The fairytale Western Bulldogs premiership is Exhibit A for the AFL in its defence of the controversial round-23 bye.
The Bulldogs became the first AFL team to win the flag from seventh place when they beat Sydney in Saturday’s epic grand final.
There has plenty of debate around the league’s decision to introduce a bye weekend between round 23 and the start of the finals series.
It was introduced to stop finals-bound teams resting players in large numbers for round 23.
Four-time Hawthorn premiership coach Alastair Clarkson and Fremantle counterpart Ross Lyon have been vocal opponents, saying it dilutes the advantage of finishing in the top four.
It is notable that Geelong and the Giants went out of the finals in straight sets.
But it was a huge benefit for the Bulldogs, who recalled five players for their elimination final against West Coast.
Of those, Jack Macrae, Tom Liberatore, Jordan Roughead and Easton Wood all played in Saturday’s premiership and Matt Suckling was an unlucky omission.
“To get those guys back, the bye really helped us,” Bulldogs veteran Matthew Boyd told Channel Seven’s Game Day.
“I know a lot of people have probably spoken ill about the bye, but I’ve loved it.”
Boyd was asked whether they would have won the flag without the pre-finals bye.
“It’s hard to speculate on those sorts of things, but if we didn’t have the bye, we wouldn’t have gotten some of those players back (for the Eagles final),” Boyd said.
The Bulldogs easily beat West Coast in a big upset to start the finals series.
It gave the ‘Dogs massive momentum and captain Easton Wood revealed the win was the moment he started thinking they could win the premiership.
“It was probably after that West Coast game … we limped into that bye, we lost to Freo over in (Perth) and we obviously knew how big a task it would be to beat West Coast,” Wood told Channel Nine’s Footy Show.
“To win the way we did there, so emphatically, and the total performance the boys put in, it was amazing.
“I remember being out there, just thinking ‘shit, this team can really play – we might do the whole lot’.”