Bulldogs Hold the Aces by John Green

The mind games started the day before this clash at the Docklands.

Opposing coaches, Terry Wallace and Rodney Eade, were once teammates at Hawthorn. Having since become career coaches, they had engaged each other in a battle of wits at various times in recent years. First it was Wallace with the Western Bulldogs and Eade with the Swans. Wallace had been close to landing the job at the SCG after Eade’s services were dispensed with, only to be trumped by people power when Paul Roos was appointed. Then both vied for the coaching job at Punt Road, before Wallace received the nod and Eade ended up at the Whitten Oval.

Steely-eyed gambler Wallace attempted to stare down his rival on the other side of the card table. He knew Eade held the better hand. The Bulldogs were coming off impressive wins over Fremantle and North Melbourne, while his Tigers were yet to open their account.

It was time to bluff.

Wallace pledged to jettison any defensive mindset and take on the speedy Bulldogs with an exciting brand of positive, attacking footy.

“We’re comfortable to play them head- to- head.”

He cast memories back to the free-flowing draw the teams delivered in 2008, implying he was backing his men to out-run and out-gun the warm favourites.

Instead, Wallace hits Eade with a sucker punch. He adopts a suffocating, ultra-defensive rolling zone that completely stymies any attempts by the Dogs to play their run-and-carry style game. The Bulldogs are hesitant and unable to develop any fluency in their movement of the ball. The young Tigers harass their opponents at every turn. Bulldog passes go astray. Gilbee, Cooney, Hill and Griffen, usually so well balanced, miss relatively easy shots at goal.

Richmond, on the other hand, take every opportunity to play on and break the lines of any zones the Bulldogs set up. It’s bold, it’s risky and at times riddled with errors, but it works. Riewoldt marks and goals within minutes of the opening bounce. White and Foley scuttle out of reach of the outstretched hands of pursuers for two more.

Richmond lead by sixteen points at the first break, having kept the Bulldogs goalless.

Is Wallace about to engineer an unlikely victory? Can the Tigers sustain their intensity?

The Bulldogs make it seven behinds in a row before Giansiracusa slots their first major at the three-minute mark of the second term. It seems to break the spell the Tigers had cast. Wallace’s bluff begins to lose its potency. Eade throws his cards on the table. It’s a winning hand. The Bulldogs seize control of the midfield and take possession at the stoppages. They thwart the Tigers’ attempts to set up defensive zones by running strongly in support of each other. Targets, such as Higgins, Minson and Akermanis, are pinpointed in the forward fifty. Cross provides grunt in the middle and Gilbee regains his polish. Second-gamer Liam Picken makes life near impossible for Brett Deledio.

Like rush hour at a bakery, the turnovers are served. The Dogs pounce. Giansiracusa’s successful snap is followed by a straight flush to make it six for the Bulldogs for the quarter. They grab the lead halfway through the term.

Somehow Richmond manage to stay within four goals of the Dogs at the three-quarter-time siren.

Any last Tigers resistance rapidly disintegrates in the final quarter. Akermanis belies his vintage with three quick goals to make it four aces for the afternoon. Bulldog supporters settle back to enjoy picking over the bones. They cheer errors by former favourite son in Nathan Brown and jeer at a couple of missed shots by Richo.

They never forget those they regard as traitors. One immensely satisfied spectator yells, “Bet you wish you were coaching the Bulldogs now, Wallace!”

Richmond’s game devolves into a series of comical mistakes and misguided passes. Bluffing is no longer possible. Wallace has a dud hand which no amount of shuffling can fix and Eade is completely aware of it. So, too, is everybody else in the stadium. The 2004 draft, when Richmond had five picks in the top twenty, was meant to rebuild the club. The fans’ patience with the No.4 pick of that year, Richard Tambling, has run out. He is met with Bronx cheers when he picks up a few touches during junk time.

After a 47-point victory for the Bulldogs, both Wallace and Eade are left with three-of-a-kind. Three wins for Eade, three losses for Wallace.

To Wallace, it must seem like he’s playing with a loaded deck.

Malarkey votes: Cross (WB) 3, Higgins (WB) 2, Akermanis (WB) 1.

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