AFL grand final: Western Bulldogs coach Luke Beveridge uses his own unique recipe to cook up success

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Craig O'DonoghueThe West Australian
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Western Bulldogs coach Luke Beveridge has been prepared to defy convention on the way to the grand final.
Camera IconWestern Bulldogs coach Luke Beveridge has been prepared to defy convention on the way to the grand final. Credit: Iain Gillespie/The West Australian

The Western Bulldogs are becoming geniuses at achieving success through different means.

They did in 2016 when the won the flag from outside the top four, they’re into a grand final this season after overcoming extraordinary travel and quarantine challenges, and if they win the premiership, coach Luke Beveridge may have re-written the book on team selection.

We are constantly told that athletes crave stability and certainty. Coaches need to find their best team, leave their players in position and stick to that formula.

Yet Beveridge’s decision to use 41 players this season has blown that idea out of the water.

No team used more players this season and doing so in the past has been associated with disaster. In the last decade, only 14 teams have used 41 players in a season, none made the finals, they combined to average five wins, and five of those coaches lost their jobs.

The Dogs have been comfortable to make changes. Across the season, they made 67 weekly selection changes. Melbourne made just 33.

This week Beveridge had to tell Ryan Gardner and Laitham Vandermeer that they won’t play in the grand final because Alex Keath and Cody Weightman were returning from injury.

But Beveridge said this grand final appearance had been a genuine squad effort.

“Ultimately the hope is the boys who have missed out have got this vision of themselves getting an opportunity maybe next year or into the future,” Beveridge said.

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“They’ve been such an important part of our journey this year. Forty-one of our 43 have played and each one of them have helped us to win important games. They definitely feel a significant part of it.

“Marcus and all of his teammates have made them feel like they have absolutely been instrumental and critical in getting us here and creating this opportunity.”

Beveridge hasn’t just swung the changes searching for the premiership formula, he’s also decided that versatility trumps stability.

Jason Johannisen won a Norm Smith Medal as a damaging half-back. He’s now a forward.

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - AUGUST 10: Jason Johannisen of the Bulldogs in action during the 2019 AFL round 21 match between the Essendon Bombers and the Western Bulldogs at Marvel Stadium on August 10, 2019 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Michael Willson/AFL Photos via Getty Images)
Camera IconNorm Smith medallist Jason Johannisen is now a forward despite winning the flag in defence. Credit: Michael Willson/AFL Photos/via Getty Images

Bailey Dale played only nine games as a forward last season. He’s now an All-Australian defender.

Defender Caleb Daniel was thrown around mid-year, the Dogs have tried multiple ruck tactics, while key forward Josh Schache played as a defender when the Bulldogs and Demons last clashed.

“Shack was a legitimate key defender that night. Back then we had some plans for Josh to play a little bit of time in the ruck as well,” Beveridge said.

“Now he presents as our player who can play at either end. We’ve always had players who can swing who are medium smalls who can play high half-back or half-forward or wing or inside at times.

“We’ve in recent times never had someone who we can swing to either end. Shack can do that. He becomes that utility we haven’t had. He becomes the extra height we haven’t had.”

It’s not conventional, but Beveridge is a man who handed over his premiership medal and honour of holding up the cup to Bob Murphy in 2016.

Expect the unexpected.

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