Western Bulldogs through to grand final after upset 71-point belting of Port Adelaide at Adelaide Oval
Two of Victoria’s most success-starved clubs will chase the pot of gold at Optus Stadium after the Western Bulldogs stunned Port Adelaide in a famous preliminary final upset on Saturday night.
The Bulldogs will meet Melbourne in Perth’s grand final on September 25, in the last stop of the most arduous finals journey in football history that took them from Melbourne to Launceston to Brisbane to Perth to Adelaide and back to Perth.
In the process the Dogs, who finished fifth on percentage, won three consecutive knockout finals in an echo of 2016 when they claimed a fairytale flag from seventh.
The Bulldogs and Demons, who are aiming to end a 57-year premiership drought, have won just one flag between them in the past half a century. In another twist, Footscray’s first VFL premiership in 1954 came against Melbourne and was also on September 25.
Star Bulldogs midfielder Bailey Smith picked up where he left off at the Gabba with the first goal of the game and finished with four majors in the 71-point victory at Adelaide Oval.
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Jack Macrae starred with 36 touches and nine score involvements, while Collingwood recruit Adam Treloar was strong with 23 dispsosals, five clearances, 13 score involvements and a goal.
It prompted Bulldogs coach Luke Beveridge to fire back after Treloar’s two-kick performance against Brisbane last week drew criticism from a string of onlookers including writers and former players Kane Cornes and Jonathan Brown.
“Some of the ridiculous commentary and insinuations around Adam, it was just so distasteful from people,” Beveridge said.
“Like if you’re going to fail at something, don’t fail at trying to pull people down. I just don’t know how people can sleep next to people like that when they’re so vindictive and that was nasty.”
Defender Alex Keath (hamstring) and forward Cody Weightman (concussion) loom as certain inclusions for the grand final after sitting out, while forward Laitham Vandermeer was subbed out with hamstring tightness.
“I think everyone’s pretty emotional because it’s a big journey for everyone across the 18 clubs,” Beveridge said.
“A lot’s been thrown at everyone and just to get another look at a grand final is incredible.”
Having spent the week quarantining in Perth and enduring rigorous COVID testing and protocols, the determined Dogs set up their win over the Power with a devastating first half as they kicked 12 goals to three to set up a luxurious 58-point half-time buffer.
The Bulldogs then coasted through the second half before winning 17.14 (116) to 6.9 (45).
The visitors piled on seven goals to one on the back of total domination around the ball in the opening term, smashing the Power in a +23 contested ball result before leading the count 84-59 at half-time to go with a handsome 24-15 clearance lead.
Mitch Hannan was the unlikely leader in attack with a season-high three goals in the first-half, while WA product Aaron Naughton had already kicked two goals and taken four contested marks as his teammates kept interceptor Aliir Aliir under control.
The Power looked to have eaten the margin down to 40 points early in the third quarter with a goal to Charlie Dixon and two to sidekick Todd Marshall.
But when the video replay revealed Marcus Bontempelli had got a finger to Marshall’s second while standing the mark, the goal was wiped. It would take more than a quarter for Dixon to get Port Adelaide’s next and final goal on a dark night for the club.
Power coach Ken Hinkley struggled to explain the midfield mauling.
“We had what we needed. We had the build-up we wanted and we came out and got blown off the park very early by the Bulldogs,” Hinkley said.
“They put us under enormous pressure around the ball. They put it forward, they turned it into goals and then we had to start chasing everything because it was a prelim final. Which turns the game into probably as big a disaster as it was by the end of it.
“It’s probably not the perfect time for me to talk too much about what happened early, because when you get into this stage of the year and it’s a prelim final, so many emotions are going on and what you need and what you want and what you hope and wish for at the end of tonight – we got nowhere near what that was. But we have no excuses.”
Bulldogs defender Easton Wood, the 2016 premiership skipper, said it was a remarkable turnaround after losing their last three games of the regular season to miss the top four.
“Honestly I can’t believe it. It’s surreal,” Wood said.
“I mean the way we finished the year and to be in this position, it didn’t go to plan. We lost our last three.
“We’ve been in about five different States in the last three weeks, away from family, away from friends and we’re in a grand final. How incredible is that.”
Wood said a harder edge in the midfield had been key to turning things around.
“We knew we had to be stronger around the ball. We were dominant throughout the year because we had a dominant midfield,” he said.
“They took it upon themselves after those three games to go away and work and know that we needed to be unbelievably strong in there, and we’ve just built and built.”
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