Western Bulldogs coach Luke Beveridge senses his team might be ready to achieve AFL greatness this year after getting the finals monkey off their back in stunning fashion.
The Bulldogs will face either Geelong or Hawthorn in a blockbuster semi-final next week after beating West Coast by 47 points in Thursday night’s elimination final in Perth.
The victory was the Bulldogs’ first finals triumph since 2010, and it keeps them in the hunt to win this year’s flag.
Beveridge took a major punt by recalling four players from injury against the Eagles, as well as out-of-form forward Jake Stringer.
But the gamble paid off as the Bulldogs ambushed the Eagles to record their maiden finals win outside of Victoria.
Although the Bulldogs remain rank outsiders to win this year’s flag, Beveridge said the spirit and tenacity they displayed against West Coast meant there would be no ceiling on what they can achieve.
“One thing that is really important is to get that finals monkey off your back and actually win one. That feels good,” Beveridge said.
“This playing group – we’re not sure what they’re capable of.
“On tonight’s performance, we need to continue to replicate a lot of that to be a threat to any of the sides left. But we might be ready. Time will tell.”
The euphoria of Thursday night’s win was soured somewhat by the season-ending injury suffered by midfielder Lin Jong.
Jong will miss the rest of the finals campaign after breaking his collarbone while being tackled to the ground in the second term.
The 23-year-old was in tears on the bench after realising his finals dream was over.
And with a move to either Collingwood or Gold Coast on the cards for Jong, he may have played his final game for the Bulldogs.
Beveridge admits his team were shaken up by their shock 20-point loss to struggling Fremantle a fortnight ago.
But he said they learned valuable lessons from that defeat, and were now treating every final like a grand final.
Midfielder Tom Liberatore was one of the four players recalled from injury to face the Eagles.
And the 24-year-old didn’t disappoint, tallying 22 disposals and a goal in his first match back since suffering a serious ankle injury in late July.
“All credit to him and our medical and conditioning staff,” Beveridge said.
“He did have surgery and he had the bones wired together.
“Guys have got through with minor syndesmosis injury, but his was pretty major. He was enormous for us tonight.”
Emerging star Caleb Daniel also starred for the Bulldogs with 33 disposals, six score assists, and one goal.