Western Bulldogs 2.3 6.5 9.6 13.11.89
Greater Western Sydney 2.1 5.2 9.7 12.11.83
Western Bulldogs: Smith 4, Dickson 4, Cordy 2, Daniel, Bontempelli, Macrae
Greater Western Sydney: Patton 4, Greene 3, Lobb 3, Smith, Shaw
Alex Docherty's Best
Western Bulldogs: Smith, Dahlhaus, Johannisen, Dickson, Wood, Morris, Macrae
Greater Western Sydney: Patton, Haynes, Shiel, Kelly, Scully, Greene, Lobb
Throughout the Western Bulldogs' 2016 finals campaign, the two phrases that have been implied time and time again throughout the club and here at Bulldogs Centre would be the phrases 'Anything's Possible' and 'Dare To Dream'
On Saturday Night, the Doggies once again proved that anything was indeed possible and that they are daring to dream after defeating the Greater Western Sydney Giants by six points to punch their ticket to their first grand final since 1961 – 55 long years in the making. The first team from seventh on the ladder to ever make the grand final, they will play the Sydney Swans on the first day of October at the Melbourne Cricket Ground for their first premiership since 1954 and Doggies fans – myself included – are still trying to process the fact that they've made it.
The game itself was a spectacle to watch and is hands down, the game of 2016 if not the greatest game ever. The first quarter was as heated as you could imagine as both sides tried to establish their dominance. Shane Mumford got right into Jordan Roughead before the first bounce, Tom Liberatore sent Heath Shaw into a fit of rage after he gifted the Dogs a goal and Clay Smith was mobbed by GWS players at the quarter time siren after he missed an easy shot on goal, sparking an all-in push and shove. But once all the pushing and shoving cleared up, it became an intense, physical game, with both sides giving it their all as the game ebbed and flowed.
Bulldogs ruckman Jordan Roughead copped a football to the face in the second term, suffering damage to his right eye and could be in doubt for the big game, whilst on the other end, former Bulldog player, now GWS co-captain Callan Ward copped an accidental knee to the face from Zaine Cordy, also in the second quarter, it took a long time for Ward to get up, but when he did, he staggered to the bench, but despite looking like he was ready to come back on, he was ruled out with concussion for the rest of the game.
The Dogs kicked the first two goals of the match and had more control of the play in the first half, but easy misses should've seen the Dogs ahead by a little more than nine points at half time. But the Giants began to put the game on their terms in the second half as they took a one-point lead into the final break, and got out to a lead as big as 14 points early in the last quarter with goals to Toby Greene and Rory Lobb. It looked like the Giants were on their way to the big dance for the first time in the club's short history.
But the Dogs were not to be denied, Tory Dickson and Marcus Bontempelli provided the Western Bulldogs with cool heads as they kicked clutch goals to put the Dogs ahead again. Zaine Cordy's second shortly afterwards put the Dogs ahead by seven points before big Jonathan Patton's fourth goal cancelled out Cordy's goal and the margin was back at a solitary point, but up stood Jack Macrae, who had only kicked one goal for the entire season, he marked the ball inside 50 with three minutes to go and slotted through what was eventually the deciding goal. GWS' Devon Smith had the chance to even the scores, but just missed to the right.
The next two minutes became a back-and-forth affair with both sides fumbling, slipping over and just trying to get it forward in attempts to win the game, before the Dogs broke clear in the final minute, and a Tory Dickson mark inside 50 ensured that after 20,090 days, the Dogs were heading to the grand final, and although the Dogs celebrated like they had just won the premiership, who could blame them? Leading up to the game on Saturday night, the Dogs had lost nine of the last ten preliminary finals.
Leading The Way
Clay Smith has been one of the Bulldogs' biggest feel-good stories of 2016. After three knee reconstructions and losing a close friend during the week, Smith put on a match-winning performance, with four goals, 26 disposals, eight tackles, six clearances and four inside 50s in a game he will remember for the rest of his days, but he could've easily had more than four goals if he was a little more accurate with his goal-kicking. Tory Dickson also kicked four goals as he bounced back from a horrid game against the Hawks in fine fashion.
The defenders were again exceptional for most of the game, but in the fourth quarter where the game was to be won, they stood up and constantly denied the Giants opportunities at goals. Easton Wood had one of his better games of 2016, with eight marks, including another should-be mark of the year contender in the first term. Dale Morris and Joel Hamling were outstanding in keeping Jeremy Cameron to only just five disposals and one behind and Matthew Boyd provided constant drive out of half-back, with 10 rebound 50s to go along with his 24 disposals.
Former GWS number one pick Tom Boyd also deserves some praise after he went in to the ruck for virtually the rest of the game after Roughead went off with that eye injury in the second term, and whilst his counterpart Shane Mumford may have won the ruck duel, Boyd never caved in to his tactics and recorded 21 hitouts, 14 disposals and four inside 50s as opposed to Mumford who had 46 hitouts, six tackles and four clearances.
Everybody had a say in this stunning win. I'll take Caleb Daniel and Marcus Bontempelli for example, both men didn't have their best games, but they had their own individual moments. Daniel's goal in the third quarter was just sheer brilliance, and Bontempelli's goal in the last quarter was typical Bontempelli. When I say typical, I mean he bobs up at the right moment and provides clutch moments in the last term. He's done it quite a few times throughout his short career.
People can talk all this smack about Greater Western Sydney all they like. We can say that they're a 'Plastic Franchise' or that they are the 'AFL's Pet', but at the end of the day, the reality is that they are going to be up here for the next number of years, whether people like it or not.
Jonathan Patton has been huge for the Giants over the past month and again shone on Saturday night as he kicked four goals from five marks and nine disposals after he was barely sighted against Sydney in the first week of finals. Between him, Rory Lobb and Toby Greene, the trio kicked 10 of the Giants' 12 goals, Lobb kicking three goals from seven marks and 15 disposals, whilst the All-Australian half-forward Greene had three goals from 18 disposals.
From the midfielders, I thought the trio of Dylan Shiel, Tom Scully and Josh Kelly were outstanding. Shiel capped off a superb year with 28 disposals, seven clearances and five tackles, Scully had a team-high 30 disposals and five marks and Kelly had 29 disposals, six inside 50s, five tackles and four rebound 50s. But they can only ponder 'What If?' after their fellow midfielder in Ward went off early with that concussion. Could the Giants have won it?
I also thought Nick Haynes was outstanding in defence and was easily their best defender of the night as he marked everything coming his way. He took 11 marks to go with his 17 disposals and also had nine one-percenters, and along with co-captain Phil Davis and the experience of Joel Patfull, form a very solid defensive unit.
Who would've thought, after everything that has happened to the Bulldogs this year, that they would make the Grand Final?
On Saturday the Dogs have a chance to break what is currently, the longest premiership drought out of all 18 clubs, but to do that, they'll have to beat Sydney, who despite knocking them off earlier in the year, loom as the outright favourites with the bookies after they dismantled Geelong in the other preliminary final.
Nobody has ever won the premiership after finishing the home and away season in seventh position, but after witnessing the three weeks of finals this year, if anyone can do it, it is Luke Beveridge and the Western Bulldogs.