The Western Bulldogs completed football's greatest fairy-tale defeating the Sydney Swans in yesterday's AFL Grand Final.
Roared on by a deafening 99,981, both teams put on a show, with both teams inseparable until late in the final quarter. Eventually, the Bulldogs kicked away to a 22-point victory, 13.11 (89) to 10.7 (67).
Sixty two years had passed since the Bulldogs won the premiership for their first and only time in 1954. At yesterday's final siren, six decades of pain was erased by two hours of end-to-end football to cap a stellar 2016 season for the Dogs, with long-suffering past players and fans finally in relief. It was the perfect tonic for a team that, formerly known as Footscray, nearly fell into footballing extinction just under 30 years ago.
After finishing seventh on the ladder, the Dogs won finals matches against West Coast in Perth, Hawthorn at the MCG and Greater Western Sydney in Sydney. Two interstate finals and a long list of injuries, headed by missing captain Robert Murphy, meant that they were the underdogs for the Grand Final against a raging Swans side that had resounding momentum heading to the big dance.
Both teams traded blows in the first half, before the Swans wrested back the momentum prior to the major break with four goals in seven second quarter minutes. The Dogs led the Swans by four points at quarter-time, trailed by six at half time and led by 10 at three quarter-time. A final quarter showdown was on offer, but the Dogs kicked away.
The Swans' cause was not helped when star Lance Franklin suffered a right ankle injury in the opening minutes of the game. Franklin was only off the ground for five minutes for treatment, but lacked his usual ability, kicking just the one goal for the match. Key midfielder Dan Hannebery suffered a left knee injury in a collision with Bulldogs captain Easton Wood in the opening minute of the fourth quarter, and played little further part in the game.
Swans veteran Josh Kennedy threatened to steal the game away from the Dogs, having 22 touches in the first half alone before finishing with 34, as well as five clearances, six inside 50s and three goals. All-Australian Swans defender Dane Rampe also enjoyed a great first half, muzzling Dogs enforcer Jake Stringer to ensure the Dogs had few effective ground ball chances.
Led by stoic coach Luke Beveridge, the Dogs rung the changes for the second half, and it worked wonders. Winger Liam Picken moved into forward line to add more bite for the Dogs, while Marcus Bontempbelli, Jack Macrae and Jason Johannisen all enjoyed seeing more of the footy.
Johannisen was particularly brilliant, winning the Norm Smith Medal for a best on-ground performance with his dashing runs from half-back reaping him 33 disposals, 25 kicks, seven marks and nine inside 50s.
One of the biggest stories on the field was the emergence of Dogs forward Tom Boyd. Two years ago, as a 19-year-old, Boyd signed a lucrative seven-year, $7 million contract with the Bulldogs. Several uninspiring performances saw Boyd dropped to the VFL team, before a drunken, "violent" altercation with teammate Zaine Cordy earlier this year saw Boyd suspended indefinitely by the club and fined $5,000. After some solid performances in the VFL, he returned to the AFL side in Round 17 and remained there for the rest of the year, with his aerial ability a key to the Dogs' attack. In yesterday's Grand Final, Boyd finished the match with six contested marks and three goals and was unlucky not to win the Norm Smith Medal.
Boyd was worth every cent as he and Picken began to frequently penetrate the Swans defence. A snap goal to Stringer ten minutes into the last quarter began a string of successful entries into the Swans defensive 50, and before they knew it, the Dogs were home, the MCG shaking as the Dogs and their fans celebrated one of the sweetest victories of all.
Injured Dogs skipper Murphy summed it up perfectly after the match: "Sons and daughters of the 'Scray, we're bringing it home!"