Tackling machine Tom Liberatore personified leadership in Sunday’s AFL clash at the MCG, powering Western Bulldogs to a 32-point win over Melbourne.
Liberatore laid an astonishing 19 tackles in the match, equalling Jude Bolton and Jack Ziebell’s VFL/AFL record for most tackles in a game.
The Demons were competitive in patches but ultimately outclassed and outworked by the Bulldogs, who triumphed 17.12 (114) to 12.10 (82).
“Tom was unbelievable all day. His pressure around the ball led the way for us,” former skipper Matthew Boyd told AAP.
“If we didn’t have him there it might have been a different story.”
Bulldogs coach Luke Beveridge was in awe of Liberatore, who was responsible for more than a quarter of the Bulldogs’ 68 tackles.
“That’s quite extraordinary,” Beveridge said of the 23-year-old, who missed the entire 2015 season because of a knee reconstruction.
“His second, third and fourth efforts … it’s sort of never say die stuff.
“It sets a great example for his teammates and I think over the last two or three weeks he’s probably just started to get his mojo back.”
Bulldogs Marcus Bontempelli and Luke Dahlhaus were both dominant in the middle, while Jack Redpath and Jake Stringer booted a combined eight goals.
Beveridge’s side increased their lead at every break and responded whenever the Demons managed to generate some momentum.
“We’re trying to ward off those weeks where you have a downturn in your energy and commitment,” he said.
“We’re happy with the win, not overly pleased with them kicking 5 goals in the last quarter.”
The Bulldogs, who face Greater Western Sydney in round nine, now boast a 6-2 record alongside GWS, Hawthorn and Sydney.
Melbourne veteran Bernie Vince was reported for a bump on Mitch Wallis, and Demons Neville Jetta and Cameron Pedersen will also be scrutinised by the match review panel.
Jetta struck Bontempelli’s face late in the second half, prompting one of many scuffles in the contest.
Pedersen cleaned up defender Fletcher Roberts, who underwent a concussion test but played on after the bump, early in the second half.
Both Beveridge and Melbourne coach Paul Roos were unwilling to comment about the incidents.
Roos was disappointed with the result but took heart from the way his side fought out the game.
“We made them earn it,” Roos said.
“We didn’t think we played great but at least we sort of made them play some good footy.
“I like the way our team is persevering now. There’s a lot more resilience about what we do.”
MOST TACKLES IN AN VFL/AFL GAME
19 – Tom Liberatore v Melbourne (2016), Jack Ziebell v Melbourne (2016), Jude Bolton v West Coast (2011)
18 – Matt Priddis v Richmond (2014).