DOGGIES LEAN AND HUNGRY
THE hotel kitchen was not ready for these hungry Western Bulldogs.
It was semi-final eve for an AFL club with the appetite for a premiership when they ran out of meals.
With Uber Eats banned and isolation mandatory, it was almost as if professional footballers had been confused with disobedient toddlers and sent to their rooms without supper.
On Saturday room numbers were paged over the PA, alerting players they could unlock their doors to pick up a feed.
It was hardly a breakfast of champions. The eggs had been cooked hours earlier and were as cold as the club’s welcome to the Sunshine State.
The Dogs’ travel party was ordered to disembark the bus in small groups when it arrived at their Brisbane hotel on Friday.
Each group had to stay onboard until the previous group had reached their rooms.
With hotel lifts operating at minimal capacity it made the check-in process about as smooth as Essendon’s ball movement in the second half of last week’s elimination final.
It is undeniable. These Bulldogs are forging the hardest road travelled to a premiership.
The itinerary reads Melbourne to Launceston to Brisbane to Perth to Adelaide and back to Perth.
But they are halfway there, and the one-point win against Brisbane Lions on Saturday night deserves to go down as one of their greatest.
They played like they were dog hungry.
“These past couple of days have been tough, not being able to mix with teammates,” said Bailey Smith, who was one of the many heroes.
“Being isolated for 48 hours and not being able to see teammates before the game is different.
“That’s probably not how you prepare for a semi-final.”
Not even Steven Spielberg could have scripted a better ending to this instant classic.
The rousing player celebrations on the siren only rose in the rooms as a week of heated bottled emotions were opened.
It was a stirring accomplishment well worth celebrating.
Really, if you park the 2016 it is hard to remember a greater performance.
Instead of sulking at conditions they had not faced, these Bulldogs embraced an us-against-them and against-all-odds mentality.
The AFL and Queensland government granted the Dogs one excursion on Saturday – to the Gabba so they could eat lunch together – after locking in a 7.20pm timeslot.
It was a rare chance for players to see each other as the Lions prepared by sleeping in their own beds and living without restrictions.
But did that help Charlie Cameron when he raced quarantining Taylor Duryea who had been flattened by Joe Daniher to a final foot race to decide the game?
Duryea pumped his heavy legs and it was the well-rested man with the motorbike who finished second.
Full-back Alex Keath has probably made Peter Wright (scoreless) and Daniher (one goal) wish they did not even play in September as the leader of a defence that Rohan Smith has humming.
And it was Keath who shoved Dayne Zorko as he his hurried snap floated out of bounds – instead of sneaking a behind – when scores were level.
Two-goal Tom Liberatore and Jason Johannisen looked as desperate as a single person on Tinder in lockdown in the final minutes as they scrapped and clawed for the Sherrin.
It was a Libba spike that led to a Johannisen clearance and Smith’s go-ahead goal.
What about Marcus Bontempelli preventing a certain Daniher mark moments after Bontempelli brought down a speccy at the other end?
That flat-out defensive running saved a certain goal.
Speaking of the Bont, there appears no chance he would sit out a preliminary final, particularly as his PCL looked in the clear.
Bontempelli is too tough and too important to sit this one out, particularly when you think about some of the bruised warriors who have toughed it out in September.
Easton Wood looked like he spent quarantine in a time machine as his hamstring and quadriceps clenched with power that recapture his athletic prowess.
Little Lachie Hunter the brilliant runner used his 15.9km to find space and time for his divine ball use to shine as he continues to unlock gimme goals.
But the biggest boost has to be reserved for Jack Macrae, who in the semi-final ranked No.1 for disposals (39), contested ball (19), metres gained (814m), clearances (11) and inside 50s, as well as SuperCoach points (160).
Macrae is far from a goalkicking midfielder.
But in 2016 it was the ultra-reliable onballer who coolly converted the go-ahead goal against GWS in the last quarter of the preliminary final, and against the Lions it was Macrae who drilled a set-shot in the final term after misses from Keath and Johannisen.
Macrae won 30 disposals for the 22nd time this year, which is five more than Touk Miller (Gold Coast) and six more than Zach Merrett (Essendon).
What about selection? Johannisen should replace Cody Weightman (concussion) in Beveridge’s 22, with perhaps forgotten vice-captain Mitch Wallis, who has mentored Weightman, upgraded to substitute.
But the selection dilemma hovers above Lewis Young, who started in the ruck as Oscar McInerney helped the Lions pump through 4.2 (26) from centre bounces in the first half.
The Lions managed only three behinds out of the middle in the second half as Tim English’s presence at stoppages swelled.
Port Adelaide’s Scott Lycett monstered Young, 22, in round 23 and so it would be a brave call to stick with the raw ruckman.
Specialist Jordon Sweet is the obvious replacement.
But Sweet has appeared to sour at match committee and Beveridge has form doing the unthinkable in the middle – it was only his seventh game in the box when Lin Jong and Josh Dunkley went up against Aaron Sandilands.
Adam Treloar will not be dropped but will be after a lift although it is clear contested ball is what Beveridge cherishes.
It is understood that at halftime of the elimination final the
Bulldogs midfielders were told very clearly that they needed to lift.
In the second half against they won the contested footy count by 35 as they blew the Bombers to smithereens.
This season they are 13-2 (87 per cent) when they win the count and 4-5 (44 per cent) when they lose it.
Depth players erupted when the siren sounded as they watched on TV from Launceston, having remained in Tasmania due to a cap on those travelling to Queensland.
But the club will reunite in Perth soon as quarantine rolls on.
Last week’s troubles did not start in Brisbane.
Social media posts of GWS players teeing off at Barnbougle caused frustration, given the Dogs were only allowed to leave their Launceston base for training.
Mind you, it was not all bad in Tassie.
The Giants struggled for phone signal and the Dogs were close to the Launceston oval and liked their digs.
They are 6-1 interstate this season, which included a 19-point win against Port Adelaide at Adelaide Oval – their preliminary final match-up.
Beveridge’s boys had their hunger questioned after tasting success in 2016.
Perhaps those in charge of the club’s entry into South Australia would be best advised to keep these Bulldogs well-fed.