They may have bowed out at the hands of the Adelaide Crows on Saturday, but watching the Western Bulldogs this season has been one of the most exhilarating sights in the AFL.
Their side boasts speed and power to burn, and with names like Jake Stringer, Jackson Macrae, Marcus Bontempelli, Luke Dahlhaus, Mitch Wallis and Tom Liberatore (the last two as father-son picks), they will be in premiership calculations for the next few years.
So how did the Dogs assemble such an exciting young list out at the Whitten Oval?
All of those names arrived under the watch of recruiting manager Simon Dalrymple.
Dalrymple has had a long and distinguished career both on the field and behind the scenes in the AFL and VFL, as well as a teaching background, and he’s regarded as one of the most underrated recruiters in the game.
Initially a development coach with the Bulldogs, he took over as recruiting boss when Scott Clayton left to work for Gold Coast.
Self-effacing to a fault, Dalrymple – like all recruitment experts – downplays his achievements.
“When you look at what makes a successful player and a successful AFL list there are a whole lot of different departments at an AFL club that contribute to that,” Dalrymple told The New Daily.
“There’s recruiting, but there are also the other teams, from development, to welfare, to conditioning, to medical, to coaching, and so forth. If any of those areas break down, your chances of achieving success are severely compromised.”
While the first round of the draft almost picks itself, the art in recruiting is identifying the nuggets of gold between picks 20-60 – or unearthing rare gems in the rookie draft.
“Look at Luke Parker at Sydney – at pick 40, a great selection,” Dalrymple said.
“Or Ben Stratton at Hawthorn, at pick 56.
“Or here at the Bulldogs, Luke Dalhaus, pick 22 in the rookie draft. He’s already a proven player and we think he’s just going to get better.”
One of the Dogs’ biggest success stories of 2015 was Jason Johannisen, who played 20 games.
“At pick 39 in the rookie draft, (he) is one that we’re really proud of,” he said.
“He didn’t show much as an under-18 but we saw enough in him that he could help our team and he’s developing along nicely.”
Dalrymple said recruiters need to hone their footy crystal ball – helping them visualise what a player will look like once his body and mind mature.
“It’s that ability to play the futures market in terms of ‘this player’s got this skills set here’, we think we can improve certain aspects of him, given maturity and time and the right attitude, where he might be in four years,” he said.
“That’s probably a skill that is not all coaches have that, because they’re looking at short term, week to week, winning and losing.”
Dalrymple still feels there is room for “playing a hunch” in recruiting, but said the amount of information available on potential draftees means the practice is becoming increasingly rare.
“We don’t mind if there’s a hunch, but it’s about backing it up with more objective data – if that data exists,” he said.
“So you might have gut feel, but try and verify that with evidence.
“And there’s a lot more evidence around, in terms of statistical data, athletic testing, GPS data.
“It might be a hunch on a boy’s psychological capacity, but we have a sports psychologist who helps us out with our recruiting program, so it’s about referring to your experts in the given fields, to help you make an informed decision.”