Round 2 – Richmond v Western Bulldogs: Pencil this one in

After being written off prior to season 2015, the Bulldogs are suddenly the flavour of the month.

They played an attacking brand of run and gun footy in their 10-point win over West Coast in the opening round. One writer labelled their roster of under-23’s as the best in the league. Critics lauded the young pups’ tackling and relentless forward pressure. Despite losing their coach, their captain and the experienced duo of Cooney and Giansiracusa during the summer, they are being spoken of as a team on the rise. New boss Luke Beveridge has seemingly revitalised the list and is reproducing  some of the coaching magic he displayed when he led St. Bedes Mentone to three flags in a row in the Amateurs.

Jackson Macrae and Jake Stringer have signed long-term deals, believing that the team can become “scary good”. Can become being the operative words. But not today, not yet. With all the media attention being lavished on the Western Bulldogs in the lead-up to this match against the Tigers, it has to be a distraction after no-one wanted to know about them in the off-season. Tom Liberatore, arguably their most valuable player, will miss the entire campaign after wrecking his knee in the NAB Cup fixture against Richmond at the Whitten Oval. I wasn’t impressed with the scraggers as they struggled to hold off a virtual reserves side in that game. Gia’s not around to coolly slot the winner as he did last year in the Dog’s two-point win over the Tigers at Etihad Stadium. They’re too young and Richmond clearly has the edge in experience. They can snarl and yap at the Tigers’ heels as much as they like, but once the claws come out it’s time to scurry back to the kennel.

Yes, I’m expecting a Richmond victory on this glorious autumn afternoon, the sort of day that makes me feel glad I live in Melbourne. Pencil this one in. It’s the second of four relatively easy games to get us started in the new season.

But the Bulldogs provide stiffer opposition than I anticipated. Their pressure upon the opposition ball carrier is no media fabrication. The Tigers are forced into hasty kicks and chronic over use of handball. Both sides’ key forwards are stymied. Talia and Roughead counter Riewoldt and Griffiths while Rance and Chaplin completely outclass Boyd and Cordy. Boyd, in whom the Bulldogs have invested a major proportion of their finances, moves at the pace of the Tasman Glacier and is no match for Alex Rance with his slashing runs out of defence.

The match becomes a low-scoring struggle played out mainly in the midfield. Wallis, Macrae, Dahlhuis and Lin Jong are certainly up for it. Despite the fact that he’s only 19, Marcus Bontompelli already has a formidable physique for a midfielder’s role. After a slow start he gathers key possessions in pressured situations and hardly puts a foot wrong with his disposal. Martin and Cotchin excel for the Tigers but receive little support. A revitalised Bob Murphy sets up play from the last line of defence and makes a series of key intercepts.

It seems as though the Bulldogs have learned how to mix it up under Beveridge. It’s not all a matter of see ball, get ball and run like hell. They adjust the tempo in the second term when Richmond controls the ball for an extended time by flooding back into defence. The Tigers are unable to punch through and spend a frustrating ten minutes in vainly switching play and attempting miniature pin-point passes that eventually come unstuck. They chronically overdo their handball. I lose count of the times that they kick directly to opponents. In true time honoured fashion reminiscent of the Rodney Eade years, the Bulldogs pounce on errors and rebound off half back into an open forward zone.

They answer every challenge. Small forward Toby Dickson boots two in quick succession in the third term to extend their lead to 27 points. Griffiths and Riewoldt reply before Stringer and Grant strike back. This provides them with a 29-point buffer at three quarter time and it looks like it’s sufficient.

My 17-year-old son has seen enough. He has witnessed his team dominating the possession count and inside-50’s and yet never leading on the scoreboard. He can’t even blame the umpires, because Richmond is easily on top in the free kick count. But their system keeps breaking down and they continually relinquish the ball. Jarrad Grant’s goal late in the third term is yet another example of a Bulldog player strolling alone into the goal square and letting rip.

My boy does the only sensible thing and heads for the station. He is yet to develop the resilience that comes from experiencing decades of disappointment. He’ll console himself at home with the X-Box and some leftover Easter Eggs.

But I remain with my fellow unfortunates. There are some minor heart palpitations when goals to Newman and Riewoldt reduce the deficit to 16 points five minutes into the last term, but Dickson pops up with his fourth and the visitors prepare to march up Footscray Road with the spoils.

Ah, the games that you lose when you think you’re certainties. I hope there’s some eggs left for me tonight. I need some comforting myself.

 

Comments

  1. Neil Anderson says

    What a difference playing direct, fast football makes. Even if ‘long bombs to Tom’ isn’t quite working yet, it will soon. I am so rapt the Dogs aren’t kicking and hand-balling backwards like they did a few years ago.
    The other thing that makes us Dogs supporters happy is seeing two talls on the back-line and two talls on the forward line. Last year they were kicking long-bombs to Dahlhaus and TORY Dickson!
    Enjoyed your report and like a couple of others whose teams lost, you came up with the goods. Now for those Hawks. Those easy-beats below the Dogs on the ladder.

  2. Malcolm Ashwood says

    John ( and Neil ) are the dogs like the crows enjoying the honeymoon period of a new coach ? McCartney is just so highly regarded within the footy industry re footy smarts yet like Sanderson communication problems . The dogs youth is exciting will , Bontempelli be the best player in the comp in 3 yrs ? John are Richmonds last 6 just not good enough pure and simple ? Thanks John

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