2014 was an unusual year for Western Bulldogs' supporters.
It was another frustrating year for all involved, as the club finished the year in 14th position and they just had finished the AFL season, with a disappointing six-point loss to fellow strugglers Greater Western Sydney Giants. By 2015, the Doggies replaced coach Brendan McCartney, threw away a Brownlow medallist in Adam Cooney and saw their then-captain Ryan Griffen walk out on the club in favour of the Giants.
But perhaps one of the very few shining lights of the 2014 season was the story of the Bulldogs' VFL team, who had just ended their affiliation with Williamstown the season previous. The Dogs wanted a standalone team like Essendon, Geelong, Collingwood and Richmond and was granted one for the 2014 season, appropriately known to the VFL as Footscray.
They destroyed Richmond in the opening round of the VFL season that year to the tune of 117 points, and it was the start of what was a special year for the 'Scray. They would go on to record 14 wins from 18 games of the home and away season to finish in second pre-finals. They were the second-best scoring side, averaging 108 points a game, with only Port Melbourne just ahead of them. They were also the best defensive team in the VFL, only conceding an average of 69 points a game.
They won their qualifying final against Williamstown in a hard-fought contest to send them straight to the preliminary final, where they faced the team who finished the VFL season on top of the ladder. Port Melbourne won 16 of 18 games during the home and away season that year, but had lost to Box Hill in their qualifying final before bouncing back a week later, thumping Sandringham. After a close opening three quarters, the Dogs busted the game open in the last term, with ten goals to earn their spot in the 2014 VFL grand final.
The rest as they say is history. They met the Box Hill Hawks in the grand final, and much like their preliminary final triumph over Port Melbourne, the 'Scray pulled away from an injury-stricken Hawks outfit in the last quarter, kicking six goals to two after a very close three quarters of footy, to record a 22-point win underneath the Etihad Stadium roof and give the Bulldogs not only a a form of rare silverware, but something for every long-suffering Bulldogs fan something to cheer about.
I was amongst one of the 23,816 in attendance that day, it was the biggest crowd in a VFL grand final since 1978 and it was something truly special, and on Sunday afternoon, Footscray are searching for their second VFL premiership in three years as they take on arguably the best side all year in the Casey Scorpions.
It's fair to say that in the two years since Footscray won that VFL premiership, a lot has changed for both VFL and AFL sides. Since that day, the Western Bulldogs have been in two-straight finals series appearances, and on Saturday, they'll be squaring off in a preliminary final for the first time since 2010, largely thanks to a change of coach and the continued development of the playing group.
But the one thing that amazes me the most, is the change of personnel since Footscray's 2014 premiership victory. In the team that defeated Box Hill, there were 18 Western Bulldogs-listed players. Of those 18, only six players remain on the Bulldogs' list today, but only two will more than likely take their spot in this same Footscray team on Sunday. Mitch Honeychurch has been consistently been outstanding for the 'Scray this season and has been often unlucky in not getting a gig at senior level, whilst Tom Campbell cannot get a look in at the moment, as Jordan Roughead and Tom Boyd have been one of the few unsung heroes of the Bulldogs during this year's spectacular AFL finals series.
So what about the other players on that 2014 list? Liam Jones was a star in Footscray's grand final win, kicking five goals, but shortly afterwards requested a trade to Carlton, which eventually happened, with the Dogs securing a third-round pick in return, which as most of us know, turned out to be Caleb Daniel. Jason Tutt also joined Jones at Carlton, however though, he ended up walking to the Pre-Season draft, where the Blues got him for nothing, not that he was worth much value anyway.
Out of all the rest of the players who have been delisted, names like Christian Howard and Ayce Cordy are ones that come to mind, because of how disappointing they have been since coming to the club. Both men were first-round draft selections, but neither of them lived up to the expectations. Howard, who was taken with the 15th pick in the 2009 draft only played only 20 games in five seasons was picked up by the Dogs before the likes of Jasper Pittard, Jack Gunston, Mitch Duncan and Nathan Fyfe. Here we are seven years on and it still bothers me.
Cordy was taken with the 14th overall pick in the 2008 draft via the Father/Son rule. It took two years for the son of Brian – who had played 124 games for the Doggies – to receive his debut game, but only went on to play 26 more games until he was delisted at the end of last year. The Saints used their first-round pick to bid for him, what could've happened if the Dogs didn't match? Midfielders Luke Shuey, Dan Hannebery, Liam Shiels, Dayne Beams, Rory Sloane and David Zaharakis were all still available, or if they wanted someone tall, then Jackson Trengove or Rhys Stanley were still avaliable.
Elevated off the rookie-list at the start of 2014, Brett Goodes won the Norm Goss Memorial Medal for a best on ground effort of 30 disposals, ten tackles and eight clearances, he was however, delisted at the end of the season, only to be re-rookied by the Dogs ahead of the 2015 season, he would go on to only play seven more games for the AFL Bulldogs before he was officially cut, but unlike many others before him, Goodes wasn't exactly ushered out the door. The Dogs hired him as a player development manager before he was picked up at the end of 2012, Goodes now leads the Ballarat experiment and will oversee all the matters in regards to the Western Bulldogs' association with the city of Ballarat.
Compare what players Footscray have then and now, and it's unbelievable to see that it's nearly a complete difference. This years Footscray team is headlined by Will Minson, who will probably play his last game in Bulldog colours after he has played only two games for the AFL team this season, along with retiring veteran Jed Adcock who has been a regular in the VFL team and Koby Stevens, Fletcher Roberts and Nathan Hrovat, all three of whom have been on the outer this year, and could be rumoured to be trade bait at the end of the year and then there are guys like Lukas Webb, Bailey Dale, Bailey Williams, Declan Hamilton and the rookie-listed duo of Roarke Smith and Brad Lynch, all of them still young, but show a lot of talent.