Footscray and the Western Bulldogs have a history of lacking key position players, particularly forwards, but this hasn’t always been the case.
In the 1970s there was Bernie Quinlan, Kelvin Templeton and Gary Dempsey – but we leaked them to other clubs. Since then we’ve generally been a bunch of zippy midfielders with no end product. As far as stopgap, late-career solutions go, we’ve tried the ‘Travis Cloke route’ before…
My memory goes back only so far, but you could argue 1992 was the start of Footscray’s modern existence. In the 30 years beforehand we’d made three finals series; in the 25 since we’ve made 13.
Two blokes walked into the club that year: Tony Campbell and Bernard Toohey. Campbell was an ex-Melbourne full back and one of the pioneers of AFL glove-wearing. His career stats were underwhelming, but he was our guy for all 25 matches in 1992. He had a good record against Tony Lockett, of all people.
He was quoted that year as saying something to the effect that it would be a cold day in hell when he played for Footscray and something about the administration not being up to scratch. He later admitted this showed how wrong a person can be.
I remember not liking Bernard Toohey very much as a Swan. He had a very good career as a hustling defensive midfielder in the 1980s, and in 1992 he ended up with us. Both Toohey and Campbell gave us two solid years – or a great 1992 in any case.
Richard Osbourne arrived in 1994. A champion at Fitzroy, what obviously stood out in his career with Footscray was his last-minute goal to give us a glorious win in the 1994 qualifying final against Geelong. Almost. Though I may have mentally edited the last 26 seconds of that match, what is for certain is that Osbourne gave us 100 goals in two and a half years.
Late 1995 were sunny days for the club when Osbourne dobbed 53, and we laughed at him grabbing a kiss from his wife on the sidelines after one of them. He later featured in the Year of the Dogs documentary dissatisfied with coach Alan Joyce. He was around from 1994 until 1996 before continuing his journey with Collingwood for a further two seasons to complete a 17-year career.
Nicky Winmar arrived at the Bulldogs in 1999 to play the final year of his career. I remember him as being quite decent, and the 33-year-old played as an auxiliary forward, scoring 34 goals. It was a breezy season in which a well-honed Bulldogs team won game after game. There were unfortunate off-field dramas, particularly The Footy Show’s blackface scandal, which didn’t help Winmar personally, but I was happy to have him on board and disappointed he didn’t continue.
I could probably type out a book on Jason Akermanis – he certainly has – but despite the eventual unravelling, I’m sympathetic to him. He arrived in 2007, scored 49 and 43 goals in 2008 and 2009 and was sacked by the club in 2010.
He was too much of a maverick to be a leader, but I can’t help but wonder whether we didn’t mine his premiership-winning experience well enough in the same way Australia tapped into Shane Warne’s understanding of the game in his later career.
His individuality didn’t sit well with Bulldogs groupthink, so he toned it down, possibly a bit too much. Perhaps flashy individualism – in the mould of, say, Nick Davis or Cyril Rioli – though not a part of classic Bulldog culture, was the thing we lacked in the 2009 finals loss. What was so wrong with the handstand?
In a 2012 interview with Mike Sheahan, Akermanis said he had more good times than bad. He commended Daniel Giansiracusa’s on his straightforwardness, but he sadly felt that current icon Bob Murphy was one player he couldn’t see eye-to-eye with.
As late as in 2009 I was saying Akermanis was the best thing to happen to the AFL, but my opinion was swiftly reversed a year later – he carried on a bit too much about our club in the aftermath, though I found it interesting he said that if conditions were perfect, the Bulldogs thought they could win a premiership. He added that he knew from his time at Brisbane that they didn’t have to be perfect – things could go wrong and they could still win.
On the other hand I’m sure the Bulldogs side of the story would be revealing – he was sacked from Brisbane too, after all.
Barry Hall was an unmitigated success with 135 goals in 39 games. A lot of love flowed his way – including from Julia Gillard. It made me think the Bulldogs top brass was pretty competent. Twice in four years we identified our man and got him. It was intriguing to briefly have Akermanis and Hall on the same team. At least we got a night flag over St Kilda out of it. It’s a meaningless prize, but we’d won something.
Now for Travis Cloke. He’ll kick bags of 82, 78, 114 and 92 as the Bulldogs win four premierships in a row. In the 2020 preliminary final the smug, hated Bulldogs, with evergreen Sam Mitchell on board, ruthlessly dispose of sentimental favourites Hawthorn, who have bounced back from the O’Meara incident and three wooden spoons.
A 20-metre, zero-angle set shot after the siren gives the Bullies a chance at victory in the 2020 grand final against the Tassie Tigers for an iconic fifth successive flag – but Cloke puts it out on the full.