Don’t pick underdone players.
It is one of sport’s most well-worn cliches but rang true in the AFL grand final.
Coaches John Longmire and Luke Beveridge both agonised over who should be in the respective 22 before showing their hand on Thursday night.
Beveridge was desperate to get Matt Suckling back into his team, knowing the former Hawthorn defender was the only player at his disposal to have experienced an AFL grand final.
Suckling is ordinarily one of the first picked at the Western Bulldogs but missed their preliminary final and had been on restricted duties for the better part of two months.
“Matty has had a sore Achilles for a fair period of time now and we’ve had to manage his workloads and training quite differently to the rest of the group,” Beveridge explained pre-match, suggesting it was too risky to change the side.
Longmire was likewise conflicted but decided not to err on the side of caution.
The 2012 premiership coach was forced to make at least one change to the Sydney outfit that so clinically touched up Geelong the previous week because of Aliir Aliir’s knee injury.
But Longmire, unable to resist the case for recalling both co-captain Jarrad McVeigh and Rising Star winner Callum Mills, eventually settled on two.
“You’ve got to go in with a fit squad … it’s quite easy to get caught up in grand final week and go ‘yeah, I’ll get through’,” Swans 2005 premiership skipper Barry Hall said last week.
“Horse (Longmire) is pretty measured so he won’t take a risk if there’s any doubt.”
Longmire insisted before and after the match there wasn’t any doubt.
“They got through fine. As we expected them to,” Longmire said.
The duo passed fitness tests but their output at the MCG on Saturday suggested they weren’t necessarily match fit.
McVeigh had been sidelined since limping off the SCG with a calf strain during the Swans’ semi-final win over Adelaide, while Mills was returning from a hamstring injury and without a full game of football under his belt since August 20.
Both lacked their usual rebounding run and largely failed to influence the contest.
The issue was compounded by injuries to Lance Franklin and Dan Hannebery, with the Swans failing to show the sort of quick and precise ball movement that underpinned their march to the minor premiership.
Hindsight is of course 20/20 and the irony is Beveridge gambled on Dale Morris, who played the grand final with a broken back, and rolled the dice in week one of the finals.
Beveridge made five changes for the Bulldogs’ elimination final against West Coast in Perth, where four players returned from injury including Tom Liberatore and Jack Macrae.
Liberatore and Macrae had missed the final four rounds of the regular season through injury.
“I can honestly say I wouldn’t have had the courage to pick all four. One or two possibly, but never four … all performed incredibly well,” four-time premiership coach David Parkin wrote in a Fox Sports column at the time.