Sport AFL Why you should be supporting the Western Bulldogs today
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Why you should be supporting the Western Bulldogs today

western bulldogs finals
The Bulldogs have won five of their last six games. Photo: Getty Photo: Getty
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Two years ago, the Western Bulldogs were rudderless. 

They’d just finished 14th and parted with their coach, Brendan McCartney.

Captain Ryan Griffen then walked out – to Greater Western Sydney, the club’s opponent in Saturday’s AFL preliminary final – and Brownlow Medal winner Adam Cooney followed suit, joining Essendon.

But a month later, new coach Luke Beveridge walked in the door and engineered one of the most remarkable transformations seen in recent years. 

“Most importantly, he’s been a key player in driving successful cultures,” Dogs boss Simon Garlick said on the day Beveridge was appointed.

Two years on, only the Giants stand between the Bulldogs and their first Grand Final appearance since 1961.

It’s hard to imagine any football supporter with a heart and red blood in their veins could be supporting the Giants this weekend. 

Greater Western Sydney, introduced into the AFL in 2012, are a marketing entity, dreamt up in a boardroom by a league obsessed with “growing the game”.

The boffins at AFL headquarters saw Sydney’s west as an untapped market. 

Never mind that Australian Rules football is still regarded as an oddity in that part of the world – give them a team that wins and they’ll drink it up. 

western bulldogs finals
The GWS Giants might win games but they do struggle to attract crowds. Photo: Getty

“If you build it they will come”, went the old line in the film Field of Dreams.

The AFL’s construction methods were unsophisticated, but brutally effective.

The Giants were “built’’ with dozens of first-round draft picks and an academy that gives them the ability to poach and cultivate talent from large parts of NSW and Canberra.

But this season, as the young Giants grew into themselves and started to win more than they lost, the crowds remained underwhelming. 

The last time the Bulldogs travelled to Spotless Stadium, in Round 9, 9612 people turned up.

In Round 21, with a top-four berth there for the taking against fellow finals aspirant West Coast, the crowd was 10,385. 

If the Bulldogs make the Grand Final, they’ll get more than that to a training session.

This is a club that in its 91-year VFL-AFL history has made the Grand Final just twice. 

In the late 1980s, the club was on the verge of collapse, staring at a merger with Fitzroy or the end.

western bulldogs
The Bulldogs have a shocking record in preliminary finals. Photo: Getty

But the Footscray “fightback” galvanised the working class western suburb of Melbourne into action. 

Local businesses rallied, raffles were held, tins were rattled, and Footscray survived. The club was too important to the suburb not to.

On the field, though, they’ve continued to break supporters’ hearts.

They’ve lost seven preliminary finals since 1985. 

You could say they’re due.

Football is religion in Footscray and if EJ Whitten is God then names like Grant, Hawkins, Johnson, Liberatore and West are his disciples. 

When Footscray gained entry into the VFL in 1925, after a successful era in the VFA, it gave the suburb an enormous swell of pride. 

It was there again in 1954, when Charlie Sutton led them to their only premiership success.

The Dogs are perennial underdogs. 

Now, confronted with a monster of the AFL’s making at their home ground, the Dogs are unfancied once more.

western bulldogs finals
GWS coach Leon Cameron is a former Bulldogs player and coach. Photo: Getty

The club that has had to fight for everything – its very existence – against the AFL’s spoiled golden child.

Even Leon Cameron, coach of the Giants, must have a little tiny piece of him barracking for the Dogs on Saturday.

Cameron had a front row seat in the 1997 preliminary final, playing in the Dogs backline, when Darren Jarman cast a spell to drag Adelaide back from a 31-point half-time deficit to a two-point win.

Cameron spent 11 years at Footscray as a player, seven as an assistant coach. 

Surely, if his Giants get rolled, somewhere during the next week, after the hurt fades, he’ll allow himself a little moment of reflection: his old side, the sons of the west, are back in the big time again. 

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