Grand Final 2016 – Sydney v Western Bulldogs: Not so Bleak House

We were a group of males and females hailing from Australia, Japan and Sri Lanka watching the grand final between Sydney and the Western Bulldogs at The Beach Hotel, AKA the Bleakhouse Hotel, in Albert Park, which is an adjacent suburb to South Melbourne, the Swans former home.


Such is the current world: rapidly evolving and blurring boundaries. This day was a celebration of diversity though, and some things remain constant – such as the unifying effect of the grand final among sports lovers (and many others not so committed).


Whether the GF remains in its new October schedule, however, depends on the AFL’s willingness to tinker further (on that basis, some may argue, it could be on anytime on any future spring day).


The Beach was pleasantly full. Parmas, pots and TV screens competed with bayside views of mildly choppy sea, but the venue salubriously offered cuisine alternatives to those traditions. The gathering was sufficient to make the 7 commentary inaudible, but pubs rarely have the footy volume loud enough these days, and some may say that’s a plus (unless we felt a need to listen to Dennis Cometti’s final witticisms).


Swans fans were outnumbered, as though the Bullies bandwagon had stopped here on its world tour. That wagon was wobbly with the weight of followers, so I resolved to be neutral. I had sympathy for the Swans given the extent the Melbourne mob was stacked against them. Some fans hate Sydney because of concessions received, but I argued that venom should be directed at the AFL not the club.


My pre-match observations had been that the Doggies would be at their best next year and whatever happened today was a bonus. I kept seeing similarities with Geelong in 2007 – but there were also differences – Geelong had to overcome grand final failures and ‘put a lid on it’, the Bullies had overcome their prelim monkey and were now riding a wave of emotion to unexplored terrain.


I saw the first bounce. From memory it was inconclusive, but the bulldogs were hard at it. Unlike Geelong last week, they were ready.


The ‘G’ looked slightly heavy under foot and soon became pock-marked with divits, suggesting there’s a limit to how much rain even the best drainage systems can handle. The climate is another aspect of the world rapidly changing. Sometimes it seems like it will never rain – this year it appears as if it’ll never stop. But today we have a momentary reprieve from precipitation and the sun even reacquaints itself.


The game was scrappy and intensely contested, but rarely became free flowing. In one brilliant passage, the Bulldogs carried the ball from one end of the ground to the other and goaled – that was an exception to congestion.


It was hard to completely gauge the match however: the viewing environment was distracting as we patrons exchanged observations and shouted drinks. I feel a need to watch it again at some point to really appreciate it.


There are coaches who put little stock in the psychological or emotional state of the players, but I think it’s probably the most important aspect of the game, especially when all other matters are comparatively equal.


Only the very best teams successfully carry the favouritism tag at this time of year. Sydney held that expectation this year, just as they did in 2014 (a loss), but didn’t in 2012 (a win). That, together with the groundswell of support for the Bullies, and some unfavourable umpiring, could’ve contributed to them being slightly off, not to mention some excellent hunting by the WB. But if a team’s good enough it can overcome those hurdles.


At times the Swans looked to be a split-second below their intense best, and that’s all it can take to start events unravelling. An example was Hannebery being a fraction slow moving to a contest that injured his knee when a quicker reaction would’ve had him better positioned. That’s how it seemed to me anyway (I notice others are now arguing illegal contact by the Bullies player). When Buddy was seen berating team mates it suggested a side on the verge of becoming rattled.


The Western Bulldogs, meanwhile, had minds right and as the game progressed, and they stayed in it, they gained confidence, as Sydney’s ebbed away. The Swans were struggling to move the ball forward by the last quarter.


At one stage I suggested the umpires were deciding the game, a claim which goes against what I actually believe. I reckon they can influence a match, but not the result, because good teams will still prevail. The adjudicating today though, was among the most appalling I’ve seen in a grand final, and says something about the powers of persuasion. Others probably prefer conspiracy theories.


If Sydney were to win it looked like Josh Kennedy would carry them over the line. Skilful, contested snaps for goal were a defining characteristic of this game, and he was prominent in that regard. Tom Boyd was likewise inspiring the Bulldogs to victory and being the day’s redemption story.


Just like the Cats in 07 it was also a day of sons redeeming fathers and past players. Hawkins, Cordy, Liberatore, Picken and Co. Sons of the Scray, indeed.


The Bullies ultimately and impressively rode the wave of emotion when they could’ve been overcome by it, and proved stronger than a formidable opponent unable to quell collective, opposing desire.


At the Beach, life became a beach for Bullies fans. A beaming fellow next to us who had only been in Australia six months was adorned with a Doggies scarf. That’s the thing about success – you get to influence the newly arrived, the young and the general yet-to-commit.


Whether this was a flag too-soon remains to be seen. A grand final loss can inspire teams to a prolonged success. On the other hand, there’s the Hawks – their win in 08 saw them slide for a few years, but became the platform to later, greater achievements.


When I was a hitchhiker I adopted a philosophy to never knock back a ride no matter how short. Likewise, you never knock back a premiership – especially when you’ve been waiting 62 years!


We left the Beach, and its southerly city borders, and caught a tram to the other side of town, to North Melbourne, the home of Shinboners and Kangaroos, where the Fringe Festival was in its finals fling.


Notes for Bulldogs fans:


Speaking from experience…


The fun doesn’t end with the grand final and post-match celebrations, the warm glow of satisfaction will linger for the rest of the year – and you’ll never tire of watching the grand final DVD!


Many of those opposition multitudes that threatened to break the bandwagon will prove fickle. Next season, if success should continue, they will mistake joyful exuberance with arrogance.


Some commentators will look for negative stories. This year’s underdog will become next year’s foe – if you’re lucky.


You might have thought winning one flag would be enough, but you will want more unless you hang up your scarf and stop supporting altogether.


  1. The Bleakhouse; have i been there since the 80’s ?

    Paul, can the dogs overcome their next obstacle; beating Geelong ? That last happened, 2010/2011?


  2. Paul Spinks says

    That whole area has undergone a transformation, Glen. The commission flats now have multi-million dollar views!
    The Doggies should start having the edge on us for awhile now you’d reckon, if they don’t lose hunger, but even then knocking off us would be a notch. Can’t really see where our improvement is coming from short-term.
    Last win probably was around then.
    WB also had a reasonable record against us under Wallace I think, and maybe even Wheeler.

Leave a Comment