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History Lesson – 2016: Dogs end the longest drought


Bulldogs Tom Boyd and Toby McLean are jubilant after Boyd kicked the goal which effectively sealed the grand final. Picture: AFL MEDIA

History Lesson – 2016: Dogs end the longest drought

An amazing result. Amazing scenes which followed it. But, appropriate to a moment of such historical magnitude, an amazing grand final in its own right.

The Western Bulldogs’ breaking of a 62-year premiership drought is like some sort of fantasy, climbing from the hardly dizzy heights of seventh spot on the ladder.

But how they jumped the final hurdle should enter football folklore as well. Because this really was one of the great grand finals, not only of the modern era, but of 120 seasons of VFL and AFL football.

It swayed this way and that, with five lead changes. It featured a rollocking 11-goal second quarter. And it was still in doubt until the last couple of minutes. The Dogs’ tale was a story of romance which deserved a fitting final chapter. And boy, did it get one.

Even at the start, as both teams looked full of nerves, the first 10 minutes marked by sloppy ball handling and some ill-directed passes, you nonetheless just had a sense we were in for something special.

It was the way both Sydney and the Bulldogs went at each other. Not spitefully, not calculatedly, but with a level of desperation which of its own accord almost issued an unspoken challenge to the opposition – this is how far we’re prepared to go to get our hands on the ball – can you do better?

And the ante just kept being upped, even the occasional blunders an essential part of this gripping game.

Both sides had team-lifting moments right from the start, Bulldog defender Matthew Boyd nailing Gary Rohan in a beautiful tackle, Sydney co-captain Kieren Jack taking the most courageous mark camped under a high ball and collected by Easton Wood, but missing the shot.

But in what became a typical example, it was Jack who, far from being bowed by his miss, also set up the opening goal with a lovely     centring pass to Luke Parker, who had no problems converting.

The Bulldogs had enough scoring opportunities, but by almost the 20-minute mark had still to take a grab inside 50 while the Swans had taken seven intercept marks.

It was the perhaps unlikely form of Bulldog key forward Zaine Cordy who changed that, slotting a hard-won free kick from the boundary line. When Tory Dickson got on the end of a superb Lachie Hunter pass just a couple of minutes later, the Dogs were in front.

The tone was set. And there can’t have been too many more entertaining quarters of grand final football played in the modern era than the second term of this contest.

It was the Bulldogs, with three of the first four goals, who edged away first. Tom Boyd threaded one from hard up against the point post, Dickson had his second, and then came the moment the Bulldog hordes threatened to send everyone deaf, such was the guttural roar which burst forth after Liam Picken’s goal.

Collecting a bouncing ball near goal, he dished off a handball to Hunter, who, one up against two Swans, engineered a lovely give back over his head, Picken snapping truly on his right.

But who for a moment thought the Swans would just meekly submit to their role in the storyline? Not them, certainly.

What ensued was a burst of seven minutes of Sydney’s power-packed best, that near three-goal deficit almost as quickly turning into an eight-point lead with four unanswered goals.

The architects were whom you’d expect. Jack. Dan Hannebery. Isaac Heeney. Tom Mitchell, who had two goals and 16 touches by half-time. And the brilliant, bullocking All-Australian Josh Kennedy, whose snap from 40 metres for a goal was his 17th disposal already.

Not 90 seconds later, it was two goals to Kennedy with a repeat effort. The Swans were putting some space on the scoreboard, even with goalkicking talisman Franklin well held by Joel Hamling, and just as ominously, winning some important statistical indicators.

The Bulldogs, No.1 for contested ball all season, had won just three of them to Sydney’s 16 in that little burst, during which the Swans had seven inside 50s straight. Caleb Daniel, such a heartbeat for the Dogs, had had only one touch until the 25-minute mark. Was it the start of the slide? Of course not.

Tom Boyd kicked his second, then Toby McLean snapped another with just over 10 seconds left on the clock. It had been an amazing half-an-hour of football. And there was more to come, the margin still in single figures come the final change, this time the Bulldogs up on the scoreboard.

In stark contrast to the second term, there were only three goals, scored in the third. Two of them, however, fell to the Dogs, Tory Dickson’s third goal of the game, after a smart handball from Jack Macrae, then Clay Smith bobbing up to boot a ripper from a tight angle 40 metres out.

The Dogs looked a little fresher, a little more adventurous, and with Macrae firing with an 11-possession quarter, had a midfield starting to gain control.

The last quarter will be the stuff of football legend. Tough and tight, yet still with goals being kicked regularly. It was chock full of drama, too.

Key Swan Dan Hannebery went down with what looked a serious knee injury at the start. Bravely, he tried to get back out there, but in the end had to surrender. For the Swans, who’d seen Kennedy if not completely thwarted at least curtailed, it was a critical blow.

There was controversy, Jason Johannisen’s apparent winner being overruled nearly a minute later as a desperate Jeremy Laidler just managed to lay fingernail on ball, the Swans still alive.

But these Bulldogs were powered by something special. And so, after George Hewett reduced the deficit to a point again with 10 minutes left to play, the Dogs barked one more, decisive time.

Picken, as tenacious as ever, pounced on a loose ball and slammed one home. Tom Boyd, his high price tag vindicated in stunning fashion with a huge performance in the ruck and up forward, went for broke from 60 metres out and made it 15 points the difference.

And Picken drove home the final, resounding blow, racing into an open goal to make it 21 points with only a couple of minutes left.

Yes, it happened. It really happened. And the hardest thing to digest in the euphoric moments which followed the final siren was not only that the Bulldogs are now a two-time premiership club, but that even in a business as ruthless as the AFL football, sometimes fairytales really can come true.

WESTERN BULLDOGS 2.0 7.1 9.7 13.11 (89)

SYDNEY 1.2 7.3 8.5 10.7 (67)

Goals: Western Bulldogs: L Picken 3 T Boyd 3 T Dickson 3 C Smith J Stringer T McLean Z Cordy. Sydney: J Kennedy 3 T Mitchell 2 G Hewett G Rohan L Franklin L Parker N Smith.

Best: Western Bulldogs: J Johannissen T Boyd L Picken J Macrae M Boyd J Hamling. Sydney: J Kennedy T Mitchell H Grundy D Rampe K Jack D Hannebery.

Umpires: Matt Stevic, Simon Meredith, Scott Jeffery.

Official Crowd: 99,981