Cinderella or this AFL season’s sentimental favourites?
Western Bulldogs take on Adelaide in Saturday night’s elimination final at the MCG and both present compelling cases for the neutral AFL fan.
Who could begrudge the upstart Dogs a win after a disastrous off-season that looked more likely to produce a wooden spoon than a finals appearance?
But then there’s the Crows, who’ve won much admiration for the way they’ve dealt with the unimaginable heartache of losing slain coach Phil Walsh 13 rounds into the season.
Interim coach Scott Camporeale and coaching director John Worsfold took over in unprecedented circumstances and surprised many in guiding Adelaide to the finals with a 6-3 win-loss record in the back-end of the season.
Skipper Taylor Walker has spoken of carrying on Walsh’s legacy at the grieving club and while assistant coach David Teague agrees with that sentiment he adds that the players will be focused entirely on the task at hand on Saturday night.
“In terms of unfinished business, it’s probably more in terms of where we’re at right now,” Teague said.
“We believe we can win, we believe we can play good finals football and compete with any of the teams in the finals.
“At the start of the year we believed we had a list that was capable of not only playing finals but winning finals and our form lately has given us a lot of belief that not only are we here to play, we’re here to win.”
The Dogs played an attractive style of footy on their way to a surprise sixth-placed finish, which has propelled first-year coach Luke Beveridge into coach of the year calculations.
Even the most optimistic supporter would have found it difficult to imagine such a scenario after a tumultuous off-season that saw coach Brendan McCartney sacked, while club captain Ryan Griffen and fellow veterans Shaun Higgins and Adam Cooney departed.
Throw in the pre-season loss of star onballer Tom Liberatore to a knee reconstruction and the Dogs’ campaign has been nothing short of spectacular.
The Bulldogs comfortably won the only meeting between the teams this season, back in round four, but that was on the fast deck at home ground Etihad Stadium – controversially denied to Beveridge’s side this week by the AFL.
As expected, veteran Dogs Dale Morris, Robert Murphy and Matthew Boyd returned to the side but Will Minson was something of a shock inclusion having last played AFL football in round 15.
“We’ve got complete confidence in Will in this type of game – he’s going to be really important for us,” Bulldogs assistant coach Steven King said. “Will’s got finals experience and he’s been playing some really good footy in the VFL.”
“We think he’s a really good match up for Sam Jacobs and we know he’s going to give us a great contest.”
The clubs have only met each other twice in finals in their history, with the Crows recording a stunning come-from-behind preliminary win in 1997 before demolishing the Dogs in the 1998 prelim in Adelaide’s only premiership years.