Beware the Dogs and enter at own risk, says Rioli
The Western Bulldogs is a football club that has earned the respect of the entire AFL community.
So far this season the Bulldogs have accounted for Fremantle and St Kilda in a manner which suggests they are on the path to success deep in to the AFL finals and this week face the mighty Hawks, which is going to be a cracker. Regardless of the outcome, it’s clear that the 2016 team is playing a very attractive attacking brand of football in which opposition teams are struggling to contain their energy and speed.
In saying that, the most impressive part of their game is the defensive pressure they are placing on their opponents. The discipline to set up defensively and the commitment to cover for each other is as good as any in the competition.
I remember my cousin Cyril telling me to “Watch this Space” when Luke Beveridge was appointed as the Head Coach of the club. Beveridge came from the successful coaching program at Hawthorn and meant that the Bulldogs players would instantly believe that what he is implementing is a proven to work.
Cyril spoke about how Beveridge will earn the respect of the young Bulldogs and how he has a certain quality about him which will mean the playing group will get on board with the standards and expectations that he will implement. This was proven to be the case in his first season as Head Coach last year as the Bulldogs quickly proved that they would be a handful for opposition teams to contain.
Current leaders at the Western Bulldogs are very well respected football people both on and off the field. I do not know these players personally but I have always admired and respected the way Robert Murphy, Dale Morris, Matthew Boyd, Liam Picken and Easton Wood have gone about preparing themselves as professional footballers. I love watching the development of Marcus Bontempelli, Jake Stringer, Tom Liberatore, Jason Johannisen, Lin Jong and Luke Dahlhaus.
The Bulldogs are the most under-resourced football club in the League and are situated in the inner-western suburbs of Melbourne in a working class area, where their pool of potential members and sponsors struggle to support the club financially. My experiences and memories of the Footscray area was that it had a high population of people with Asian backgrounds who would not normally follow footy – a challenge on its own for the club.
Attracting members and supporters to their home games means money for the football club so you could imagine the Community Engagement strategies the club has implemented over the years to attract local people to come to watch them play.
There is such rich history at the Western Bulldogs. I remember watching a story on the captain, Bob Murphy, who spoke about the legacy of past players and how it was important for new players coming to the club to understand what the greats of the past meant to him and the club. There have been some really huge names to don the red, white and blue over the years, but names like Mr Football – Ted Whitten – and Charlie Sutton, Doug Hawkins, Chris Grant, Tony Liberatore, Brad Johnson and my favourite Scott West, are just some of the past players who epitomise the passion it takes to be a Bulldog.
After a few years of watching a very congested style of football, it is a breath of fresh air watching this young team play with confidence and courage to take on the opposition and move the football with speed and precision. This attractive brand of football will mean more people will come to games and I am sure they will win over so many new supporters because of the way they go about their business.
It is my belief the Bulldogs need to achieve at least a Preliminary Final this season, as I reckon the group has proven that it can match it with the best. The challenge to be consistent for long periods of the season is one that I believe they will be up for.