Footscray has pulled off a remarkable premiership win, defeating the Box Hill Hawks at Docklands Stadium in front of 23,816 fans - the largest crowd at a VFA/VFL Grand Final since 1978 - on Sunday. In a match that each team took turns to dominate, the Bulldogs finished the stronger, kicking the last six goals of the match to run our winners by 22 points.
The match was full of intriguing subplots, especially from the Box Hill Hawks' perspective. With the Box Hill's AFL affiliate Hawthorn due to play in its own Grand Final next week, it was decided not to play ruckman Ben McEvoy and onballer Brad Sewell, even though neither had played for the AFL Hawks in their victory against Adelaide a day earlier. The logic behind this seemed to be that if McEvoy aand Sewell are to be selected for the AFL Grand Final next Saturday, a six-day break will not be long enough. Yet in a move that seemed to contradict that logic, pacy forward Cyril Rioli was selected. The speedster hadn't played any football since injuring in round 15 but was given a chance to prove his fitness in the biggest VFL match of the year.
With Rioli starting the match on the field, a mistake-laden first 15 minutes of the match saw neither side take a decisive advantage. Each side took turns in kicking majors until the Hawks became the first side to kick two in a row via James Sicily at the 19 and 21-minute marks. From that moment on the game became one of momentum shifts, with one side and then the other taking control. Footscray took the first turn, finishing the quarter with goals to Fogarty and Tom Young, and then opening up the second term with majors to Jarrad Grant, Jason Tutt and Liam Jones.
That gave the Dogs a 19-point lead midway through the quarter but Box Hill then took its turn to wrest back control, with two goals to Mitch Hallahan and one to Sam Grimley bring the margin back to just one point in Footscray's favour at the long break. That dominance continued when the second half began, with goals to Luke Lowden and Ben Ross giving the Hawks a 13-point lead at the 10-minute mark, and it looked like Box Hill were on track for back to back VFL flags.
But once again, the tide turned. A goal to Footscray's Daniel Pearce was followed by a couple of behinds to each side, and then Tory Dickson and Liam Jones made it three majors in a row and restored a four-point lead to the Bulldogs. Then, continuing the script of the match, Box Hill turned things around once more. Goals to Collins and Billy Hartung gave the Hawks a six-point buffer at the last change, and when Sicily and Ben Ross kicked the first two of the last quarter, things looked grim for Footscray as it stared down an 18-point deficit.
Perhaps crucially, the Box Hill Hawks made a decision at three-quarter time that Rioli, who had done several nice things without dominating, would be rested for the entire last quarter. How much of a difference that move made to the ultimate result will never be known but the Bulldogs stared down that 18-point deficit fiercely and set about wiping it out quickly. Tory Dickosn goaled at the seven-minute mark, and within another three minutes Jones and Jack Redpath had added majors and the match was square.
This time there were to be no more shifts in momentum. Chrstian Howard goaled to put the Dogs ahead at the 14-minute mark and they would not surrender that lead. The two sides traded behinds until Jones took a strong mark and converted at the 27-minute mark. He sealed the match with his fifth goal three minutes later, Footscray taking out the 2014 VFL flag by 22 points.
It was a remarkable premiership win on a number of fronts. This was Footscray's first year in the VFL as a "reserves" team for the AFL's Western Bulldogs and, before the season began, virtually all VFL pundits had predicted the Dogs to miss out on the top eight. Perhaps more remarkable is the fact that this was in fact a form of "premiership defence". The last time a Footscray team had been part of the VFL, was in 1924 when it was known as the VFA. The Dogs won that premiership, having also won in 1923, so can make a claim to having won a hattrick of flags over an 81-year period!
The win was a great fillip for the Western Bulldogs as a whole, and Bulldogs fans will be hoping it will perhaps lead to an AFL flag for some of these players in years to come, not unlike a young Geelong VFL premiership team that won a premiership in 2002, as a precursor to its AFL partner breaking a 44-year drought in 2007.
Footscray: Jones 5; Dickson, Redpath 2; Campbell, Fogarty, Grant, Howard, Pearce, Tutt, Young
Box Hill: Sicily 3; Hallahan, Ross 2; Collins, Grimley, Hartung, Lowden, Willsmore, Woodward
BEST - AFL.COM.AU
Footscray: Jong, Goodes, Jones, Grant, Russell, Howard
Box Hill: Hallahan, Sicily, Ross, Litherland, Hartung, Woodward
Norm Goss Memorial Medal: Brett Goodes (Footscray)