The Western Bulldogs produced a near perfect performance, recording their biggest ever winning margin in a finals game, as they thrashed Port Adelaide by 71 points.
Just as when they won the flag back in 2016, they will be doing it the hard way again, as a side that finished outside of the top four, if they are to be successful when they take on minor Premiers Melbourne at Optus Stadium in two week’s time.
They came into this encounter having been on a road trip that has encompassed five different states (Victoria, Tasmania, Queensland, Western Australia and South Australia) in the space of two weeks as well as having to adhere to stringent quarantine restrictions.
Coach Luke Beveridge (pictured above) rolled the dice with the inclusion of Steffan Martin, handing the ruckman his first start in over three months following injury.
It was a move that paid dividends as he watched his side blitz the hosts early and lead for the whole evening. It gave him his 92nd victory and he surpasses the late Edward James Whitten (1957–1971) with the most wins in charge at the club.
Post-match, he was full of praise for his group; he said “It was unbelievable, our players were superb. The collision footy that our players are prepared to play was just outrageously good. We were well aware at half-time that we still had a hell of a lot more work to do. But what an incredible night for our footy club.”
On the comparisons to 2016, he added “Obviously we won 15 home-and-aways in both years but we put ourselves under a hell of a lot of pressure coming into the first final against Essendon. So that’s significant as well, to be able to weather that storm. Last week was a game where, you know, ultimately there’s a bit of good fortune. Win by a point and I think tonight we played with a bit of freedom. But what a night to find that sort of a sense of freedom and vigour in our play.”
Bailey Smith booted the opening goal, went on to grab four and be named the best of ground. Joshua Schache (pictured below) played an invaluable and selfless role by nullifying the presence of Aliir Aliir which opened up things for his team mates.
Captain Marcus Bontempelli, who had been a slight doubt with a knee injury, got through the contest well as did Martin. With Cody Weightman and Alex Keith also set to return, it will give Beveridge a nice Grand Final (GF) selection headache.
Jack Macrae was pivotal, once more, as he racked up another 36 disposals and in doing so break Tom Mitchell’s (Hawthorn) record for the most ever in a season.
Speaking on-ground to Channel Seven, the midfielder said “We knew at the Adelaide Oval we would have to start well and take the crowd out of it. It was impressive from the very first bounce and the mids got us going from the start and we converted early. We have so much strength in the midfield that we work well together. When someone is getting tagged we try to do our best for them.”
Melbourne advanced to their first GF since 2000, in emphatic style, as they belted Geelong by a huge 83-point margin in front of a packed house at Optus Stadium.
In a contest that was expected to be a very tight affair, on the evidence of their Week 23 clash three weeks ago, it was anything but as they handed the Cats their heaviest finals defeat since 1969 and their biggest loss under coach Chris Scott since 2014.
Max Gawn (pictured above) led the way with a really strong display that included a career-high five majors – the most by a Demons captain in a Prelim. Four of those from the 5xAll-Australian ruckman came in a third quarter that saw his side blow the scoreboard wide open and put themselves well on their way to the showpiece event.
Speaking on ground, after the siren to Channel Seven, the 29-year old said “We just really wanted to come out here and play. It was a very, very nerve-wracking two weeks. The rivalry that we have with Geelong, the last five games have been genuinely crazy. I’m ecstatic for this group. It means so much to the supporters. It means so much to everyone back in Melbourne doing it tough.”
He added “We want to be able to win the Grand Final. That is what the target is. Obviously this is nice. We have got 50,000 Melbourne people here. But we haven’t broken the drought until we do something in two weeks. That is really what we’re looking forward to. Only 22 of us get to play but we represent that whole group.”
There were also impressive showings from Christian Petracca (32 disposals, eight clearances and a goal), Jack Viney (34 and nine) and Clayton Oliver (27 and seven) as they totally dominated the midfield battle while livewire forward Kysaiah Pickett (pictured below) thrived playing on the big stage with three fine goals.
The only disappointment, on the night, was the injury to key defender Steven May. He picked up a hamstring issue, in the first quarter, and despite coming back on with a heavy strapping, he eventually had to be subbed off towards the end of the third. The club will be desperately waiting to see how he pulls up over the next few days.
Speaking in the post-match presser, coach Simon Goodwin said “I think it feels terrific for our footy club. We’ve worked incredibly hard to be involved in these games and significant games. I sit here and I think of all of our supporters back home. I think of all the hard times they’ve been through and we get an opportunity now to do something really special and we’ve earnt that right.”
He added “I think it reaffirms a lot of belief we have got in the way we play. We understand we handled the moment well and the moment was about being ourselves and making sure people saw who we were and being true to ourselves and we were that tonight. But you know, we’ve still got work to do. There is a really big challenge that is sitting right in front of us and we want to make the most of it.”
Melbourne 19.11 (125)
Geelong 6.6 (42)
Port Adelaide 6.9 (45)
Western Bulldogs 17.14 (116)
AFL finals: Week 4 fixture – Grand Final
Saturday 25 September – Melbourne v Western Bulldogs @ Optus Stadium (5.15pm)