Before Saturday night’s Grand Final, the Western Bulldogs had lost only four first terms in 2021.
Yet, they found themselves 21 points in arrears of Melbourne at quarter time in the biggest game of the season.
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A few of their key playmakers were struggling to get into the game.
Skipper Marcus Bontempelli didn’t touch the ball for the first 15 minutes of the game and finished with four possessions in the opening quarter.
Prized recruit Adam Treloar had the same and Lachie Hunter, who averages 22.1 touches a game, had only two.
The Dogs lost two of those games referenced earlier, importantly to Melbourne in Round 11 and also to Sydney in Round 17.
But they won the next two – in Round 18 against the Gold Coast and, crucially, in the Semi-Final win over the Brisbane Lions at the Gabba.
Against the Lions, they were 11 points down at the first break. But they turned things around to lead by one points at half-time and win the game by the same margin.
By the 17-minute mark of the second term of the Grand Final, they had hit the lead, by two points, when Hunter kicked a goal with his fourth touch of the term.
Treloar got things rolling though. He kicked the first goal of the quarter with his first touch, just 43 seconds after the restart.
His next kick had the same result and within four minutes of the second term starting, the Demons’ lead had been reduced to just 10 points.
The captain played a massive part in the resurgence, though. Bontempelli had doubled his possession count within 10 minutes of the second term starting and had also kicked a goal.
His second goal came with his ninth possession of the term and significantly was a carbon copy of the first; a big mark in front of a pack after a Tim English inside 50 entry.
The margin was eight points, in favour of the Dogs, at half-time.
In that second term, the Dogs dominated, with 32 more possessions and 12 more contested possessions.
Jason Johannisen, the Norm Smith Medal winner in the Dogs’ own 2016 drought breaking premiership, only had two touches in the first term and four in the second. But his first of the third, a goal, put the Bulldogs 13 points in front.
When the next goal was Bontempelli’s third, the margin was 19 points and the momentum swing was in full force.
Only it wasn’t.
Melbourne booted seven goals in 16 minutes to lead by 24 points at the third break; and kicked 16 of the last 17 goals of the game to win by a whopping 74 points.
Melbourne’s road to redemption
The last final Melbourne lost was the 2018 Preliminary Final when it was unceremoniously dumped from the list of contenders by West Coast at Optus Stadium.
The margin was a humiliating 66 points.
The Demons took two seasons to regroup, missing finals in both 2019 and 2020. But they have regrouped well.
Saturday’s premiership team included 11 players left who suffered that thumping by the Eagles.
Of the 22 that won this year, five have debuted in the AFL since that defeat.
Two of them, Luke Jackson and Trent Rivers, were plucked from the WAFL and played Saturday’s decider in front of their home crowd, family and friends.
Another two, Tom Sparrow and Kysaiah Pickett were drafted from the SANFL.
Jake Bowey, taken from Sandringham with pick 21 in the 2020 Draft, snared a premiership in just his seventh senior game.
Pickett had a tough night on Saturday, collecting just four possessions and not kicking a goal. The other four kicked two goals between them and averaged almost 14 touches each.
Some experience has also landed at the Demons since that loss to the Eagles.
Some much-needed outside run joined the club, in former Fremantle midfielder, Ed Langdon. They gave up a few draft picks for him and played his part in the flag victory, with 17 possessions and a goal.
Defenders Steven May jumped ship from the Gold Coast, who got Ben King in the trade and Jake Lever moved from Adelaide, which saw Lochie O’Brien and Liam Stocker land at Carlton and Richmond pick up Luke English, who didn’t play a game.
May and Lever are now one of the strongest defensive duos in the competition. They averaged more than 11 marks a game between them this season.
They had 31 possessions between them and took a combined seven marks in the premiership victory.
The final piece of the puzzle was landing North Melbourne spearhead Ben Brown at the end of 2020.
Remember, with 64 goals to his name, he was only three majors away from winning the Coleman Medal in 2019.
Brown played only nine games and kicked just nine goals for the Roos last season, struggling with a knee injury.
But he went to the Demons with seven games of finals experience, in which he kicked nine goals.
He was made to earn his spot by Simon Goodwin, playing only 10 games before the finals, kicking 19 goals.
He kicked three goals in finals against Brisbane and the Cats and kicked three against the Bulldogs on Saturday night.
Only Bayley Fritsch averaged more goals for the Demons than Brown this season, with 2.3 per game, compared to 1.8.
So it was only fitting Fritsch continued that form, with six goals in the last game of the season.