The genius of Luke Beveridge is not the set of ideas that he brought to the Bulldogs, but the ideas he thought up after arriving at the Bulldogs.
Most of these ideas were creative responses to a lack of manpower. Here’s what Beveridge taught us in 2016.
1. You don’t need Hawks-like foot skills
When the Hawks won their third grand final in a row, we all thought their sublime foot skills from defence and the midfield were keys. And when the Bulldog with the most polished foot skills – Bob Murphy – went down with a knee injury early in 2016, most of us thought the Bulldogs would lack the skill to go far in 2016.
Luke Beveridge found a way around this deficiency too. He reasoned that even his B-grade kicks – basically everybody except Jack MacRae and Marcus Bontempelli – could deliver accurately if given time and space. So players were required to just keep handballing until a teammate had time and space to kick accurately.
The Bulldogs in 2016 raised the chain handball to a new art in 2016, and with the extra space almost every player turned into an accurate kick.
2. You don’t need a power forward
The Hawks had Jarryd Roughead; the Swans had Barry Hall; the Cats had Tom Hawkins and the Pies had Travis Cloke. Almost every premiership team this century has had a power forward. In 2016, Beveridge seems to have started with this conventional thinking.
However with Tom Boyd developing only slowly as a tall forward option and big Jack Redpath succumbing to a knee injury, Beveridge was again forced to be unconventional.
Late in the 2016 season Beveridge began viewing his undersized forward line as an advantage, applying the meanest forward press in the competition. That ability to lock the ball in the forward line was reminiscent of the Dockers’ forward press in 2014, except the Bulldogs’ forwards were able to kick more accurately than the Dockers’ forwards.
You don’t need a power forward if you can keep the ball on the ground in the forward line, lock it in and kick straight.
3. You don’t need an A-grade tap ruckman
We suspected this for years because the Hawks won premierships from 2013-2015 without an A-grade ruck. Now the past four premierships have been won without an A-grade ruck and indeed only one of the top four finalists in 2016 played with an A-grade ruck.
Lacking an A-grade tap ruckman, Beveridge increased the emphasis on mobility and all-round contesting, turning the ruck role full circle to the days of Peter Moore and Jimmy Stynes. Beveridge swung his agile full back, Jordan Roughead, into the ruck.
By 2016, Roughead was doing it all, competing in ruck contests, in marking contests around the ground, when the ball hit the ground and through tackling and chasing.
Then during the 2016 finals, Tom Boyd stepped up and played the same agile role. It’s more important to have an all-round contester than an A-grade tap ruckman.
4. You don’t need an experienced full back
Now this idea is unchartered territory. All premiership teams this century have had an experienced full back, and Alastair Clarkson had regarded this position as so important that he recruited Brian Lake and James Frawley specifically to fill this gap. Luke Beveridge tried a different tack.
He could have continued with Roughead at full back but he chose instead to go with AFL newcomers Marcus Adams and Joel Hamling, supported by a zone defence. It worked.
5. Play the Js
Okay this one is ridiculous but 2016 probably set the record for the number of different Js in a premiership team. Congratulations to Joel, Jordan, Jake, Jackson, and Josh, and especially to Norm Smith medal winner JJ.
Adversity has, for some coaches, been an excuse. For Beveridge, adversity has been an impetus to great initiatives.