The Western Bulldogs vowed to bring the fight to the Swans in the AFL season decider after pipping Greater Western Sydney by six points in Saturday’s epic preliminary final.
Jack Macrae converted his set shot with a tick under three minutes remaining at Spotless Stadium, giving the Bulldogs a six-point lead.
Devon Smith then missed a chance to level the scores before Troy Dickson hit the post after the siren in an appropriately dramatic finish to a pulsating clash, which the visitors claimed 13.11 (89) to 12.11 (83).
The Bulldogs had won plaudits for an entertaining style of football this year but won ugly to snap a run of seven consecutive losses in preliminary finals.
Both sides were a man down for the entire second half, with GWS co-captain Callan Ward and Bulldogs ruckman Jordan Roughead both suffering heavy hits to the head during the second quarter.
The Giants were more refreshed after a week off but it was Luke Beveridge’s side who handled the dogfight better.
“I said to them before that when Ali was in his prime, when he started, he danced and had all the skills in the world,” Beveridge said.
“Late in his career, he won The Rumble In The Jungle with the rope-a-dope. We saw a bit of everything tonight from both sides but we just kept getting off the mat, kept getting off the canvas.
“We feel like we’re going to be thereabouts next week in the biggest game of our lives.
“We’ll respect them (Sydney) but we’ll go in trying to do what we know best. That’s a little bit of Ali dance, a little bit of rope-a-dope … but I don’t think they’ll let us dance too much.”
Beveridge called the minor premiers “one of the best teams that have ever gone around”.
The Bulldogs will return to the grand final for the first time since 1961, while they will be shooting for their first premiership since 1954.
The second-year coach noted he was ecstatic but drained after the scrappy game – sentiments shared by many Bulldogs fans among the crowd of 21,790.
“It’ll be a big night all around Australia for our supporters and we feel pretty good about that,” Beveridge said.
Having overcome a series of setbacks in an injury-riddled campaign, the Bulldogs again rallied against the odds.
The Giants boasted a game-high lead of 14 points after booting the first two goals of the final term.
The visitors somehow took control of the see-sawing contest thanks to clutch goals from Dickson, Marcus Bontempelli and Zaine Cordy.
“It was almost like a game of chess and a war of attrition,” Beveridge said.
“There wasn’t any great margin in the game the whole time … who knows if it goes for another five minutes?”
Clay Smith booted four goals in the first half to help the Bulldogs back up knock-out final wins over West Coast and Hawthorn, last year’s two grand finalists.
Luke Dahlhaus, Josh Dunkley, Caleb Daniel and Liam Picken were also influential for the Dogs, while Tom Scully was inspirational for the home side.
“It’s disappointing but the Dogs deserved to win. We scrapped pretty well but … their pressure was great,” Giants coach Leon Cameron said.