EDS: Note language in seventh paragraph
By Ben McKay
MELBOURNE, AAP – For all of the good vibes generated last year, Bob Murphy says the Western Bulldogs never want to finish an AFL season like it again.
In the All-Australian skipper’s own words, the Bulldogs were the fairytale story of 2015, roaring from mediocrity to finals football under first-year coach Luke Beveridge.
It came unstuck in the elimination final against Adelaide, when they were downed by seven points in one of the matches of the season.
The feel-good side of 2015 couldn’t have left the season feeling much worse.
Six months on, last September’s exit still rankles with the veteran.
“You’d be foolish to call 2015 anything but a pretty amazing season from where we started,” he told AAP.
“But I’m reminded of that great line from the movie Moneyball, ‘If you don’t win the last game of the season, who gives a s***’.
“We went out in a tight final and that’s going to leave a bruise.
“It also puts petrol in the engine for this year.”
Quite where the Bulldogs sit in the AFL landscape is an open question.
Is the youngest side to play finals footy last season destined to kick on?
Or was last year a flash in the pan, with a tough reality check awaiting Beveridge’s free spirits?
Additions to the Dogs’ squad certainly suggest the former.
A brutal post-season cull saw Jarrad Grant, Michael Talia and Ayce Cordy leave the club, with statement signing Matthew Suckling and veteran Jed Adcock brought in.
The two-time premier and elite kick Suckling, who worked with then-assistant Beveridge at the Hawks, is not the sort of player a club like the Western Bulldogs is supposed to attract.
But these are dreaming days at Whitten Oval, and Murphy says he understands why his side is exciting long-suffering fans and capturing the imagination of the competition.
“There’s an element of adventurous spirit in the club,” he said.
“That’s led by the president, CEO, coach and – I hope – the captain.
“The young group are on a bit of a discovery tour and it makes for a pretty exciting footy club to watch.”
There are still personnel questions, despite break-out seasons from Jake Stringer, Marcus Bontempelli and Jack Macrae among others.
The ruck is far from settled, with Will Minson or Jordan Roughead to duel through the season.
Mega-money forward Tom Boyd cannot afford another development year, especially with Stewart Crameri’s doping suspension.
Helping off-set those concerns is the return to fitness of 2014 best and fairest Tom Liberatore, who missed 2015 with an ACL injury.
The Bulldogs will be able to burst out of the blocks with their first seven games at Etihad, where they’ve patented their “fast footy” style on the rock-hard surface.
Fremantle and Hawthorn loom as tough early-season assignments, but four points from either of those matches would confirm the Bulldogs of 2015 are back.
Anything is possible for the Bulldogs, and Murphy credits Beveridge for creating that environment.
“This will sound a bit wanky … but the coach at an AFL club is like the sun in the galaxy, players orbit around him,” he says.
“That’s where the most energy comes from. And Luke, well he burns brightly.”
Coach: Luke Beveridge
Captain: Robert Murphy
Last five years: 10-15-15-14-7
Premierships: 1 (1954)
Key five: Bob Murphy, Marcus Bontempelli, Jake Stringer, Luke Dahlhaus, Jordan Roughead.
One to watch: Tom Liberatore. The 2014 best and fairest missed the entirety of the 2015 season with an ACL but is back and “looks every bit the player before he hurt himself” according to skipper Murphy. Of the many improbabilities about the Bulldogs’ rise last year is that they achieved it without their club champion. What is possible with him?
Ins: Marcus Adams (West Perth, WAFL), Jed Adcock (Brisbane Lions), Kieran Collins (Dandenong U18) Josh Dunkley (Gippsland U18), Luke Goetz (Western Jets U18), Brad Lynch (Swan Districts, WAFL), Matthew Suckling (Hawthorn), Bailey Williams (Glenelg, SANFL).
Outs: Ayce Cordy (delisted), Stewart Crameri (suspended), Sam Darley (delisted), Matt Fuller (delisted), Jarrad Grant (delisted), Brett Goodes (delisted), Jordan Kelly (delisted), Daniel Pearce (delisted), Michael Talia (Sydney).
B: Joel Hamling, Fletcher Roberts, Dale Morris
HB: Bob Murphy, Easton Wood, Matthew Boyd
C: Marcus Bontempelli, Jack Macrae, Jason Johanissen
HF: Luke Dahlhaus, Jake Stringer, Matthew Suckling
F: Lachie Hunter, Tory Dickson, Tom Boyd
R: Jordan Roughead, Mitch Wallis, Tom Liberatore
I: Jed Adcock, Will Minson, Mitch Honeychurch, Liam Picken
Predicted finish: 10th
Betting (William Hill)
To win the flag: $19
To make the top eight: $1.95