Doggies can deservedly dare to dream

by John Harms


It’s Sunday night. Kids are asleep. I’m doing a bit of financial planning. I’m sitting here sitting here with a glass of red, one eye on the Premier League Darts, and the other on the Betfair AFL premiership market. The Western Bulldogs have been backed from $6.40 before the NAB Cup Grand Final last night, into $5.40 tonight. (Phil Taylor has just thrown himself out of trouble. He’s finish 7-7 with Mervyn King to retain top spot on the table. The crowd is surprisingly subdued.)

Normally I’d consider the rush of money for the pre-season comp winner an over-reaction. But in this case I reckon it’s warranted – and it’s not just about Barry Hall (although he’s part of it). And it’s not about wishful thinking for what is a club of real character.

Footscray is a classic. If you’ve ever caught the train to Geelong through those western suburbs like Yarraville and Newport and Footscray itself you’ll not what I mean. Doen through the saw-tooth roves, and refineries. The people have been depicted beautifully in movies like Spotswood (do yourself a favour and go up to the video shop) and My Year Without Sex (do yourself a favour) and in footy docos like Year of the Dogs (do yourself another favour) and in books like Martin Flanagan’s Southern Sky Western Oval. The footy club wins the hearts of new residents: William McInnes is a rugby man, but he loves the Dogs.

When I think of Footscray I can put myself at the celebrations in 1954, with barrels and glasses drained and Charlie Sutton saying, “Get the port and the fairy cakes.” That was two generations ago. Many of the revelers from that night are no longer with us.

The Bullies have made the last two preliminary finals. They haven’t quite been good enough. This has been their lot: they’ve made a lot of preliminary finals in the last 20 years.

Last night they were in a Grand Final and, even though it wasn’t the real deal, they played brilliantly at times. They were very impressive in the first quarter, playing on at every opportunity, moving the ball with Kardinia-esque precision. They showed the potential for that lightning movement of a few years ago when, in those spasmodic adolescent moments, they knocked over the Lions at the height of their powers with a nine-goal second quarter which included one major from a Matty Robbins screamer, and they also dismantled the West Coast.

This is their moment; their opportunity.

They have a mix of characters. (Simon Whitlock – The Wizard of Oz – has just appeared. He looks brilliant: like a Sunday afternoon drinker in a Gawler pub.) A blend of young and old, some of whom (Aker and Big Bad Barry) know what it takes from experience, and some of whom have the sort of character that suggests they have a pretty good idea of what it will take.

Ben Hudson might look like a character from a McCubbin painting but he’s solid. Will Minson is a year older. Brian Lake reads the footy and can take a mark (like few others). He has a combination of defenders around him: Ryan Hargrave and Dale Morris in particular, although Tom Williams showed a fair bit last night as well.

The mid-field is all class. There are those whose instinct is to go forward. But then there are the mean-spirited, give-you-nothing types like Matthew Boyd and Daniel Cross. Adam Cooney can do anything asked of him. In the recent past that has included Rocket Eade’s Ayres-to-the-centre, Silvagni-to-full-forward, Mensch-to-the-ruck move of the Brownlow Medalist to the square.

Not that Eade will have to resort to that too often, with BBB Hall. Hall doesn’t have to kick 80 goals, although given a good run with injuries, and a spot in what is likely to be a dominant team, he might. Cam Mooney struggles to make 50, yet he is important to the Cats.

Hall takes the best defender. He presents. And his presence changes the world of Robert Murphy. Murphy can run everywhere. He doesn’t have to take a pummeling as he stands at centre half forward and waits for thrown-on-the-boot kicks to land. Hall can do that. His body is made for it. His disposition invites it. Although the way the Dogs will win the middle and attack from the backline, it’s more likely Gilbee et al are going to be delivering the Sherrin lace-out.

Throw Johnno in there. Josh Hill can play a cavalier role.

And that leaves Aker. Say what you like about Aker but he will help the Dogs win games, and if he is with them, and they understand how to be with him, he can light a path to the premiership. Aker is hard work. But surely by now his teammates have learned to say, “That’s just Aker.”

This is a delicious club in a delicious season. You’re going to get good odds on most clubs throughout the year (including St Kilda who are under the odds at the moment). However if you took the $8 on offer for the Bullies a month ago you may have snagged them at the market high.

If they beat Collingwood in the first round you’ll be fine.

About John Harms

JTH is a writer, publisher, speaker, historian. He is publisher and contributing editor of The Footy Almanac and He has written columns and features for numerous publications. His books include Confessions of a Thirteenth Man, Memoirs of a Mug Punter, Loose Men Everywhere, Play On, The Pearl: Steve Renouf's Story and Life As I Know It (with Michelle Payne). He appears on ABCTV's Offsiders. He can be contacted [email protected] He is married to The Handicapper and has three kids - Theo13, Anna11, Evie10. He might not be the worst putter in the world but he's in the worst three. His ambition is to lunch for Australia.


  1. Hard to go past the Doggies this year, but its a long season.

    What intrigues me about 2010 is who will be the bolter. Everyone is saying Cats, Pies, Dogs, Saints, Hawks, Crows but who will emerge out of the pack. My hunch is it could be our friends from West Coast.

  2. John Butler says


    I reckon the weight of expectation that’s building may do-in the heads of some of my Doggie-tragic mates.

    Hopefully the team manages things better.

  3. Richard Naco says

    Outside of an inevitable bias towards the Pivot, I wouldn’t be at all upset if the Doggies break their drought. They were arguably the most impressive team in the pre-season follies, but then, so were Carlton a few years back.

  4. Carringbush says

    If the Mighty’s (as the late Len Thompson called his beloved Pies) can’t pull it off, I would be right behind the Bullies on Grand Final day. It’s been one hell of time between drinks for the eternal battler of the comp. If nothing else, it’d be great to see Johnno with his Banana Splits grin.

    But let’s not get ahead of ourselves; you’ve got to get over the Pies first on Sunday.

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