2016 Grand Final: All Aboard The Dog Train
A fascinating season has saved its most compelling story for September. The charge of the Western Bulldogs through this finals season has defied history, and captured the imagination of all football followers in the process. In an age when football business often threatens to overwhelm the game itself, the Dogs have reminded us all that joy and romance still have their place.
Emotion aside, Luke Beveridge and his men have pulled off an astonishing football accomplishment. The first seventh-place team ever to reach a grand final, they have overcome their club’s preceding history of seven preliminary final defeats to reach their first GF in 55 years. They have travelled the breadth of the continent to win at Subiaco and Spotless Stadium, previously two burial grounds for visiting teams this season. And, by the by, they stopped the Hawthorn juggernaut dead in its tracks as it sought its own slice of history.
So how have they done it? First of all, it must be remembered that the Dogs weren’t your average seventh placed team to begin with. Their 15 regular season wins would have, in many previous years, been good enough to earn a top four finish. The unprecedented closeness of the top seven sides this season had served to conceal how well they had been going. So had the constant narrative of injury to key players that has haunted the club through the year. From round 3, when skipper Bob Murphy’s season was ended, talk has focused too much on who wasn’t playing. The Dogs have simply worried about who was, and set to it. As a group, they have an obvious belief in what they are doing and what they can achieve.
Of course, on Saturday they meet a club entitled to its own beliefs. Recovering from a loss in the first week of the finals, the Sydney Swans confirmed their minor premier status by besting Adelaide and Geelong. In both contests, the result was effectively decided by withering opening bursts from Sydney. Their powerful midfield group has seized both games by the scruff of the neck, and Buddy Franklin has obviously been keen to make amends for his absence last September. The Swans are an experienced, talented, highly professional group. For most of the season this correspondent has thought them the team to beat. Now I’m not so sure.
A feeling of destiny seems to have engulfed the Bulldogs this September. As their seconds showed in winning the VFL premiership last weekend, this is a club in perfect synch at present. Their battle against the GWS Giants last week was played at a frenzied tempo and intensity. As good as Sydney looked last Friday night, Geelong paled as an opposition when compared to the Giants. Neither team this Saturday meets the other at a significant physical advantage, so it will come down to who can maintain the required intensity come the big day. I think the Dogs have proven they can do that.
Of course, no one has made a fortune off your correspondent’s predictions thus far this season, so be warned. But it feels like the footy gods are speaking, and they are practically shouting Bulldogs. I, for one, am hardly brave enough to disagree.
So all aboard the bandwagon. Let’s enjoy the ride.