Saturday, October 01, 2016

Western Bulldogs: 2016 AFL Premiers



If you were going to take 60 years to win a premiership, and you wanted to make it a premiership worth 60 years of waiting,  how would you script it?

Here's one way.

You could start two years beforehand with a crisis that led to the captain and coach leaving the club. You could replace the coach with a rookie called Luke Beveridge whose chief claim to fame was a couple of premierships in the amateurs and a stint in security in the public service.

You could replace the captain with a heart-and-soul veteran called Bob Murphy who in the season in question would do his knee and not play again after round three. You could put him out on the ground on grand final day anyway, because as sure as eggs, he was. I don't mean after the game, but during it. Surely you could see it. You could have it that he had his matchday guernsey on under his jacket all day.

You could survive a rash of injuries to other players besides, and finish seventh on the ladder, from where no-one has won a premiership before, and put yourself in a position where you had to win four finals in a row, starting with one in Perth.

You could win, and two, and three, gathering momentum as you go, and sweeping your hometown up along with you, and a lot of incidentals and casuals besides. You could turn the grand final, which it might easily be forgotten is just a game of football, into a kind of morality play. You could write it so that at the end of the day, everyone felt a little bit better about footy.

Even your opponents might come around to that point of view eventually, for this was a rare grand final day on which it was possible to barrack for one team and not against the other. You could, without giving offence to the Swans, make it that good guys win.

When it was done, and you'd stopped pinching yourself and slapping your own face, and the time came to divide the spoils, you could have that coach call up to the podium that maimed skipper and as 100,000 are your witness, hand over his premiership medallion, saying something like: "This is yours, mate. You deserve it more than anyone." Then he would also hand over joint responsibility with the stand-in captain for receiving and raising that mythical cup.

You'd have to write in a pause here, for tears and tissues, and _ why not? ­_ a beer.

Impossible, yes? A fable, yes? Well, why not give it a few more twists?  Why not pair yourself in the grand final with the Sydney Swans, the minor premier, the team that that is always there, the gold standard when it comes to finals style footy, the team whose captain, Kieren Jack, no-one could doubt at the end when he said:  "We didn't get the job done, but we're coming back. We're going nowhere."

Why not make it that you engage them on titanic terms for three-and-a-half quarters, and every now and then have them look as if  they might be about to shrug you off, and send shivers up all spines at the crucial moment early in the last quarter when Lance Franklin shapes a goal from 50 metres that reduces the margin to a point, and seems to presage a winning Swans surge?

Why not massage the script so that you match the Swans in what they do well, ferocity at the fall of the ball, and add something they don't, fleetness of foot and a preparedness to use it? Why not make it the sort of game in which every good turn deserved another, and every tackle, too, and in the third quarter have it that both teams find extra reserves of strength, as men in mortal danger do?

Why not now cast some improbable heroes? One could be, say, Tom Boyd, a lump of a lad who you poached from Greater Western Sydney in that crisis moment, really the president insisted and because you didn't want to be seen as a club that would accept to be pushed around, but who for two years you have found to be a bit of puzzle. Maybe he could grow through this final series, figuratively, but you would almost swear literally and on this day play his best match.



One could be Jason Johannisen, although you probably wouldn't given him that haircut. One  could be Liam Picken, son of a Collingwood great, but now with one over his dad, a premiership. Maybe it could be that he took four years to get onto a list, and spent most of his career since tagging, but was liberated by the new coach to play as a deadly forward?

One could be Dale Morris, a 33-yearold who the coach surely had in mind when he said this team was all heart, because for a dozen years it has leapt out of his chest so that he could play on and beat outsized opponents, and did again this day.

One could enigmatic Jake Stringer, who had only one decent moment for the day, but what a moment?

Why not, when the time came, link all these instant heroes in the final act? You could have it that in the centre of the MCG, Franklin is about to drive the Swans forward, but is tacked and dispossessed _ no-one strips Buddy Franklin _ by Morris, and ball tumbles free to Boyd, who tears up the playbook and thumps it forward and perhaps catches a gust of the crowd's urging tumbles and rolls through.

You could make it that just before that, Johannisen had kicked a goal that was overruled by a TV umpire because of a supposed touch on the goal-line, though everyone on both sides had accepted it and were in the centre for the next bounce. You could moralise here, about how a great grand final might have been ruined by a fatuous protocol. But it would be edited out.

You could have it that the Bulldogs beat the Swans at their own game. You could have it that exaltation on the boundary line and in the crowd looked like exactly it was, bursting with deliverance of 62 years. You'd have to leave a bit of space here, for more tears and cheers.

You could have the joy washing from one side of the MCG to the other, and back and forth across the change rooms, too, and not one player removing his guernsey _  because why would you ever take if off? _ and dozens of old players not bothering to hold back their tears and mouthing the theme of the week and the moment: "I never thought I'd see the day."

You could make it the best thing some old lags in the press box have ever seen in footy. You could even make it an AFL/VFL premiership double, like anyone has ever done that?

But who on earth would ever would you believe that any footy team could do all that?

The Bulldogs just did. They bloody well did. It's a fairytale, and even if the whole competition returns to normally programming next year, it will always be a fairytale.

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