Bulldogs v West Coast, Round 1 2012

Fan 1: They were rubbish. They were f’ing rubbish.

Fan 2: They weren’t that bad.

Fan 1: They were f’ing rubbish last year.  And they were f’ing rubbish the year before. And I don’t care if they are top of the League, they’ll be f’ing rubbish this year, too.  And next year.  And the year after that.  I’m not joking.

Fan 2: I don’t know why you come, Frank.  Honest I don’t.

Fan 1: Well, you live in hope, don’t you?  

– Nick Hornby, Fever Pitch (1997)

ooOOoo

Ah, Round 1.  Footy.

No pre-season this year.  Once, I knew what sort of player Shaun Higgins was a month out from us drafting him; by Round 1 I had strong opinions on the formlines of all the draftees, having obsessively pawed over reports of the NAB Challenge games I couldn’t find a telecast of, the ones played in towns I couldn’t find on a map.

Today, I couldn’t pick Clay Smith out of a police line-up.  I didn’t see or even read about a minute of the NAB Cup.  I’ve heard Smith is ‘hard at it’, and is apparently popular with McCartney.  This is enough.

Part of this is because I am no longer an undergraduate with boundless free time, and part of it is that I now live on the other side of the world.  But part of it is that, deep down, I know the Dogs have no hope of winning the flag this year.

Yes, it is a new season, and hope spring eternal.  But first-up, we are playing West Coast.  West Coast were pretty good last year.  In particular, they were very good, and we were very bad, in that one game at Subiaco which closed the 2007-2010 premiership window.  I watched every painful minute and have done my very best to forget the details.

The $2.65 on offer looks too short and I leave it alone on Saturday.

 

But a 3.55am alarm during London’s impression of Spring will do strange thing to the mind, and with liveafl.tv’s broadcast and an 8-cup cafetiere of coffee in front of me, it is Round 1, and we – and that’s we – are going to win this.  Come on Doggies.

This lasts for about the ten seconds it takes for the Eagles to win the clearance, bang it to full forward AFL Live style, to Kennedy who marks in front of goal.  Then Cox.  All Eagles.  Still, nothing to worry about yet – the Dogs look unsettled, but the bloke running around in number 14 looks good.  Ah.  So that’s him.  I mentally mark him down for 200 games.

Gia misses a couple before nailing one (should be good for 40-odd this year) after a nice bit of play through Cooney (who seems fit) and Jones (presenting well).  We start looking good.  Kennedy, Cooney, Kennedy again.  The commentators reference his 10 goals from Round 9 (that early?) last year, and I start to feel like a Richmond supporter.  Classy goals from Higgins, Dahlhaus.  We’re back on a run.

Then the Eagles bang on two in a minute, including Kennedy’s fourth.  He is rampant.

Weren’t Leon Cameron and Nathan G Brown magnificent players.

We are down by 11 at quarter time, which feels about the right margin.  There’s plenty of good signs – no radical change in play under the new coach, but the clearance work is good, and the forward line seems to be functioning.

 

The second quarter starts shakily.  Smith kicks his first of many for the club.  His second straight – spinning out of trouble after a dropped mark – and we have a player.  Kennedy again, but it feels 50/50 until Josh Hill pops up – not a bad option as a 6th tall forward option for the Eagles – and suddenly we’re down by 17 points.  Back and forth again before Smith, Smith again, and we’ve drafted the Rising Star for 2012.  Apparently Mr & Mrs Smith own a pie shop; I wish I could visit.  The ‘Callan Who’ references on commentary are rubbish – Ward is an elite midfielder, will comfortably be GWS’s best player this season, and will probably win a flag for them in due course – but you couldn’t ask for more from a first half.  Kennedy finally misses one and even after a soft goal to Hill, we’re in good shape at half time.

Lots of teams look like finalists if you squint hard enough in round one, but the standard has been very high from both sides.  I drink the last of the coffee, which tastes like optimism.

 

The start of the third quarter is patchy until another nice goal from Dahlhaus, and minutes later, the Dogs work it forward to Smith, one-on-one with Glass running into the forward 50.  Smith gathers, is driven into the ground, but gets up and soccers as goal as good as you’ll see.  Such tenacity.  I have a crack at waking up the rest of the apartment, because we have drafted the 2015 Norm Smith Medallist and we are going to kick away and win this in a canter.

But we don’t.  Jones presents well but has some bad misses, and someone somewhere is starting another “when will we draft a key forward who can convert!!1′ thread on BigFooty.  The moment passes.  By the time Naitanui gathers and goals from the square after a surprisingly convincing impression of a short(er) bald bloke who runs around for the Suns, we look stuffed.  Inexplicably, Smith is subbed off.  That must have been some cramp.  Jones handballs when in space 35m out in front.  Jesus.

 

At some point, the game just slips away, as it does, from time to time, when a developing side plays a good side.

At three quarter time, Dwayne Russell boldly asserts that “the big one is coming up” as we see St Kilda get off the bus at Footy Park, but saves what might be considered an overstatement by following up to the effect of “how good is it to have footy back!”.  It’d be a lot better if the Dogs had a few more goals, Dwayne, but I see your point.  It is good.

 

The final quarter is very ordinary.  Nothing is working.  Markovic gets pinged in a Jeff Gieschen special.  More Kennedy.  Jones kicks one, which should help his confidence, but there is not much else to say.  49 points is harsh, but only by a couple of goals.

There were good signs from the usual suspects – particularly Boyd, Murphy, and Cross.  Dahlhaus and Liberatore have really come on and would get a game in any side.  Clay Smith should be traded into about 50,000 Dream Teams during the week.   All very positive if you look at 2012 as a development year.

But it was still an eight goal loss.  I don’t think Josh Kennedy is likely to handball off when in space 35m in front of goal, or not take an uncontested chest mark when directly in front of goal.  It’s not only confidence stopping Jones or Grant from kicking a bag of seven goals.  But it would help.

 

– The British Bulldog is an Australian living in London.  Comments welcome.

Comments

  1. Peter_B says:

    I wrote a couple of notes in my match diary before the game, BB. Eagles said “height, strength, pressure.” Bulldogs said “speed, run.” To my eye that is exactly how the game turned out. For 2 and a half quarters the Bullies had me seriously worried, but we won by 8 goals in the end. Go figure. I saw you as a skilful, well coached, well motivated team with serious structural/recruiting problems. Without 3 quality mobile big men – 1 forward like a Kennedy or Darling – 1 defender like Glass or a McKenzie that can kick – and an athletic strong ruckman – you cannot contend against the better sides. The Bullies are a mosquito fleet, with a couple of tall beanpoles and battlers. If that structural problem could be fixed you could be serious contenders in a few years.
    As for the Eagles we seem to have all the strengths and weaknesses of last year. Round 4 against the Hawks will be the first test of whether we have improved on that.

  2. Fan 1 was right.

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