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The Western Bulldogs have claimed their first AFL trophy in 40 years, with a seven-goal haul from star recruit Barry Hall spearheading a 40-point NAB Cup grand final win over St Kilda.
In what was mostly a tight, low-scoring contest, spurts of goals by the Bulldogs in the first and last quarters made the difference as they downed the Saints 2.13.8 (104) to 0.9.10 (64) at Etihad Stadium on Saturday night.
Former Sydney premiership forward Hall was the dominant figure in both surges and a deserved winner of the Michael Tuck Medal as best on ground, with his seven goals giving him 17 in three pre-season matches with his new club.
He kicked the first two goals of the match and also set up another with a strong tackle in the opening term as the Bulldogs kicked 4.5 (29) before the Saints had scored.
He then delighted the ‘Dogs fans by booting five goals in the last quarter to ensure his club’s win, after Saints skipper Nick Riewoldt had kicked the first goal of the term to close the gap to 10 points.
It was the Bulldogs’ first flag of any kind since their 1970 pre-season/night premiership, with their only day triumph coming in 1954.
They started the match in superb style, dominating the midfield early with Adam Cooney, Ryan Griffen and Matthew Boyd playing particularly well to ensure their forwards had the bulk of the early opportunities.
Hall took an early toll, outmarking opponent Zac Dawson twice inside the first seven minutes to kick the first two majors.
The Saints increased their defensive intensity from late in the first quarter, clogging up the Dogs’ attack and double-teaming Hall on most occasions the ball went near him.
Riewoldt, who finished with 4.3 and was probably his side’s best, kicked the last goal of the first term and the first of the second, before fellow Saints tall forward Justin Koschitzke got on the scoreboard to narrow the margin to 12 points.
After the Bulldogs had pushed it out to 22 at the long break, with the help of a Mitch Hahn nine-pointer, the Saints again made a run early in the third term, kicking three goals in the first seven minutes to cut the margin to two points.
But the Dogs finished the match much stronger, kicking three of the last four goals of the third term, then outscoring St Kilda 6.1 to two goals in the last quarter.
“The football club had a lot of faith in me, six months ago I didn’t know if I’d play,” Hall said when he accepted the medal.
“I’m forever indebted to the Bulldogs for giving me a chance, I’d really like to repay them during the year.
“This means a lot, but it’s during the year we’re really serious about.”
Bulldogs coach Rodney Eade said Hall’s performance had capped the night.
But he also attempted to downplay expectations that the big forward would continually kick bags of goals and talked up the team nature of the performance.
“The pleasing thing for me was St Kilda were a quality side, they came back in that third quarter and kicked the first three (goals) and for us to be able to answer that challenge, at that stage Barry wasn’t on the ground,” Eade said.
He said the defensive pressure they applied to the Saints would serve the team well in tight matches.
The downside for the Dogs was a cracked eye socket to forward Mitch Hahn, sustained in an accidental collision with Hall in a marking contest, which has him in doubt for the opening round clash with Collingwood.
Saints star defender Sam Fisher rolled his ankle, but his club was very confident he will play in round one.
St Kilda coach Ross Lyon acknowledged Hall’s huge influence.
“Seven goals, 50 per cent of their goals, a big power forward and delivered a pre-season premiership, it’s a pretty big effort, isn’t it,” Lyon said.
“I think he would have exceeded anyone’s expectations and you can feel the fervour out there.”
He was disappointed with his own side’s first and fourth terms, saying they had prided themselves on avoiding down patches in matches.
“We’ve got a bit of work to do really, it’s a great reminder for our players, our coaches and our football club that it’s a brutal competition.”