The Western Bulldogs have finished their triumphant AFL premiership season with the most favourable free-kick differential of any team in the competition.
The Bulldogs were awarded 99 more free kicks than they conceded over the course of the season, shading North Melbourne (+71) and Collingwood (+39).
Most teams gave away more free kicks than they earned, with Port Adelaide (-59), Greater Western Sydney (-54) and Geelong (-41) owning the worst differentials.
The Dogs were awarded 20 free kicks compared to Sydney’s eight during their grand final victory at the MCG on Saturday, with several decisions clear errors on behalf of the umpires.
To say it cost Sydney the game would be unfair, particularly considering the most contentious calls were made prior to a game-defining stretch in the fourth quarter in which the Bulldogs were simply too good for the Swans.
But the lopsided count – which left the Bulldogs’ free-kick differential for the finals at +31 – raised eyebrows and left the Swans privately fuming.
Particularly contentious was an incident early in the final term when Swans captain Dan Hannebery had his legs taken out by a sliding Easton Wood.
Hannebery suffered a knee injury and played no further part in the game, while the umpires waved play on and ruled the midfielder wasn’t infringed.
“Taking out the legs no longer a free kick… ,” Adelaide midfielder Brad Crouch posted on Twitter after the decision.
AFL umpires boss Luke Ball conceded the officials may have got some calls wrong in trying circumstances.
“Certainly a couple of them look like they probably could have been contact below the knee,” he told Channel Nine’s Footy Show.
“You call it as you see it, and it was a brutal game – 190 tackles. It’s bloody hard.”
Swans coach John Longmire could only laugh when asked after the game about the lopsided free-kick count.
“Look, the Doggies were good,” he said.
“All we can ask for is that they get paid both ways. I’d have to sit back and have a look at it in the cool light of day before I can comment on that.”
The Bulldogs also benefited from a contentious decision in the dying seconds of their narrow preliminary final win over GWS, with umpires declining to award the Giants a 50-metre penalty when Jason Johannisen infringed on Tom Scully’s protected zone.
Adelaide coach Don Pyke publicly complained about the lopsided free-kick count in the Bulldogs’ 15-point win over the Crows in round seven, prompting an angry response from counterpart Luke Beveridge.
“We train and play a certain way – it’s a little bit disrespectful to our players and how hard they go at the ball,” Beveridge said.
“You have young kids who, in their second year, are putting their head over the ball and attacking the game. If you deserve a free kick, you get one.”