In soccer, the Dutch called it Total Football. Kevin Sheedy broke Essendon’s premiership drought in 1984 with the concept and Alastair Clarkson made it a feature of the Hawthorn three-peat era.
Now partly through the necessity of an injury-riddled season, Western Bulldogs are making player versatility a hallmark of the campaign to break their 62-year AFL premiership drought.
From the moment coach Luke Beveridge arrived at the Bulldogs from Hawthorn, he preached the need for players to have more than one string to their bow.
Ruckman Jordan Roughead, for example, can also play as a key defender or as a marking forward.
It has been particularly useful this season, with the Bulldogs repeatedly changing their line-up to cope with the run of injuries.
“You have to be able to play more than one position,” Roughead said.
“Across the board, we have a list that’s pretty strong in that area.
“It has been crucial to us – regardless of the injuries, we’d have been looking to play in that vein.”
Jake Stringer can play in the midfield as well as a forward, while Marcus Bontempelli is a dangerous resting forward when not wreaking havoc at the stoppages.
Liam Picken used to be a tagger – he has been a star for the ‘Dogs in this finals series as a marking forward.
The Dutch refined Total Football on the way to making the 1974 World Cup final.
A decade later, Sheedy famously made sweeping changes to his side during the ’84 grand final.
Essendon roared back in the last quarter to beat Hawthorn for their first flag since 1965.
Over the last three seasons, star Hawthorn players Luke Hodge, Sam Mitchell and Shaun Burgoyne have alternated between the midfield and half-back with devastating effect.
Tactics aside, the Bulldogs are riding an emotional wave heading into Saturday’s preliminary final against the Giants.
This is the first time since 1961 that they have won consecutive finals in the same year.
“It’s a great feeling. We have to keep the ball rolling and take it as far as we can,” Roughead said.
The Bulldogs big man added he needed the weekend to recover after Friday night’s emotional semi-final win over Hawthorn.
“The really positive energy and excitement in the room straight afterwards gets you on a big emotional high,” he said.
“Then you head home, you come down and you crash – you’re pretty knackered.
“The Saturday and Sunday was a good time to refresh, that was the best thing about playing on Friday night.”