The 62-year wait is over for the Western Bulldogs, their premiership drought broken by one of the greatest grand finals in AFL history.
After five lead changes and constant high drama, the Bulldogs pulled away in the last quarter for a fairytale 22-point win on Saturday at the MCG.
Bulldogs players, personnel and fans were in tears after the 13.11 (89) to 10.7 (67) triumph, which came just two years after the club was in disarray.
Renowned as western suburbs’ battlers, their only other flag was in 1954. It is the third-longest wait for a premiership in history.
They are the first AFL team to win the flag from seventh place and it caps an amazing year where the Bulldogs have triumphed over a shocking run of injuries.
No injury was more devastating than the knee reconstruction after round three that ended captain Bob Murphy’s season.
Murphy was already a beloved figure at the Bulldogs and his off-field leadership since that cruel setback made him the inspirational figurehead of this premiership.
Coach Luke Beveridge called Murphy onto the stage after the match and handed him his Jock McHale medal as the premiership coach.
“This is yours mate – you deserve it more than anyone,” Beveridge said.
The flag is also a triumph for Beveridge, who is in only his second season as an AFL senior coach.
The Bulldogs were in freefall when Beveridge arrived at the club in late 2014, following the departures of his predecessor Brendan McCartney and captain Ryan Griffen.
It continues his Midas touch – in the past 11 years, Beveridge has been part of seven premierships as coach of amateur team St Bede’s-Mentone, as an assistant at Collingwood and Hawthorn, and now at the ‘Dogs.
Beveridge admitted to surprise that the Bulldogs had turned around their fortunes so emphatically in just two seasons.
He added that when their shocking run of injuries was at it height earlier this season, the team showed enormous faith.
“The probability at that time that we didn’t make it here was probably really high – say 90 per cent, maybe higher,” Beveridge said.
“So there’s a 10 per cent possibility that we get here – we were 100 per cent on the possibility.
“You have to stay glass half-full.”
It was appropriate that Jason Johannisen – another Bulldogs casualty earlier this year with a serious hamstring injury – won the Norm Smith Medal as best afield in the grand final.
Saturday’s win also capped a finals series where the Bulldogs upset West Coast in Perth, ended Hawthorn’s premiership reign and then upset the Giants in Sydney.
“It took everything we had and, once you’ve won three big games like that, you’re not sure whether you have another big one in you,” Beveridge said.
“Thank God we did.”
Club president Peter Gordon, another key Bulldogs figure, said the flag was a dream come true.
“This is one of those big days in life … that most of us will never forget, one of the happiest days of our lives, for all Bulldogs fans,” he said.
“What’s it feel like? It feels bloody fantastic!”
The Swans came so close to taking control in the second term but, ultimately, the 2012 premiers were left lamenting their second grand-final loss in three years.
They were also seething at the 20-8 free-kick count against them, another major talking point from the match.