The Western Bulldogs claimed their first AFL title in 62 years as they defeated the Sydney Swans in the Grand Final. Luke Beveridge’s men ended the longest drought in the history of the league by clinching the club’s second crown, but were forced to battle to the end of the contest to see off the Swans.
Sydney moved within a single point of the Bulldogs in the final quarter, only for Tom Boyd and Liam Picken to add late scores to end the Bulldogs’ long wait . The win for Beveridge’s side ended Hawthorn’s dominance of the competition, but they, along with the 16 clubs in the AFL, will be determined to knock off the Scray next term.
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However, the Western Bulldogs are backed strongly in the latest Bet365 betting odds at 4/1 to make another run for the championship, and their supporters will be hopeful that they will not have to wait another 62 years for a title.
Beveridge arrived at the club in 2015 after the Bulldogs parted company with Brendan McCartney after three poor seasons at Docklands Stadium, winning only 22 out of possible 66 matches. They finished well outside the playoff places in 2014, and a lot of work needed to be done on their defense as the Scray allowed 2177 points, the fourth-worst record in the league.
Beveridge was an assistant coach at Hawthorn, but decided to depart after their second crown on the spin, being widely tipped to return to one of his former clubs St Kilda, only to be lured to coach the Bulldogs.
Along with McCartney, CEO Simon Garlick and veteran players Ryan Griffen and Adam Cooney departed the club, leaving the Bulldogs short on experience. Beveridge’s task was made tougher by a serious injury sustained by Charles Sutton medal winner Tom Liberatore, ruling him out of the 2015 campaign.
Despite being underdogs throughout the season, the 46-year-old brought the best out in his team, while new captain Robert Murphy thrived in his new role, replacing Griffen. The defense improved significantly to become the seventh-best in the division, helping the club into the post-season with a sixth-place finish, only to be dumped out in the first round by Adelaide.
Given the fact that the Bulldogs overcame such adversity, Beveridge was named coach of the year, but the club were determined not to be satisfied with only a playoff berth. They returned to their best form in the 2016 season, winning nine of their opening 12 matches.
However, another setback was to occur when Murphy was ruled out for the season, which promoted Easton Wood into the role as captain. The defense did not suffer in the veteran’s absence as they became the third-best unit in the AFL, although their potency in the final third was not as strong as in 2015 as Jake Stringer and Tory Dickson’s form in front of goal dipped.
The offense did find their form in the post-season, seeing off the West Coast Eagles in the first round before putting 100 points on the defending champions Hawthorn in the next phase to advance. Greater Western Sydney Giants posed a tough obstacle, but Beveridge’s men edged past them to reach their first final since 1961.
On the big stage they delivered with a great display against the Swans to clinch their first crown since 1954. Beveridge embraced his injured skipper, handing him his winners’ medal, only for the 34-year-old to hand it back in the next day.
The relationship between the two-time coach of the year and his players, and the spirit they have built up over the past two seasons leaves them in a strong position for the next campaign. With their resilience, only a flawless performance from an opposing team will knock the Bulldogs out of contention, making them one of the leading contenders for the title in 2017.