There was a lot of angst at the kennel among supporters following the last few years of player losses after the team’s grand final win in 2018.
The supposed 2013 dog’s breakfast of a football team, the Western Bulldogs, feasted on the reigning NAB Cup Champions, Brisbane yesterday.
Their coach Brendan McCartney is only in his second season and is the third oldest in the competition. He has never played at the elite level and looks like a lawnmower shop proprietor. But he’s no chump.
Favourites for the wooden spoon, apparently, due to a dreadful end to the 2012 season when they lost their final 11 games, the Dogs were transformed yesterday.
These two teams met in the last round of 2012 and the Lions, not exactly world beaters but a world away from the five teams below them, inflicted on the hapless Dogs their final defeat.
Yesterday, the Bulldogs turned the tables. They won by almost exactly the same margin they lost by last year and Jonathan Brown who kicked a bag on Jordan Roughead was kept to one by the same player.
Continuing the dominance in clearances and contested possessions they showed last year (which was amazing considering their lowly ladder position), they also showed glimpses of the Rodney Eade sides with sublime movement of the ball by hand and foot.
Even more importantly, they kicked goals. Last year they were the worst team for converting inside 50’s into majors. Still lacking a key power forward, they shared the goals around. There were ten goal kickers and, in contrast to the Lions, all of them kicked beautifully. There were hurried snap shots, banana kicks, long range shots, and those that appear to trouble the modern footballer most: 30 metres out on a 45 degree angle.
A secret to the Bulldogs new found goal kicking capability may lie in McCartney’s wise choice of assistants. After Adam Cooney drilled a 50 metre goal he ran to the interchange to be congratulated by former Geelong sharpshooter and NFL punter Ben Graham.
The club’s redemption in defence (last year they were also the team most likely to concede a goal each time the opposition entered the forward zone) could have something to do with the presence of the great Matthew Scarlett.
Has McCartney already found the secret that will eventually bring the Dogs their second premiership: the running and skills of the Eade era combined with a hardness at the ball?
I think he can also relate to the some of his charges in the backline: unlikely sorts, short of stature with a penchant for high numbers. Harassing the Lions forwards and repelling attacks constantly were Liam Picken (42), Dale Morris (38), the 29 year old debutant and revelation Brett Goodes(44), and impressive youngster Jason Johannisen (39).
At the other end was the lanky but surprisingly athletic no. 49 Ayce Cordy who kicked two but could have had four if not for a couple of dropped chest marks.
Of course, it may have just been a case of an ordinary side playing its grand final in the first round against an overrated or overly confident opposition.
I for one hope that it’s the start of something special.