand, though again the enigmatic Watts caused division and derision with a 4 goal performance. The nominal leaders, Grimes and Trengove, and the more logical appointment, Jones, never gave up and, for a change, with the exception of a terrible second term, many of their teammates showed an endeavour that has too often been missing. Playing for your future can obviously be a motivating factor! If Roos can get Mitch Clark and Dawes fit and forward, they could worry some backlines.
But whilst fans naturally look ahead, the last round inevitably brings some reflection about retirees.
Despite recruiters looking for the perfect “prototype” player, footy’s best when blokes break the mould. The game can and must accommodate various shapes and sizes so today was a chance to marvel contrasting, yet effective, styles and careers of two players who came to the city to follow their dreams, Aaron Davey and Daniel Cross. Both had really good matches, showcasing what’s endeared them to the broader footy community and especially to their team’s supporters and players.
I loved watching Davey. He was fast, brilliant, evasive; “Whispering Death”, he pioneered the forward chase and tackle. Later, he dropped behind the ball to unstitch defenses with that exquisite left foot.
No such adjectives or memories could apply to Crossy. He couldn’t kick over a jamjar and was more Bekele than Bolt. The Albury boy had to fight to get his chance but a big heart, small ego and extraordinary work ethic has resulted in universal admiration for his tenacity, resilience and, yes, effectiveness. His dignified departure befits his character – Cross admits that he still wants to play: he’s loved his time at the Whitten Oval and a youth policy takes some scalps. Ironically, Melbourne might be the club to utilize his professionalism and gut bursting efforts in their deficient midfield. I’d love him to stay at Barkly St and lead our VFL team – Footscray – which will play out of the old Western Oval next year.
People wrongly knock both of these Clubs as insignificant. Both are seen as having small supporter bases, decades of “failure” (= no flag) and as economic liabilities.
But in totally different ways I reckon they can each flourish.
The Dogs represent an enormous growth area that the AFL ignores at their peril. A return to Footscray will help reinforce our gateway to the West.
Melbourne has history and identity to sell. The oldest club. The MCG. Travel abroad… if someone asks “Where are you from?” you don’t answer Hawthorn or Carlton – Melbourne is a world brand (thanks Ron Walker!). The potential is there.
Supporters of both sides went home tonight, folded their scarves and furnished happy, hopeful thoughts for 2014.
WESTERN BULLDOGS 4.3 13.6 14.8 16.11 (107)
MELBOURNE 4.5 6.5 9.7 13.9 (87)
Western Bulldogs: Dickson 3, Hunter, Cooney, Giansiracusa, Jones 2, Wallis, Grant, Cross, Liberatore, Minson
Melbourne: Watts 4, Kent 2, N. Jones, Garland, Howe, Sellar, Viney, M.Jones, Dunn
Western Bulldogs: Liberatore, Minson, Murphy, Cross, Hunter
Melbourne: Trengove, Viney, Watts
Umpires: Hosking, Armstrong, Fisher
Official crowd: 22,176 at Etihad Stadium
VOTES: 3 Liberatore (WB) 2 Minson (WB) 1 Murphy (WB)