The Western Bulldogs have broken the AFL’s longest existing premiership drought and completed the most unlikely finals run of all time to win their second Grand Final with a 22-point win over the Sydney Swans.
The Bulldogs kicked the final three goals of the game to triumph 13.11 (89) to 10.7 (67), a win that broke the club’s 62-year premiership drought and ensured coach Luke Beveridge and his side will join Charlie Sutton’s 1954 team in Bulldogs immortality.
The Bulldogs took an eight-point lead into the final term at the MCG on Saturday after grabbing ascendancy of the game with a 2.6 to 1.2 third quarter, but struggled to put the Swans away in the final term.
Twice John Longmire’s men closed to within one point in a thrilling final quarter, first through a Lance Franklin set shot from 50m at the seven-minute mark and, after an answering Jake Stringer goal, a George Hewett set shot from 45m five minutes later.
Liam Picken kicked a goal on the run at the 17-minute mark that put the Dogs seven points up, but it wasn’t until Tom Boyd bounced a goal through from 55m four minutes later that the Bulldogs looked home with a 15-point lead.
Picken added another major five minutes later to add the icing to the Bulldogs’ victory.
Jason Johannisen (33 possessions, nine inside 50s and seven rebound 50s) sparked the Bulldogs with his run from half-back, and appeared to seal the game with a goal from 50m at the 18-minute mark of the final term, only for a late score review to determine it had been touched on the line.
The former rookie was a popular choice as the Norm Smith Medal winner for the best player on the ground.
Contesting the Grand Final for just the third time in the club’s 91-year VFL/AFL history and for the first time since 1961, Beveridge’s men became the first team to win a premiership from seventh on the ladder.
None of the Bulldogs’ 22 on Saturday had played in a Grand Final – 13 Swans had, eight of them having won premierships – but the Bulldogs did not let their inexperience halt the irresistible momentum they had built in the first three weeks of the finals.
Tom Boyd (six contested marks and 3.2) completed a coming-of-age finals series with his aerial work highly influential, especially in the second half, while Jack Macrae (32 possessions) was prolific and classy through the midfield.
Marcus Bontempelli helped turn the game the Bulldogs’ way after half-time, while Picken (25 possessions and three goals) underlined his status as one of the most improved players in the competition.
The Bulldogs’ victory completed a fairytale finals series that included away victories over West Coast in an elimination final at Domain Stadium and Greater Western Sydney in a preliminary final at Spotless Stadium, and in between a comprehensive semi-final win over three-time reigning premier Hawthorn at the MCG.
Bulldogs coach Beveridge said in his post-match press conference he had been worried his team’s gruelling finals campaign might have caught up with it in the Grand Final.
“The game seemed to go really quickly, and it’s almost like there’s not enough time to win it, but there’s enough time to lose it,” Beveridge said.
“We had an even contribution from the 22, and in big games like this you have to have that.
“Coming up against a team like Sydney, who have some seasoned players who have been here before, it took everything we had.
“When you win three finals like we had you’re not sure you’ve got another one in you, but thank god we did.”
The Swans’ cause was not helped when star spearhead 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 did not move with his usual agility when he returned. He kicked just one goal, in the final quarter.
Key midfielder Dan Hannebery suffered a left knee injury in a crunching collision with Bulldogs captain Easton Wood in the opening minute of the final term, and played little further part in the game.
Josh Kennedy was outstanding for the Swans, racking up 34 hard-won possessions and kicking three goals, and helped his team get on top in the second quarter with an outstanding term.
Dane Rampe (24 possessions and nine rebound 50s) was a rock in the Swans’ defensive 50, while Kieren Jack (22 possessions) and Tom Mitchell (26 and two goals) provided plenty of midfield drive.
Swans coach Longmire said his team hadn’t worked hard enough against the Bulldogs.
“We weren’t quite up to the work-rate we normally get from our group and the Bulldogs consistency over their 22 versus ours (was too good),” Longmire said.
“We didn’t have as many contributors on the day, and you need to have that if you’re going to be victorious.
“We thought we could get a bit more from a few more. In the end you need everyone with their shoulder to the grindstone, and we didn’t have that even contribution we definitely needed.”
Goals seemed rarer than Tasmanian tigers in the opening minutes of Saturday’s game.
Both teams came out with the intensity you expect on Grand Final day, but struggled to control the ball in slippery conditions at the MCG.
Neither team scored in the opening nine minutes before Swans co-captain Jack broke the deadlock with a behind after courageously marking running back with the flight of the ball.
Jack was fairly cleaned up by Bulldogs captain Wood, but recovered to take a set shot from 40m.
Jack then set up the Swans’ opening goal three minutes later when he hit Luke Parker 45m out on from goal.
The Bulldogs finally opened their account at the 20-minute mark when Zaine Cordy caught Callum Mills in a tackle, and from the resultant free kick converted with a brilliant shot around his body from 35m on the boundary line.
Little more than two minutes later, Tory Dickson added another goal for the Bulldogs after converting a set shot from 50m, which sent them into quarter-time with a four-point lead.
Beveridge’s men got out to a handy 16-point lead at the 11-minute mark of the second quarter when they kicked three of the first four goals of the term, the last coming from a brilliant around-the-body snap from Picken that was set up by an equally inspired handball over the head from Lachie Hunter.
The Swans then wrested control of the game in the midfield to hit back with the next four goals, the first a 50m set shot from Mitchell and the last two clever snaps from midfield bull Kennedy.
The Swans led by eight points and looked set to take that lead into half-time after Mitchell answered a Tom Boyd goal with a snap from a forward 50 stoppage.
However, with just 11 seconds remaining before the main break, Toby McLean pounced on a loose ball 25m from goal and snapped truly around his body to cut the Swans’ lead to two points.
Since the introduction of the final eight in 1994, the previous lowest-placed team to win the premiership was Adelaide, who won from fifth in 1998.
Of the teams to win a premiership – Fremantle, Gold Coast and Greater Western Sydney have yet to do so – Melbourne now has gone longest since its last Grand Final win, which came in 1964.
The Bulldogs’ victory also leaves St Kilda as lone team from the competition’s VFL days stuck on one premiership.
SYDNEY SWANS 1.2 7.3 8.5 10.7 (67)
WESTERN BULLDOGS 2.0 7.1 9.7 13.11 (89)
Sydney Swans: Kennedy 3, Mitchell 2, Parker, N. Smith, Rohan, Franklin, Hewett
Western Bulldogs: T. Boyd 3, Dickson 3, Picken 3, Cordy, McLean, C. Smith, Stringer
Sydney Swans: Kennedy, Mitchell, Rampe, Heeney, Jones, Hannebery
Western Bulldogs: Johannisen, Picken, T. Boyd, Macrae, M. Boyd, Dahlhaus
Official crowd: 99,981 at the MCG
Story – AFL.com.au