Are we a good team? It’s a very Bulldogs question

By Christopher Riordan

“This ism, that ism, ism, ism, ism, ism …”

— John Lennon

Sometimes I try to rise above the pervading Footscray pessimism and, like today, confidently declare a certain win. Rarely am I right!

The Flemington Junior Football Club under-14D team manager, Leonie, is generally a vibrant, rational, upbeat person, but harbours a deep Doggy despondency (it needs too much analysis, but generally involves the Bombers). I told her at half-time down at Altona that West Coast would this afternoon be fodder, “like the opening final in ’98”. She trotted out contemporary stats and generational fears.

Unperturbed, I bloody near took the $1.50 on offer. The Bulldogs are a ripper side and profess that Subi is “made for” their style. The Eagles have some talent but, to my analysis, our depth would be too strong. Their key three or four midfielders would be overwhelmed by our six or seven. Our newly lauded defence would prove impenetrable for a club that struggled to post big scores even when Juddy, Cuzz and co. were the feeders.

Shake off those negative shackles, I thought, and enjoy a rout. Our time is now.

Getting dinner, I heard cusses from my assistant (aged 12, stuck on TV couch) insisting that the umpires were totally incompetent and ruining not just the game but our hopes.

My response (heavily parental) was that to watch the umps was to miss the ball and to miss the ball was to lose the game, whether player, umpire or spectator. Nevertheless, Umpire Appreciation Round certainly backfired as complaints ranged widely (except for during the Richmond and Melbourne game on Sunday afternoon when Stuart Wenn was carried off the MCG with no fanfare or concern).

In this game, Tom Williams, alone at full-back, spilt a sitter, picked it up and moved on … not so, insisted the umpire. The ball was recalled for a bounce as an incorrect mark had been awarded! Say, what? Later, television commentators, apparently erroneously, decried a decision to Josh Hill for having been pushed in the side before a marking contest. This interpretation is randomly applied, having never hindered SOS in his heyday nor Gazza snr, who would regularly face his opponent, shove his chest then take off on a lead. Buddy does this also.

None of this though gets to the core of the result. The Bulldogs’ rucks were hard-working but vulnerable and, without regular first use from the centre, pressure mounted. On a hot day and a big ground, running back seemed the first effort to go. The forward line, too, still had its old structural flaws. Big Will was not the answer. (Bob Murphy will help if he comes back.) Aker, now finally Brownlow-ineligible, cannot do it alone. Higgins, a gun, is being watched. Johnno does cameos. Young O’Keefe shone in the magoos where Welsh will also present consistently if not always effectively. It is clearly an Achilles heel. Western Bulldogs promotes their versatile forward “structure” but observers have already noted Eade’s experimentation in recent weeks, searching for the elusive formula. If sides score quickly against you, you’d better have a potent counter-attack.

Anyone who witnessed the Dogs dismantling Freo in Round 1 knew two things. First, this was a talented, entertaining team. Second, no other coach would allow them the space to run freely and directly through the midfield.

The Subi games have been revealing for the Bulldogs and also for the differing styles and likely aspirations of their opponents. Freo are notifiably awful. But it’s never a disaster to lose to West Coast over there. And watching Doggy and umpy blunders can detract from the clearer observation that West Coast were focused, committed and pretty good — in the image of their coach. Worsfold may now be stamping his authority, past achievements notwithstanding. And they still have Daniel Kerr who, after the sides had played an attritional second quarter, pushed his body to extremes as the temperature rose and the Bulldogs finally wilted in the third term.

So the Bulldogs returned from Perth shrouded with questions. Maybe beating Freo and Richmond and falling in against North was not the bullish opening I’d imagined. I still reckon we’re in the hunt, but lessons must be learnt. Personally, it was a deserved jolt after an afternoon’s smugness at Richmond’s shocker and the compulsory thrill at another Essendon loss.

The Bulldogs, perhaps, became obsessed with recovery processes and overlooked preparation. Richmond’s situation will ensure that we escape the blowtorch, but it will be worth scrutinising the Dogs’ form in the next few weeks. Speculation will be short-lived. Carlton and then St Kilda await and the status of optimism or pessimism should become clearer.

Comments

  1. self-criticism…as the selectors tonight have noted, young Grant is an overlooked part of the vision for a better (and still skinny) forward line.

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