Well, there you have it.
The 2021 AFL grand finalists have been decided, and it’s going to have a very retro feel about it.
Just as they did all the way back in 1954, when the Bulldogs won their first VFL/AFL flag, Melbourne and the Western Bulldogs will lock horns for this year’s premiership cup on September 25 at Optus Stadium.
And based on the way both sides qualified for the big dance, it’s going to be hard to pick a winner.
Some 24 hours after the Demons smashed the Cats by 83 points, the Bulldogs pulled off a similarly stunning performance in their destruction of Port Adelaide by 71 points.
It all shapes up to be a grand final for the ages, especially considering both the Demons and Bulldogs spent much of the season in the top two.
Thanks for following our coverage of the second preliminary final tonight, we look forward to your company again in a fortnight’s time for the grand final blog.
Bulldogs coach Luke Beveridge spoke to the media after the game…
Q: That game played to your trademarks, did it surprise you how easy it became?
It never felt easy. I said it feels like we’re two goals up in that last quarter. So, yeah, emotions are always high and in any big game and so, yeah, you never feel comfortable. There was the contest inside and definitely fought it. It was unbelievable, our players were superb. The collision footy that our players are prepared to play was just outrageously good. But, you know, in the third quarter, it started about third quarter, it wasn’t flash. There were a few things that crept in. I think we gave away four or five free kicks, easy ones, cheap ones so you never feel comfortable. When we won here earlier in the year they piled on about five in a row to get themselves almost level at one point. So we were well aware at half-time that we still had a hell of a lot more work to do. But what an incredible night for our footy club.
Q: Is it fair to draw comparisons to ’16 now because you’ve had to do it the long way?
I think you can, if we win in two weeks. But, yeah, look, I mean there’s some similarities but, you know, we were sitting in that top four for a long period in the year. You know, we were top two for a little bit, we held top spot for a little bit, we held top spot for some weeks and that is the main difference with the two journeys. Obviously we won 15 home-and-aways in both years but we put ourselves under a hell of a lot of pressure coming into the first final against Essendon. So that’s significant as well, to be able to weather that storm. And obviously, you know, last week was a game where, you know, ultimately there’s a bit of good fortune. Win by a point and I think tonight we played with a bit of freedom, that maybe the pressure of the first two finals was reduced a little bit and – but what a night to find that sort of a sense of freedom and vigour in our play. It was – just so moved by what the players did and very grateful once again.
Q: Everyone thought on the outside that you probably spent so much in that game in Tassie and then in that final against Brisbane. So where did this seemingly extra energy or extra drive come from during the week?
Look, we’ve had a couple of injuries in recent times. We have had injuries to key players. But by and large, you know, our group have been fit and healthy for a little while. Our staff do an incredible job behind the scenes nurturing and helping our players be at the peak of their physical performance. And mentally as well, with the challenges that they face. And I think, you know, the group think and the squad sort of mentality when you consider there has been – there’s been 41 players as you know that have at least played an AFL game this year and they all really feel a part of it, even the two boys in Will Hayes and Dom Bedendo who haven’t played a senior game. They are still a significant part of what’s happening. And I think they’re urging each other on which is – yeah, I get what you’re saying. But there’s still a hell of a lot to play for and the inspiration from within and what they’re doing is just motivating our players and now we get a look.
Q: The obvious question is why would that happen when everything seemed to be well placed for Port Adelaide to do something special tonight?
I totally agree we had what we needed, we had the build-up we wanted and we were blown off the park early by the Bulldogs. They put us under enormous pressure around the ball, they turned it into goals and we had to start chasing because it was a preliminary final. There was no tomorrow when you’re in that position. You have to go for stuff which turns the game into probably as big a disaster as it was by the end of it because we are not sitting there just accepting, wanting to get beat.
Q: Is there anything rolling through your head as to why that unravelled that way so early?
It’s probably not the perfect time for me to talk about what happened this early because so many emotions are going on and what you need and hope and what you want and wish for at the end of tonight. We got nowhere near that. We need time to digest and think clearly through it. We have no excuses. We have no reasons that were outside of our control. We had what we need and we just didn’t perform.
Q: Is there a reason why you chose that starting midfield rotation with Boak, Gray and Wines and whenever expected Willem Drew to be in there from the very beginning?
That is what we start with both weeks. Willem Drew starts on the bench for us every game. It’s not an unusual starting line-up for us.
Q: There was a disparity in early contested possessions and ground ball gets where you’ve been so strong all year. Can you put your finger on a reason for that? I know you just said you need time to digest it, but what is your gut feel about why there was such a disparity?
Again, give us some time to go through that and look through that. You are right with the numbers, our contested possession is critical to us but what we have seen and when we’ve been beaten is that is the number that causes us the most grief without going through it in detail. At the moment it’s clear when we lose our spot in there it becomes a damaging part of the game for us.
Q: You used the word “disaster”, Ken, have you got any explanation as to why it was a lack-lustre performance?
I’m not being disrespectful. That is the third question around why and as I said in the very first answer at the moment is probably not the right time for me to give you clarity on that, other than state that the numbers that were important to us went south very quickly and the Bulldogs put the scoreboard pressure on us. They have done that in the three games we’ve played them. They got starts each time. We know and we expect, we look at every part of that leading into it. We have preparation time, we had great preparation time to have it right. We needed not to fail and we did.
Q: What does this group have to do next? How do you deal with this one where we know these results can bring teams down pretty hard?
Yeah, they do. They can because there’s such a big outcome for you and everyone strives, everyone starts at the footy club believing we want to win and we are capable of winning the premiership in 2021. When you get to this stage and you fall short by one step to make it to that final game, it does hurt. It hurt last year and the margin was six points. It hurts every year. You’ve got to continue to work at it and you have to continue to improve and all our players, young and old, just need to continue to work to get better and know that every year if you are not prepared to turn up and work hard to get back the opportunity, it becomes an easy drop off for you if you’re not willing to work.
Jack Macrae spoke to Channel Seven after the game…
Congratulations on every front. That was an extraordinary performance.
Yeah, it was from the very start obviously we knew Adelaide Oval we would have to start well and take the crowd out of it. It was impressive from the very first bounce and the mids got us going from the start and we converted early.
You have officially had the most disposals in VFL and AFL history in one season. Were you aware you were close to that?
I honestly wasn’t. You don’t go out to play for records. So it’s a true testament to the work we’ve been doing as a group all year and we move onto bigger and better things.
As a group you look at the contested possessions at the end of the game and you’ve won by 30. So that is outstanding.
We know Port are such a strong contested team. Round 23 they were really strong in this area and probably gave us a touch-up, to be honest. We knew it was always big in the finals so to get the ball out of those critical ways is huge.
You touched on ‘Libber’ before, he was tagged earlier. What do you do when you see one of your mates getting physical and it’s harder to get a possession. What do you have there?
We have a few things up our sleeves, doing two-v-ones, or doing trades. We have so much strength in the midfield that we work well together. When someone is getting tagged we try to do our best for them.
You were given so little chance in 2016, did you channel that and say, it’s possible, so why not again?
The heart of this group is so big. We haven’t talked about 2016 too much. It shows the heart of the group. How much adversity we have had to face. A few injuries to key players as well. The heart of our group and we know inside the four walls how big it is. We never questioned ourselves internally. It was a huge effort for Stefan Martin to come in. I think it was 97 days since his last game.
He certainly provided you with a really good contest in there.
He did, he’s been so professional all year. And there are probably times when everyone thought his season was over. Just the true professionalism and I think Lycett is huge so to nullify that and give us access will go a very long way to our victory.
Not even the most rusted-on, one-eyed Western Bulldogs die-hard saw this one coming. But they are over the moon that it did.
The Bulldogs have done it the hard way, forced to navigate their way through the major round from fifth position and having spent the past five weeks – without respite – quarantining, flying and playing in Melbourne, Launceston, Brisbane, Perth and Adelaide.
The speedy, skilful Bulldogs punched their ticket to a grand final date with Melbourne by conjuring a logic-defying demolition of a surprisingly inept Power outfit, scarred by preliminary final defeats in 2014 and 2020 and with the long-standing tag of finals chokers again rearing its ugly head.
Click here to read the full report.
Bulldogs captain Marcus Bontempelli spoke to Channel Seven after the game…
Congratulations, to win a final in South Australia you must be really proud.
Absolutely. Proud is definitely probably the key word to describe it. Just clearly the way that we started the game after the different things we’ve had to sort of endure throughout the last couple of weeks. Proud sums it up well.
At the start of the game there were five goals to nil in the first eight or nine minutes of the game. Is that the idea, when you’re on the road at the Adelaide Oval, in a prelim final? That start was just incredible.
It was. And we played a fair bit here and probably had to endure some of those crowds and you know it’s definitely one-way and it’s supposed to be that way and starting here is probably the key, starting really well and just doing our best to silence the crowd. So we were jumping out of our skins to get out there and play and it’s just nice when you put a plan together and you focus hard on how you want to start it and it comes together.
You touched on your plan. It looked from the outside a big part of that was the Port Adelaide backmen and making sure they are accountable and can’t intercept. Was that a big part of the plan this week?
It was. We are looking to great different contests around the ball and that means at times the boys are going to be competing outnumbered in the first line and with players like Aliir Aliir who we’re trying to nullify his influence as much as possible, is super impressive for our smalls and mediums but also our talls to keep the game alive in the front half. It is definitely something that went ahead.
How nervous were you, a couple of minutes to go in the knockout final last week. Was there a part of your mind that said, “This is the end of my year” (when you hurt your knee)?
Obviously hobbling to the bench and getting through this week has been hard. You might be limited at times but it’s nice knowing that the midfield group that we’ve got, you need 20 to 23 to win finals and we got that tonight.
Marcus we have seen the emergence of a player (Bailey Smith) in this final series I know you guys rate him so highly.
To take it to another level in knockout finals is pretty exciting for you. Some players seem to rise to the occasion and to be able to burn the rest of the players on the field and opposition players on the field and as the quarter goes on he really seems to hit his stride. He is a massive weapon for us to use and rely on. When you get players playing like that in finals it means so much.
Bevo started the us and them mentality in the media. What did he say to you behind closed doors? Can you give us an insight into some of the things that he said that we didn’t here.
I can probably only say part of it, I guess, he is an inspirational wordsmith and sometimes he will look a little bit left of field but sometimes the motivation is right in front of you. I think the build-up and the things that we weren’t able to do potentially coming over here, definitely gives you an opportunity to use that to your advantage. He did that exceptionally well. Ultimately it’s about the team, it’s about everyone chipping in and using those little things that might be seen as negatives or things that can hold you back to really empower us and bring us together. He is very good like that, Bevo.