“They’ll hang on, the Dogs! They are gonna hang on! Mark this day down, Western Bulldogs fans!”
Those were the words of one Anthony Hudson as the siren sounded at the SCG on Saturday, May 2, 2015. The Western Bulldogs were five games into the tenure of Luke Beveridge and had just secured an incredible upset four-point win over the reigning minor premiers in Sydney.
It might not have been the moment that lit the club’s 2016 premiership fuse – they were already 3-1 by that stage and actually lost their next three matches – but it was certainly the moment the Bulldogs announced themselves as a club on the rise after three rudderless seasons under Brendan McCartney.
Importantly, it was the game that made the players and supporters believe they were capable of defeating anyone.
There are probably just as many differences as there are similarities between that rainy afternoon at the SCG and last Saturday night’s clash at Kardinia Park, but I can’t help but draw a parallel between that trajectory-altering performance and the two-point win Carlton enjoyed over Geelong.
While everyone may have their eyes drawn to the furious fortnight the Gold Coast Suns have put together – and fairly so – I was mesmerised by the manner the Blues cut the Cats to ribbons for three quarters before holding on for dear life at the end to open their 2020 account.
We always knew the Blues were better than their 0-2 record suggested. They’d outplayed the Tigers for at least the second half in the season opener, although arguably they’d had the upper hand since the second quarter, while some poor finishing in front of goal was all that saw their second-half comeback against Melbourne fall short last week.
If I hadn’t written about the Dogs’ dreadful start to 2020 last week, my piece would have been instead headlined; “If Carlton learn to start on time, watch out”.
And start on time they did.
They kicked the first four goals unanswered in the opening quarter, with relentless pressure at half-forward pressuring the home team in hurried handballs and low-percentage kicks. They extended their 25-point quarter-time lead into 29 at the main break and 35 at the final change.
Their final quarter obviously wasn’t for the highlight reel, but they defended grimly when they needed to and hung on for a hard-fought win.
Patrick Cripps was at his bullocking best with 24 disposals, 17 contested possessions, 12 clearances and two goals, Sam Docherty reminded the AFL why his two-year absence was impossible to cover with 23 touches and nine intercept possessions, Marc Pittonet had arguably the best game of his career and monstered Rhys Stanley in the ruck, while Eddie Betts turned back the clock with two goals, an equal team-high seven score involvements and one match-winning tackle.
Naysayers will point to the final-quarter collapse and Esava Ratugolea’s catastrophic brain fade, but nothing can take away the fact nobody would have picked to win in Geelong for the last five years and, for the majority of the game, were doing it blindfolded.
These are the character-building wins that can alter the trajectory of the club. It did for the Bulldogs and it can do the same for the Blues
I wrote before the season resumed that Blues fans should be demanding better results and a move up the ladder under David Teague and their form post-lockdown has been mostly superb.
Entering 2015, the Bulldogs had endured the offseason from hell, losing Ryan Griffen, Shaun Higgins Adam Cooney, CEO Simon Garlick and coach McCartney. Most outlets had them firmly entrenched in the bottom four, with Fox Footy declaring five to seven wins would be a good result.
Instead, off the back of that huge win over the Swans, they rocketed all the way up to sixth before falling to Adelaide in an elimination final. We all know what happened the next year.
Are the Blues now en route to a fairytale flag in 2021? Probably not, but their list is of the age and experience level for things to start falling into place – and we may finally be witnessing that rise.
They were the seventh oldest and sixth-most experienced side last weekend – ranking higher in both categories than flag fancies Collingwood and GWS. Sitting above them on the list are Geelong, Hawthorn, West Coast, Port Adelaide, Richmond and North Melbourne – all clubs who either entered the season as contenders or have impressed in the opening rounds.
The Blues are now 8-7 since David Teague took over after winning just nine games from the start of 2017 until Brendon Bolton was sacked. With performances like Saturday’s, there’s no reason this resurgence can’t continue throughout 2020 and result in a surprise finals appearance.
In fact, since 2007 (the start of Geelong’s successful era), nine of the ten sides to win away at Kardinia have gone on to play finals.
Their veterans are winding back the clock, their young prospects are blossoming before our eyes and even the ragtag fringe players many had written off are forcing us to eat humble pie.
They hung on last Saturday night and, if the Blues do have some success over the next three years, this will absolutely be the match everyone points to as the catalyst.