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Match of the Day: Of chances missed and chances taken

Sydney’s Oliver Florent (No.13) is about to take possession, despite Bulldog Jason Johanissen’s tackle on Will Hayward. Photo: GETTY IMAGES

Match of the Day: Of chances missed and chances taken

Rohan Connolly    

It isn’t always the superstars or the super-experienced who nail the big moments when they come around on the sporting field. And you only had to watch the last few minutes of a thrilling Western Bulldogs-Sydney clash at Etihad Stadium to know it.

In a terrific game which swung this way and that, it was the Swans leading and the Dogs coming fast when several opportunities presented themselves to players of both sides to seal the deal.

With just over three minutes left on the clock, Bulldog maestro Marcus Bontempelli found Josh Dunkley to level the scores. Well, that’s what should have happened.

But this just wasn’t Dunkley’s day. He’d already kicked four behinds, and this time, had the mark spent before he’d taken it, turning to run into the open goal only for the ball to bounce out of his arms and be swept away by a grateful Sydney defence.

Enter an All-Australian in Sydney’s Dane Rampe, bursting towards goal, clear of opponents, to seal the game. He missed. Then, with just over a minute to go and the Swans seven points up, Luke Parker took a mark in defence, a couple of free men waiting on him for the chip.

He gave it. Straight to Bulldog Caleb Daniel, the turnover seeing Luke Dahlhaus make it just one point the difference with 76 seconds left on the clock. Who would stuff up next? Not Sydney 13-gamer Oliver Florent.

Isaac Heeney’s hurried kick forward found the nippy little Swan just past the wing, no-one between him and the goals, and Bulldog big man Tim English the only opponent within cooee.

He might have stopped and soaked up the clock. But Florent backed himself, took off, and despite a damn good chase from the big Bulldog, took a bounce, got within striking range inside 50, and let fly with a kick which bounced in the goalsquare and all the way home. Game over.

A damn fine game, too. One in which the victor, as pleased as it should be with the win, will know that on most of the numbers it perhaps should have lost, the four points a tribute to resilience and efficiency as much as anything.

The Bulldogs will rue missed chances, yet still know that this was an effort at least every bit as good as last week’s ice-breaker against Essendon. If that sort of performance continues to be the standard, they’ll be winning a lot more games than they lose.

The Dogs were terrific early. They shared the ball. They ran relentlessly to offer free targets, holding the ball until one appeared. And then made the most of their chances.

It was tit for tat in scoreboard terms for most of the first term, despite the Bulldogs having the lion’s share of possession, at one stage having nearly three times as many uncontested marks as their opponent.

But the mini-break came late in the first quarter. Tory Dickson, whose work-rate and constant movement around the forward 50 had caused the Swans plenty of headaches already, gave them more when he coolly slotted one of the goals of the year, a checkside effort on the run from hard-up against the boundary line.

Bailey Dale, also doing some fine work on a wing, made it a 15-point lead a few minutes later when he snuck out behind a stoppage and snapped on his left.

And that gap had become a very dangerous 22 points in under five minutes of the start of the second quarter, when Dickson cashed in again, then Marcus Bontempelli underlined his class, coming from behind to spoil Sydney’s Josh Kennedy, recovering and snapping a beauty from miles out on his left foot.

By now, the Dogs had the sort of lead you’d expect of a team which had nearly doubled its opponent’s forward entries, more than doubled it for stoppage wins and had out-tackled the Swans to boot.

Sydney, though, has never been in the business of writing a losing cause off as one of those days, and typically, the Swans responded.

With Isaac Heeney starting to win some supply out of the middle in the absence of dominant games from Kennedy and Dan Hannebery, the Swans surged back into the contest, Luke Parker booting his third goal from what was admittedly a dubious free kick for holding the ball on the Bulldogs’ Aaron Naughton.

Lance Franklin, also held in check, and goalless, by Dogs’ skipper Easton Wood, also found something, drilling a superb pass to Heeney close to goal right on the half-time siren. For all their obvious verve and enthusiasm, the Bulldogs were going to the long break with only a 10-point lead.

It was the Swans’ opening to the third term which effectively won this game, Franklin now getting right off the chain with two goals in two minutes, Heeney a real spark with another after a fierce tackle on Bulldog greenhorn Ed Richards, and four goals in total coming in a 12-minute burst.

Now the roles were somewhat reversed, the Dogs steeling themselves and gradually working their way back, a pattern which would be repeated in that eventful final term.

When Dean Towers took a big grab and converted 10 minutes in, Sydney led by 14 points. But from there, the Dogs really took over. Sadly for them, everywhere but where it really counted. By the time Daniel made it only a goal the difference, they’d scored just two goals from their previous 37 inside 50s. They’d finish with 18 more forward entries than their opponent.

They were chances missed by some of the very best, and they will be lamented. As Sydney will thank its lucky stars one of the least-seasoned players on the ground took his when it mattered most.

WESTERN BULLDOGS 5.3 7 7. 9.10. 11.13 (79)
SYDNEY 4.0 6.3 10.4 13.8 (86)
GOALS – Western Bulldogs: Dickson 2, Bontempelli 2, Redpath, Gowers, Jong, Dale, Wallis, Daniel, Dahlhaus. Sydney: Franklin 3, Parker 3, Papley 2, Heeney 2, Cunningham, Towers, Florent
BEST – Western Bulldogs: Macrae, Suckling, Dunkley, Bontempelli, Dahlhaus. Sydney: Rampe, Heeney, Parker, Franklin, McVeigh, Hannebery, Papley.
UMPIRES: Stevic, Deboy, Gavine
CROWD: 32,870 at Etihad Stadium

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