WESTERN BULLDOGS 3.2 5.7 9.7 15.9 (99) MELBOURNE 2.2 5.5 10.6 12.11 (83)
Goals: Western Bulldogs: S Crameri 4 T Williams 3 J Tutt 2 T Liberatore 2 A Cooney D Giansiracusa R Griffen W Minson. Melbourne: D Tyson 2 J Frawley 2 J Kennedy-Harris 2 B Vince C Dawes C Pedersen C Salem D Cross M Jamar.
BEST Western Bulldogs: Liberatore, Griffen, Crameri, Cooney, Williams, Dahlhaus, Wood, Johannissen Melbourne: Tyson, Cross, Watts, Jones, Dawes, Viney, Howe, Bail, Vince, Jetta, Kennedy-Harris
Umpires: Matt Stevic, Craig Fleer, Andrew Stephens.
Official Crowd: 36,326 at the MCG.
It had been a little while since either Melbourne or the Western Bulldogs had the chance to be these things: more proactive, more aggressive, more creative. To be the team that showed the other team how it wanted the game to be played. That there were 20 ball-ups and 11 throw ins in the first 15 minutes suggested both sides had to suss the other one out, before it tried anything else. That there were almost as many clangers indicated they had other things to sort out, too.
It was the story of the first half. When the Western Bulldogs had half chances, they took most of them. Or many, at least. Adam Cooney had about half a metre in which to move when he slid the game’s first goal through from beside the boundary. All Stewart Crameri had to do was stay standing when he grabbed the ball a few metres from the goal square midway through the first term: in his desperation to tackle, Lynden Dunn actually spun his snapping opponent in line with the goals.
Later, they were able to hold onto their (narrow) half-time lead because Lachie Hunter urged a handball just past the 50-metre line, breaking a long run of Melbourne inside 50s and placing it at the feet of Tom Williams, who picked the ball up, turned and kicked quickly through the goals.
The problem for the Dogs was that they didn’t make enough of their easier, more definite opportunities. Kicking was a problem for both sides early, but where the Bulldogs made some horrible mistakes, and the Demons were running at 55 per cent efficiency for a while, their worst mistakes were made with their last kicks, not quite finding who or what they wanted moving inside 50.
They kept kicking and, with time, they sorted themselves out. Around the ball, Dom Tyson, Nathan Jones, Jack Viney and Daniel Cross began to dig more balls out, often through a quick kick themselves. Almost everyone ran harder, finding more space. Almost everyone started to find their (much clearer) teammates. In Chris Dawes, they had someone to aim for. But if he wasn’t there the Demons were willing to flick the ball back, and around, until they were open. They played with patience.
By half-time they had momentum, too, but not the score to go with it. Williams’ goal had left the Bulldogs two points in front and, while Jay Kennedy-Harris’ second goal in the first minute of the third quarter pushed his side in front for the first time all night, Ryan Griffen’s low, smart, snap from beside the point post emphasised how much work they’d have to do to create a safer lead. Six minutes in Williams, playing with a sore calf, kicked the margin back out to seven.
The Bulldogs hadn’t really taken a turn in charge, and they wanted one, tackling harder and more often than they had been, trying to hold play up, to keep the stoppage count ticking over.
Still, Melbourne was able to take the ball forward, mark it, and keep it there a while. Still, they needed to work incredibly hard to turn that into space on the scoreboard. Dom Tyson just got his snap past Dale Morris’ hand. Daniel Giansiracusa was onto an ‘advantage’ call before anyone else in the Bulldogs forward line had cottoned onto the free kick. The Dogs hung in there, really well. Which seemed slightly strange, given they had been the side in front for all but a few minutes.
They resisted. The Demons persisted. By the end of the third quarter, the stoppage count was up past 90 and the margin five points. It was close, and busy, and entertaining, despite the stop starting. With so much happening around the ball with Tom Liberatore, Ryan Griffen, Adam Cooney and others as adept as the Melbourne players as getting to the ball, it seemed a matter of which team would be able to make the most room, use it, and do more than merely hang grimly to a small lead.
The Bulldogs wanted to, scoring quickly through Williams and Liberatore. The Demons wanted too, too, and they levelled the scores when Christian Salem’s goal was followed by two posters. Cooney had composure, handballing to Jason Tutt rather than attempting a difficult snap. So did Dom Tyson, who, noticing there was no-one on the goal line, beat everyone there with his kick.
There were seven minutes left by then, but plenty more to happen. Matt Jones’ rushed, wayward snap got the Demons a one-point lead. But his second hurried, wayward snap came after Crameri’s third goal, and was a more agonising miss, particularly when very recent history repeated and Crameri scored his fourth as soon as the ball was carried back to the other end. Chances were created, and chances were grabbed or missed. That was the story of this night.