There were myriad reasons for the West Coast Eagles starting as raging favourites in their Second Elimination Final against the Western Bulldogs on Thursday night. The Eagles had finished off the home-and-away season strongly, with impressive wins - two of them away from home - against GWS, Hawthorn and Adelaide, all top four sides at the time, while the Bulldogs stumbled in their last-round match against lowly Fremantle at Subiaco. The Dogs had not won in Perth since 2010, and their forward line had been lacking potency in the latter part of this year.
Everything pointed to a West Coast win, and a comfortable one at that. The only problem with that script was that someone forgot to hand it to Luke Beveridge and his team - or if they did, "Bevo" and his Dogs threw it out the window and wrote a new one from scratch, attacking the Eagles and the ball with equal veracity from the outset to set up a remarkable win that gave the finals series a twist in its very first chapter. The Dogs won all four quarters, silencing the normally rabid Subiaco crowd for large periods and blunting the Eagles' normally prolific attack to record a 47-point win, one of the club's best in living memory for many of its supporters.
The Bulldogs' intent and ferocity was evident from the outset, as they dominated the early minutes to keep the ball in their forward half for the majority of the time. They could not translate that dominance to scoreboard pressure, though, and gettable shots from Lachie Hunter, Jordan Roughead and Tory Dickson registered behinds only, after which the Eagles scored two straight goals via Josh Kennedy and Jack Darling as a result of costly Bulldog turnovers.
It was exactly the sort of scenario Dogs' fans would have feared - costly early misses followed by goals to West Coast to get the home crowd "up and about" and full of voice. But the Bulldogs' players were unfazed by the less than perfect beginning, and a strong mark and goal to Liam Picken galvanised his team and set them on their way. The Bulldogs ran in numbers for the remainder of the quarter - a stark contrast to their effort at the venue two weeks earlier agains the Dockers - and added further goals via Caleb Daniel, Dickson and Tom Liberatore to take a 13-point lead into the first break.
West Coast had an early opportunity to regain momentum early in the second quarter but Kennedy's shot after a mark hit the post. The Bulldogs regained the ascendancy after that, and Dickson's second goal after a mark at the four-minute mark had them ahead by three goals. A snap from Luke Dahlhaus in heavy traffic extended the Dogs' lead to 23 points and when Lachie Hunter marked and goaled midway through the term, the Bulldogs had kicked seven majors in a row to leave the Eagles shell-shocked. A late goal to Mitch Brown cut the margin to an even four goals at half time but the Western Bulldogs went into the long break looking the far superior side.
When play resumed in the third quarter, there was an air of expectancy that the home side would hit its straps and the Bulldogs, by far the most inexperienced of the sides in the top eight in terms of average games played, would fade. But once again the Dogs ignored the script, controlling the first 10 minutes of the term to add 2.2 to nil, the goals going to Clay Smith and Picken to open up a commanding 38-point break and it began to dawn on all and sundry at the ground that the Bulldogs were not only heading for a win against the odds, but one of significant magnitude.
The Eagles had a brief period of dominance in the middle of the term, but it produced only one goal and three behinds, and time-on heralded a return to control of the game to the Bulldogs, with goals to Josh Dunkley and Jordan Roughead set up by magnificent run from defence extending the Dogs' advantage to 44 points. A late mark and goal to Darling cut that back to 36 at the final end-change, but by that stage few could see West Coast mounting a comeback and stealing the match.
An early last-quarter goal again increased the Bulldog lead to 44 points before a mark in the goal square to Mark LeCras was converted to cut the deficit to six goal at the four-minute mark to give the home side the faintest of hopes. Four minutes later, though, a mark and goal from outside 50-metre arc to Marcus Bontempelli ended any such thoughts. Jake Stringer, who had had a quiet night, emulated Bontempelli's feat at the 12-minute mark, extending the Dogs' lead to 51 points, and the last 20 minutes of the game saw both sides more or less playing out time, the result now a foregone conclusion.
The Dogs added three further behinds while Kennedy scored a consolation goal for the Eagles, the final margin being 47 points in the Western Bulldogs'; favour, one that even the most optimistic of fans would surely not have forecast.
While the Bulldogs had winners all over the ground, Liam Picken (23 disposals, two goals), Luke Dahlhaus (29 touches, nine tackles and a goal) and Caleb Daniel (33 possessions, one goal) stood out, with Picken worthy of particular mention for his outstanding work in the first 45 minutes when the game was up for grabs. For the Eagles, Andrew Gaff (35 disposals) was his usual prolific self, while Mark Hutchings (25 touches and five tackles) put in a solid four-quarter effort.
The Bulldogs will now head into the second week of the finals full of belief. They will play reigning premier Hawthorn at the MCG on Friday and, while the Hawks will start favourites, the Bulldogs will go into the match knowing they can match it with their opponents, their round-three clash only falling Hawthorn's way with the last kick of the match.
For West Coast, some soul-searching is in order. The Eagles were Grand Finalists last year and, although their late-season form had been excellent, they were unable to win enough games throughout the season to set up a top-four finish and secure the double-chance and they paid the ultimate price for that failure on Thursday night.
West Coast: Darling, Kennedy 2; Hill, Brown, LeCras
Western Bulldogs: Picken, Dickson, Dunkley 2; Dahlhaus, Hunter, Daniel, Liberatore, Smith, Roughead, Bontempelli, Stringer
BEST - AFL.COM.AU
West Coast: Hutchings, Gaff, Shuey, Butler, Hurn
Western Bulldogs: Dahlhaus, Daniel, Boyd, Picken, Hunter, Johannisen
BEST - HERALD SUN
West Coast: Gaff, Shuey, Hutchings, Schofield
Western Bulldogs: Daniel, Dahlhaus, Picken, Hunter, Boyd, Hamling, Dickson, Macrae
West Coast: Nil
Western Bulldogs: Jong (right shoulder)
UMPIRES: Farmer, Rosebury, Schmitt
TELEVISION BROADCAST: Seven Network
COMMENTATORS: Dennis Cometti, Basil Zempilas, Luke Darcy, Leigh Matthews, Peter Bell
|West Coast||Match Stats||Career|
|37||Barrass, Tom||6||6||5||11||0||0||1||1||0||0||20y 336d||13||0|
|1||Brown, Mitchell||3||0||2||5||1||0||0||3||0||0||27y 266d||94||14|
|26||Butler, Sam||12||5||12||24||0||0||0||3||0||0||30y 238d||157||16|
|15||Cripps, Jamie||4||0||2||6||0||0||0||6||0||1||24y 138d||98||117|
|27||Darling, Jack||6||6||5||11||2||0||0||3||1||2||24y 87d||128||228|
|3||Gaff, Andrew||20||2||15||35||0||0||0||1||1||1||24y 84d||132||49|
|22||Giles, Jonathan||5||4||3||8||0||0||28||3||0||1||28y 244d||58||42|
|33||Hill, Josh||6||4||5||11||1||1||0||2||1||2||27y 233d||161||210|
|25||Hurn, Shannon||19||3||6||25||0||0||0||2||0||0||29y 4d||200||49|
|34||Hutchings, Mark||10||5||15||25||0||0||0||5||1||0||25y 106d||56||29|
|17||Kennedy, Josh||12||8||4||16||2||1||0||2||1||2||29y 14d||188||450|
|2||LeCras, Mark||13||7||4||17||1||2||0||3||1||1||30y 9d||177||377|
|29||Lycett, Scott||4||2||5||9||0||0||16||6||2||0||23y 348d||49||35|
|7||Masten, Chris||11||2||16||27||0||0||0||2||0||0||27y 129d||161||57|
|20||McGovern, Jeremy||10||7||3||13||0||0||6||1||0||2||24y 146d||55||19|
|11||Priddis, Matt||5||0||20||25||0||1||0||8||1||1||31y 171d||219||67|
|31||Schofield, Will||5||4||5||10||0||0||0||6||1||0||27y 228d||154||20|
|4||Sheed, Dom||5||2||4||9||0||0||0||1||0||0||21y 151d||39||12|
|5||Sheppard, Brad||8||2||12||20||0||0||0||4||0||2||25y 108d||107||16|
|13||Shuey, Luke||6||1||22||28||0||0||1||6||1||0||26y 98d||134||111|
|12||Wellingham, Sharrod||11||4||4||15||0||0||0||4||1||1||28y 63d||158||73|
|6||Yeo, Elliot||8||5||5||13||0||2||0||7||1||1||22y 343d||84||37|
|Western Bulldogs||Match Stats||Career|
|24||Biggs, Shane||14||7||5||19||0||0||0||2||1||1||25y 34d||39||7|
|4||Bontempelli, Marcus||13||4||8||21||1||2||1||4||4||1||20y 289d||60||55|
|5||Boyd, Matthew||14||4||12||26||0||0||0||2||0||0||34y 12d||279||83|
|17||Boyd, Tom||6||5||8||14||0||2||8||5||1||0||21y 17d||35||34|
|12||Cordy, Zaine||6||5||2||8||0||0||0||1||1||0||19y 317d||8||5|
|6||Dahlhaus, Luke||12||6||17||29||1||1||0||9||1||0||24y 18d||112||95|
|35||Daniel, Caleb||17||1||16||33||1||0||0||4||0||0||20y 63d||31||15|
|29||Dickson, Tory||13||7||5||18||2||2||0||5||0||0||28y 348d||76||130|
|20||Dunkley, Josh||6||2||9||15||2||0||3||4||0||0||19y 243d||14||8|
|30||Hamling, Joel||7||3||6||13||0||0||0||0||1||2||23y 152d||20||0|
|7||Hunter, Lachie||16||5||10||26||1||2||0||3||2||1||21y 270d||59||26|
|39||Johannisen, Jason||21||8||4||25||0||0||0||6||1||1||23y 305d||61||18|
|46||Jong, Lin||2||0||4||6||0||0||0||2||0||0||23y 96d||39||25|
|21||Liberatore, Tom||13||3||9||22||1||0||0||3||0||1||24y 115d||95||32|
|11||Macrae, Jack||9||3||15||24||0||0||0||4||1||2||22y 36d||74||18|
|38||Morris, Dale||2||2||4||6||0||0||0||2||0||0||33y 254d||227||3|
|42||Picken, Liam||14||9||9||23||2||0||0||3||0||0||30y 38d||173||57|
|23||Roughead, Jordan||6||4||6||12||1||1||17||3||1||1||25y 310d||110||23|
|14||Smith, Clay||3||2||16||19||1||0||0||9||1||2||23y 120d||44||28|
|9||Stringer, Jake||4||2||6||10||1||1||1||2||0||0||22y 136d||70||132|
|1||Suckling, Matt||12||1||7||19||0||1||0||4||1||1||28y 45d||118||58|
|10||Wood, Easton||3||4||9||12||0||0||0||0||1||0||27y 4d||104||14|