Bombers blowing up the Dogs’ finals chances? I’d like to see that (again)

Gordon P Smith Roar Guru

By , Gordon P Smith is a Roar Guru

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    While the Western Bulldogs are favoured to defeat Hawthorn on Friday night and finish the season 12-10, the Bombers are likely to defeat Fremantle on Sunday and knock the defending champions into ninth, keeping them out of finals a year after their second-ever premiership.

    It’s therefore worth noting that in 1955, the year after Footscray won its only previous title, the Doggies were knocked down into fifth place and out of finals when, despite winning in Round 18 by 60 points to go 12-6, they were thwarted by Essendon, defeating Hawthorn 92-50 to edge them for the last spot in finals.

    The margin between fourth and fifth that year was just seven points scored – less than one percentage point!

    The irony of being prevented from even reaching finals after both of their title defences by the same club – a Bomber team, in both cases, returning to the finals after an absence – by just percentage points should not be lost on Bulldog fans.

    It should also be remembered that Essendon would be the first wooden spoon recipients to make finals since South Melbourne pulled the same stunt in 1923, finishing third on the ladder after being ninth out of nine in 1922.

    Strangely, Essendon did the same thing the year before, placing second in 1922 after spooning in 1921. But after two straight years of bottom to finals, it’s been 94 years since it’s been done – and it took the World Anti-Doping Agency to create the strange situation that made it so much more likely in 2016-17.

    Back in April, some declared the death of two lengthy finals streaks – Sydney and Hawthorn had both qualified for seven straight finals. Of course, Sydney has made us all look the fool and extended their streak to eight years in a row, while Hawthorn made a great charge that finally fell short just this week.

    But the eight-year streak is not all that unusual, historically.

    Even in the last 20 years, you’ve got an eight-year streak by Collingwood from 2006-13 (including a title in 2010), Essendon’s seven-year streak from 1998-2004 (including three minor premiers and a 24-1 title run in 2000), and Geelong’s eight-year span of finals from 2007-2014, including three titles.

    More impressive are that some of these streaks are simply parts of larger strings of finals appearances interrupted by a single year missing the top eight. Geelong’s appearance in 2017 will be their 12th trip to finals in the last 14 years, with two near-misses – tenth place in 2006 and 2015 – stopping a 14-year streak.

    Sydney’s comeback from an 0-6 start creates a 14-out-of-15 streak since 2003, broken only by a stray 12th place in 2009.

    Stretch the timeline back to 1996, when the Bloods got their first minor premiership in a half-century, and Sydney has 19 out of 22 trips to the finals under its belt, missing just 2009, an 11th place in 2002, and 10th in 2000.

    If Round 23 goes as expected, and Melbourne and Essendon take the final two spots, we’ll have the first finals in a decade where fully half of the teams from last year’s postseason have been replaced. Richmond, Port, the Demons and Bombers will be replacing Hawthorn, North Melbourne, and (presumably) West Coast and the Bulldogs.

    To rub salt in the wound, I’d like to point out how few of the Roar’s patrons could imagine more than one of last year’s finalists dropping out. The Kangaroos were the obvious choice (and if Brisbane wins, as predicted on Saturday, they’ll reverse the Essendon leap and fall from finals to wooden spoon), and maybe a few saw the Hawks’ struggles pulling them below eighth place.

    But few saw the Eagles failing to make finals, and none of the predictions I tracked pre-season expected anything less than a double chance for the reigning premiers, forgetting that they were in seventh place and looking doubtful at best before making their run.

    Having said that, I had them in the top three as well, alongside Greater Western Sydney and Sydney. Mea culpa.

    Finally, because Richmond is likely to win its match against the Saints, Geelong is not likely to be in third place in a week. Either they win and move past the Giants (and most likely host GWS again in a qualifying final), or they fall to fourth, losing to GWS and falling two premiership points behind Richmond.

    In fact, there are only two ways the Cats might remain in third: the Giants’ third draw of the year (which would be a record), or the Tigers regress to what they would’ve done two years ago and choke against St Kilda.