The Dogs may have changed the game forever.
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Dogs rewrite finals rulebook
Since the current final-eight system was introduced back in 2000 to remedy the McIntyre final-eight system – which allowed Adelaide to win a flag in 1998 despite finishing outside the top four and losing their first final – no team has even made it into a grand final, let alone won the thing, from positions five to eight. "So what?" said the Bulldogs, who strung together four wins, all against the odds, from seventh to grab this year's flag.
And every premier since Adam was in nappies has had at least one genuine big key forward to go to, who can contest the high balls, provide a target, bring their small forwards into play and kick goals at crucial times – it's been a given. Not any more. The Western Bulldogs have found a way to win all year without a monster centre-half forward or full forward, and did it again on Saturday, with their goals being shared mainly by mid-sized Liam Picken and Tory Dickson, plus ruckman/forward Tom Boyd, who spent much of the day in the ruck. We could well have just seen a significant shift in the way the game is played.
Some things do stay the same
In modern finals football one thing hasn't changed, however. At the pointy end of the season, on-field space and time become extremely difficult to find, as the pressure and intensity around the ball go up several notches. Which is why certain teams and their outside-running, tackle-free styles of play – Richmond, anyone? – are never going to go far in September. Teams which win at this time of year need every player ripping in at the contest, tackling like madmen, blocking, scragging, gut-running both ways, hunting in numbers, firing out lightning-fast handballs and spoiling, anticipating, smothering and doing all the little things over and over again – and for 120 minutes. Anything short of that will simply not get you close to a flag.
Jason Johannisen had a very good grand final but we didn't think he was the best player on the ground. He had a great first quarter and got plenty of the pill to create drive out of the back-half for his team, but his kicking was only just above average for most of the game. Too often he would break the lines and gain valuable distance on the run only to kick the ball to a contest, a bit of vacant space or even an opponent. Johannisen's disposal efficiency was 69.7 per cent – very ordinary for a running defender – and he had six clangers. Tom Boyd, Liam Picken, Dale Morris and Josh Kennedy all had better games than the Norm Smith medallist.
Goal review highlights need for speed
The umpires got the critical last-quarter review of Johannisen's last-quarter goal right in paying it touched, but more by good luck than anything else. The broadcaster's goal-line camera fortunately happened to capture the exact moment Swans defender Jeremy Laidler's knuckles came in contact with the ball while a fraction of it was still above the goal-line, but if the instant of contact had occurred between frames, as happens almost all the time, there is no way the umpires could have made a proper ruling on the play. Unfortunately, too often we see overrules made in such circumstances anyway, despite there being no clear evidence to support this. There is a simple way to fix it: spend the money and install high-speed cameras low and high on the inner part of both of the goalposts. This will immediately solve the problem of gaps between frames containing the key bits of the action. How hard is it?
- Sting, The Living End and Vance Joy all got the job done pre-game without really setting the stage on fire, but something just felt wrong when Mike Brady sang "There's one day in October, the footy's almost over." No. And what is Sting's thing with ultra-tight shirts with miniscule sleeves? You can only assume the old bloke's pretty impressed with his own biceps.
- Lucky for Jake Stringer he kicked that goal in the last quarter, because you would think he might just about be up for a trade, given his dreadful game – and last month, really. The 'Package' goes missing far too often in big games. Come to think of it, the Tigers need a forward and Stringer might just fit in nicely down there with his finals record.
What did you make of the grand final? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
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