It was never supposed to happen. They weren’t even meant to make it over their first finals hurdle, let alone win the whole thing. But the Western Bulldogs did.
There are so many facets to this football fairytale that it’s hard to know where to begin.
I was fortunate to follow the Bulldogs throughout their 2016 AFL Finals journey as I travelled around Australia to provide at-ground coverage on the AFL’s social media channels.
The start of September
From day dot on a balmy Thursday night in Perth, where they knocked off the fancied West Coast Eagles, right through to the first Saturday in October where so many footy dreams came true.
In between I witnessed the underdogs put an end to Hawthorn’s quest for a fourth flag in a row, a largely popular result, and saw an entire city, if not country, join the Doggies’ bandwagon. Myself included.
The preliminary final
For me the most special moment to be a part of, aside from the obvious Grand Final victory, was the Western Bulldogs’ nail-biting preliminary final win over the GWS Giants in Sydney.
It was their closet contest and quite possibly the team’s biggest hurdle to jump over, given the sons of the west hadn’t made it through to a Grand Final in 55 years – a League record.
My role on match day is to capture pre and post game content for the AFL on Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, and Facebook.
On this day in Sydney at Spotless Stadium I could’ve sworn I was actually in Melbourne with the amount of bright blue in the converging crowd.
The mood was lively in the Dogs’ rooms prior to their on ground warm-up, with their signature Fat Joe beats blaring in the background.
Out at ground level, the same couldn’t be said for the thousands of Western Bulldogs fans who had travelled from far and wide to be there. A sickly combination of nerves and anticipation was palpable in the air.
Nothing could prepare me though for the sheer outpouring of emotion that came on the final siren after the most nerve-wracking of preliminary final finishes.
From Bulldogs champion and commentator Brad Johnson quietly loosing his cool on the boundary line to club president Peter Gordon in a trance-like state fist pumping the crowd (I even got a hug from him), to fans mercifully jumping for joy over the fence and tears from Bob Murphy, coaches, players and their families.
It was unlike anything I’ve been a part of before and was overwhelming to the point where I even had a lump in the back of my throat. Just the sheer jubilation of making it through to the club’s first Grand Final in such a long time was a sight to behold for all.
I’m pleased the celebrations weren’t cut short there and the Doggies got the final job done the following weekend.
Wherever they went there was just this cool-calm-confident aura that went with them. The Grand Final Parade was taken in their stride, as they continued to enjoy every twist and turn of the finals rollercoaster. By the time the actual Grand Final came around, you got a sense the end result was basically a fait accompli.
The fairytale finish
I watched the end of last quarter at the MCG on my tippy-toes squished five-deep in the Western Bulldogs race. When the final siren sounded the emotion was still there it was just different… Because they’d done it, there were no more history-suggests-otherwise hurdles or lofty heights to climb, the Bulldogs had made their long-awaited dreams a reality and they knew it. They were proud.
I was able to keep my game face on until the whole Bob and Bevo thing, to which I couldn’t help but barrack for the moment. Never mind that pesky lump in my throat may’ve made a brief return as I took in the history-making scenes around me.
Then there was the victory lap featuring the larrikin that is Tom Liberatore, Easton Wood in disbelief on his back making a footy angel in a snowfall of confetti, and of course Bob Murphy proudly pounding his chest revealing a hidden Doggies’ jumper, plus a sea of diehard fans who were packed in all the way up to the top level at the ‘G.
In many ways I still can’t believe it all unfolded how it did, arguably the greatest footy fairytale of all time, and by accident I just so happened to be there behind the boundary line.