Don’t Write The Dogs Off Just Yet

Over a year has passed and it all still feels like a dream. Everything that happened in that 2016 Grand Final still feels like I was living in a fantasy world. From Zaine Cordy kicking the Western Bulldogs’ opening goal from the first row of the stands in the pocket, to Dale Morris’ outstanding tackle on Sydney’s Lance Franklin leading to of course, that Tom Boyd goal, to Liam Picken landing the critical blow on the Swans with a gimme goal in the goal-square.

I still find it a tad difficult to process as I write this down. Even if we are a good 14 months removed from this glorious day. Even when I’ve witnessed almost the same Western Bulldogs come crashing back down to Earth with a mediocre 2017 season, which saw the 2016 premiers finish 10th this year and miss the finals completely, the first side to achieve this mildly embarrassing feat since the Hawthorn Football Club of 2009 after having upset the highly-fancied Geelong Cats in 2008.

Season 2017 was a year I would much rather forget than remember, but it did have it’s share of good moments throughout the year. Travis Cloke’s first game as a Bulldog against his old side Collingwood resulted in a win for the Sons of the West, but no moment in that game was better than when Cloke himself lined up from long range to the boos of the Collingwood faithful and sliced it through the big sticks to silence those from the Black and White army. A week later saw the unfurling of the Western Bulldogs’ first flag since 1954. 62 long years – to say it’s been a long time between drinks would be a major understatement.

That night was a magical night as there have been many, many times in the 20 years I’ve supported this football club that I believed that I would one of the thousands and thousands that would never live to witness a premiership victory for my beloved Doggies. The first of these moments which spring to mind would be one game I attended at Etihad Stadium in the middle of the 2014 season which saw the Doggies play against the bottom of the ladder Brisbane Lions. Many expected a good win from the home team, which never eventuated. After a strong opening quarter from the Dogs, Brisbane took the lead with a seven-goal second term and never let the lead go from there.

But this April evening provided another epic contest between the Western Bulldogs and the Sydney Swans in what was an exceptional sequel to what was a remarkable Grand Final. The Dogs made it two wins from two games after Lance Franklin and the Swans threatened to run away with the game early in the last quarter. The game ebbed and flowed all night long and it wasn’t until the Dogs began to kick clear late in the game, did I know that the game was sealed.

Unfortunately, the Dogs struggled to keep up afterwards but like I mentioned earlier, it did have its really good moments throughout the year. They made history by being the first team to win an AFL game on Good Friday, beating North Melbourne by three points in what was another thrilling contest between these two sides. Beating St. Kilda is always a highlight, but this game had more to it than usual as this was the first time my girlfriend – who is a mad Saints supporter – and myself went head to head and I’m very happy to have bragging rights until the next time these two sides meet.

There was the time we defeated the side that would go on to succeed us as the premiers, but nobody would’ve thought that Richmond would be the eventual premiers in round seven, but also like the St. Kilda game, this also had a little bit more personal meaning to it as my mum – who is a Richmond supporter – had been getting stuck into me for most of the week leading up to the game saying how much the Tigers were going to destroy us. I took great pleasure in making sure she knew which team won by the final siren in what was another very close game.

And of course there was that four-game winning streak that saw us rise from the proverbial dead for just a brief moment after winning only one game in a five-game stretch – most of those coming from hefty defeats. It started with 18-year old Lewis Young’s debut against Carlton in round 17 and boy, it was an extraordinary debut for a key defender, taking multiple intercept marks and getting into the faces of opposition forwards. Is it any surprise that he’s taking over the former captain Robert Murphy’s number two for the 2018 season? I don’t think so – the kid is going to be a star.

During this winning run, Liam Picken kicked a career-best six goals on a hapless Gold Coast Suns in Cairns and they got their first win up in Brisbane since 2009 when they defeated the Brisbane Lions, who despite hanging around the bottom of the ladder once again, showed signs of life and promise under new coach Chris Fagan. But the best win of the four came in round 19 against a finals contender in Essendon. The Dogs withstood a massive challenge in the form of Joe Daniher, who kicked 6.4 and dominated the defenders all afternoon long to win by 30 points with a flurry of goals in the final moments of the game. On this day, it felt as if we witnessed the Bulldogs find their groove again. Their ball movement was very good and their pressure was almost back to its 2016 best.

But all that changed once the GWS Giants came to town in round 21. Having already beaten the Dogs once earlier in the year in a thrilling contest in Canberra, the Dogs were looking for revenge on the Friday night stage, but after what was an even first half, which saw the Bulldogs shoot themselves in the foot in front of goal, slotting 3.6 from 22 inside 50 entries, the Giants proved too strong after half time – a 48-point loss started the downfall of the Western Bulldogs. They would go on to lose their final two games of the season – one to Port Adelaide and one to Hawthorn to finish the year at 11-11

The retirements of club legends Matthew Boyd and Robert Murphy signalled the beginning of a new era. It’s hard to remember that this side is still extraordinarily young and are either just about to enter their primes or they’re still a year or so off, and if there is one thing this side can do well, that is bring in talented youth that do have a future in the AFL. The offloading of the talented, yet wayward forward Jake Stringer was depressing to see, but it had to be done for the good of the football club. Despite all that’s been said and done, I hope he does well at Essendon and I think with the support of Daniher, Orazio Fantasia, McDonald-Tipungwuti and others in the forward line, there is a good chance he can get back to his 2015 best.

But I’m very excited about who the Dogs are bringing in. Jackson Trengove has always been a solid player at Port Adelaide and his leadership and versatility will prove to be a very good asset down the line. Hayden Crozier has the attributes to be a very good player but that will come down to how badly he wants to be in the Doggies’ best 22, whilst seeing the Dogs pick up former number two draft pick Josh Schache from Brisbane will be interesting to watch next year. Queries about how soft he truly is and whether or not he and premiership hero Tom Boyd can gel together will hopefully be answered next year.

As for our new draftees, there is plenty of buzz about what they can do next year. Pick nine Aaron Naughton was the best key defender out of this year’s draft class, with some comparing him to Richmond defender Alex Rance. If he is even half as good as him, I’ll be very pleased. Ed Richards, taken with the 16th pick, has the speed, the composure and the decision-making skills to become a serious weapon at half-back, whilst little Callum Porter, who was taken with the 74th pick in the draft is a very competitive player who could become a genuine steal of the draft in five years time.

I wrote in one article earlier this year, questioning whether or not the Western Bulldogs will become an AFL dynasty, much like the Hawthorn of 2013-15 or possibly even the Brisbane Lions of 2001-03. For those of you that were quick enough to write us off already after this year, then you might want to reconsider that when the Dogs become a very good side in a few years when the bodies of the young pups are hardened up.

About Alex Docherty

Alex is a diehard footy nut. He loves his Western Bulldogs and loves writing about them every week as much he loves running out and playing footy himself.

Comments

  1. george smith says

    What can I say? I told my cousin, a fanatical Swans supporter, to soak up every moment because you never know when the chance will come again. And for me personally, the only decorated house in Magpie colours in the Parramatta district seems like a more and more distant memory…

    You’re a very long time a feather duster, and sadly so little time a rooster. All the premiers of yesterday, from the grainy Melbourne coverage of 1960 to the brand spanking new hd dvd flashdrive whatever of Richmond learn that harsh lesson.

    Meanwhile, back at Magpie Land, Schrödinger’s coach and Schrödinger’s president are staring at a locked box, wondering if it contains a date with the lovely Penny, or a smelly dead cat…

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