Echoes of ’55
Consider the following final home-and-away round scenario for the Western Bulldogs.
The Doggies - the reigning premiers - have a slight chance of making the finals, but need several things to go their way if they are to do so. Firstly, they'll need to beat a team that, while out of the premiership race, will be looking to send off a long-term stalwart player on a high. Mind you, the Dogs will also have an old stager (or two) of their own playing their last game if they can't sneak into the finals.
Even if the Bulldogs do get over the line for a 12th win of the season, the chances are they'll be pipped in the race to play finals by Essendon, who will be taking on another team that can't make the finals, one which has lost its last couple of matches and has won only eight games for the season. A Bombers victory will see them into the finals, also with 12 wins, but ahead of the Dogs by virtue of a better percentage, even if the red, white and blue can conjure up a big win.
This is, of course, the scenario that most current Doggies fans will recognise as the one that confronts their team this weekend. What many won't realise, however, is that the two paragraphs above also describe exactly what the Bulldogs faced going into the last home-and-away round of the 1955 season, the year after they won a drought-breaking flag.
That season saw the Bulldogs taking on also-rans North Melbourne in the last round, the Kangaroos' farewelling veteran Vic Lawrence who was playing his last VFL match, just as Luke Hodge will be playing his last for Hawthorn, the Bulldogs’ opponent this Friday. For the Dogs, missing out on the finals would mean that old stager Dave Bryden would have played his last game, as will be the case for Bob Murphy and Matthew Boyd this week.
The retiring veteran players of 1955 were perhaps not quite of the ilk of the 2017 crop, and the 2017 Bulldogs' scenario is complicated by the chances of a couple of other teams also being in the mix but the parallels between the two season climaxes are nonetheless quite remarkable.
History shows that the Dogs and the Dons both got up to win in the final round of ’55, with Essendon sneaking into the finals on percentage as expected. Should the Dogs get up against Hawthorn on Friday night, the sad likelihood for them is that that they will still miss out on September action, because the odds are heavily in favour of Essendon defeating the out-of-sorts Fremantle, just as it defeated the out-of-sorts Hawthorn in the final round of 1955 to finish on 12 wins, the same total as the Bulldogs, but with a better percentage.
So for fans of red, white and blue this week, it’s very much a case of Doggy déjà vu, with the Dons standing between the Sons of the West and another shot at premiership glory, just as they did 62 years ago.
The good news for the Bulldogs is that the first time this scenario played out in 1955, they bounced back in 1956 to make the finals (falling a game short of making the Grand Final), with one of their young stars (Peter Box) winning the Brownlow Medal. If things don't work out for the Dogs this weekend, their fans will be hoping the team can emulate - and then exceed -the 1956 effort, by bringing home another premiership in 2018 and maybe a Brownlow Medal to boot.
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