Finals Week 1 (2016) – West Coast v Western Bulldogs: Dogs’ day away

West Coast v Western Bulldogs

6:10PM, Thursday September 8

Subiaco Oval

 

 

I’m sitting on the couch at home in The People’s Republic of Northcote. The kids are quiet, finishing their reading and spelling homework, and getting ready for school tomorrow. A Thursday night final? From Perth. After the week off, Round 23 seems a long time ago. It’s all feeling a little odd.

 

I am not expecting much of this match. I’ve loved watching the Bulldogs – the noble Bulldogs. Their rise under Luke Beveridge has been remarkable. But, as always, the gods have toyed with them. That’s their lot. Noble. But in the grip of misfortune.

 

Injuries have cruelled them all season. They’ll put in a brave performance in this Elimination Final and then re-gather and have a fair crack in 2017. The real stuff starts tomorrow night when the Geelong and Hawthorn heavyweights slog it out at the MCG.

 

The Eagles are in hot form, coming off an important win against the Crows, in Adelaide. The Dogs are wobbly, having lost to Freo in Perth when there was potentially much to play for. The Dogs don’t match up so well on the Eagles tall forwards who will be very difficult to contain.

 

But the week’s rest has served the Doggies well. Five players – Jordan Roughead, Easton Wood, Tom Liberatore, Jake Stringer, Jack Macrae – are returning from injury. Some may be underdone. Desperation from the selectors?

 

The match starts like a final. It’s a hot contest but the Dogs are right in it. They miss early opportunities but their attack on the footy is obvious. They butcher forays forward – Tory Dickson should have goaled or found Clay Smith, but did neither. Liam Picken shows poise with the footy but Dickson misses his shot.

 

The Dogs look to play through centre half back, backing their passing skills. When they do, the paddock opens for them. But twice they don’t. Two poor kicks are intercepted – two goals to the locals.

 

Well, it was entertaining while it lasted.

 

The Doggies aren’t perturbed though. Roughead is climbing high in the ruck contests, Liberatore is in and under, and Daniel and Dahlhaus use the footy beautifully. But Liam Picken is the stand out. He’s lined up on a wing on Gaff, but plays like Dermie up forward. He pulls down some huge marks – requiring skill, strength, courage – kicks a goal himself and generally says to his team-mates: “Come with me.”

 

The whole side believe in Liam Picken and they get a whiff that the Eagles are rattled. They kick four goals in a row, and now I am completely absorbed in the match. Their backline is solid. Morris, Matthew Boyd and Wood aren’t overly tall but they’re reading the game and the pressure further up the field is helping them.

 

The Doggies can win this. And they’ve got improvement in them. Hutchings has shut Bontempelli right out of the game.

 

Jack Darling and Josh Kennedy are fired up early in the second quarter, but Kennedy’s shot hits the post and the Dogs take the footy to the other end where Daniel finds Dahlhaus with a pin-point pass. The Dogs by three goals. They kick the next couple – that’s seven in a row. Tom Boyd has an influence. He presents up forward – but misses a couple of good chances – and gives Roughead a rest. They’ve got good structure. Roughead has been superb. One centre tap to Lin Jong would have Gary Dempsey impressed. This is getting away from the Eagles.

 

Every time the Eagles go forward the Dogs swarm in defence. Finally, when the Eagles do break through, Darling plays on (clearly) from a mark and then tries to go back for his kick. He’s claimed and penalised. It’s that sort of night for the eagles. But it’s the energy and skill – and the strategy – of the Dogs that is the factor.

 

That strategy is so positive: win the contest, release the runners, use the footy. Don’t be afraid to take a risky option through the centre. It’s a great license to have. They look brilliant. So good to watch.

 

I’m punching the air. It’s engrossing. Intriguing.

 

But, they have those five who haven’t played much footy, Lin Jong is gone for the night with a bung shoulder after McGovern has crunched him in a tackle, and they’ve been in whirlwind mode for the whole of the first half. Can they sustain that zip? Have they got any run left?

 

After half-time, the Dogs do not let up. Everyone is focused. Everyone has the will to run. They are only four goals up but the game looks one-sided. Then Clay Smith scores the first of the second half.

 

Still they keep winning more than their share of the footy and when the Eagles take possession the Dogs are hellbent on winning it back.

 

The ball is bombed to Picken, one against two at half forward. He times his leap and his hands are rock-solid under pressure. Half a dozen times he’s been asked to fight in 50-50 situations and worse. And every time, he’s won the moment. He is so likable.

 

No wonder Luke Beveridge cups their heads at game’s end in a way which tells the players, and the world, he has so much affection and respect for them.

 

The final blow, which comes close to three quarter-time, is delivered by Jordan Roughead. Steaming out of full forward, with Eagles harassing and impeding him, he takes an overhead mark on the run. He doesn’t stop. Instinctively he wheels on to his right foot and bombs one through. The Dogs, 41 points up, are home.

 

The Eagles season is gone. They can do nothing.

 

The victors leave the ground triumphantly. It’s one of the great wins for the Bulldogs.

 

I am celebrating – and the Dogs are not even mine. Indeed, if the Cats lose tomorrow night, they’ll play us. My side. But we have their measure; they just can’t seem to work us out. We’re going to beat Hawthorn anyway. I hope.

 

 

 

WEST COAST                   2.3   3.6     5.9     7.10   (52)
WESTERN BULLDOGS      4.4   7.6   11.0   14.15   (99)

 

GOALS
West Coast: Darling 2, Kennedy 2, Hill, Brown, LeCras
Western Bulldogs: Picken 2, Dickson 2, Dunkley 2, Dahlhaus, Hunter, Daniel, Liberatore, Smith, Roughead, Bontempelli, Stringer

 

BEST 
West Coast: Hutchings, Shuey, Hurn
Western Bulldogs: Picken, Dahlhaus, Daniel, Roughhead, Hunter.

Crowd: 42,079

 

This piece was originally published in The Doggies Almanac 2016, an anthology of articles celebrating the Western Bulldogs first premiership in 62 years..

 

 

About John Harms

JTH is a writer, publisher, speaker, historian. He is publisher and contributing editor of The Footy Almanac and footyalmanac.com.au 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 j.t.h@footyalmanac.com.au He is married to The Handicapper and has three kids - Theo11, Anna9, Evie8. He might not be the worst putter in the world but he's in the worst three. His ambition is to lunch for Australia.

Comments

  1. Had me back in the stand at the City End demanding the Stewards swab ’em.
    And that Picken. I kept wanting to hate him. Hated what he was doing. But the tousled hair, and the skinny arms and 16yo’s cheeks made it too hard. If he was 10kg heavier he was a thug. Instead of crazy brave.
    But at least I got to cheer for him from Yvette’s couch a month later. Old men wept. And old women wanted to take Billy’s boy home and give him a good feed.

Leave a Comment

*