AFL grand final 2016: Sydney v Western Bulldogs could be a great finale

by admin on July 15th, 2018

filed under 南京夜网

“All the dogs are barking…” Van Morrison, Astral Weeks
Nanjing Night Net

Marcus Bontempelli is the Dogs’ talisman. Built like a tennis player, he’s unlike any footballer who’s come before him. Lean and nosey as a ferret (to use an old Australian expression), but with Italian style and polish.

He’s 192-centimetres and can fling himself vertically through cracks between bodies and flick the ball with his hand to passing teammates. The Dogs keep knocking the ball to one another in the faith that eventually it will come to someone in space. They play like desperadoes, 62 years of hunger and humiliation having fused with the thrill of being on the edge of something wondrous and new.  Win and they’ll colonise a generation – in the west of Melbourne, around the nation. The Dogs are the best footy story since Sydney in 2005.

Bontempelli, who is only 20, is unruffled and apparently unrufflable. He has already captained the club. Against Hawthorn, he stole the ball out of Luke Hodge’s hand. That’s like robbing a card shark of his ace. He also pushed Hodge off to mark as he fell away – he out-grappled the Great Grappler! In the last two finals, he was relatively well held in the first two quarters before motoring away like a Lamborghini in the third. Bontempelli is one grand final away from Bulldog immortality and they’re a club who know how to bestow it.

At Whitten Oval on Monday, I heard the Bont tell a battery of reporters’ microphones: “We’re on a journey and we’ll see what it throws at us.” He sounded confident to me. I mean real confidence, not shiny stuff on the outside.

Luke Dahlhaus also sounded confident in an interview I saw.  Dahlhaus is a small player who constantly succeeds in being quicker than you think, jumping higher than you thought possible and performing feats like unbending in the air in the manner of a Russian dancer to get his boot to a waist-high ball.

On Monday I also got to observe Tom Liberatore up close. His father Tony is the Mount Vesuvius of football passion. Tony Liberatore’s heart burst through his Bulldog guernsey every time he ran out to play. Father and son are similarly tough – Italian tough, like the Silvagnis over at Carlton – but Tom seems a cooler character.

My first impression of Tom Liberatore when he arrived in the AFL was that he reminded me of the young Bob Dylan. Right now, with the bottom half of his head shaved, a fuzz of upright hair and a moustache, he looks like a 19th century anarchist. An awkward footballer, he’s ferocious in close and surprisingly creative with his ball use.

I thought Sydney were intimidated by Greater Western Sydney in their finals encounter; the Dogs weren’t. Early in last weekend’s game, the Giants’ Heath Shaw was broadcasting to his teammates from the back pocket like a North Korean propagandist with Kim Jong-un in the audience. Liberatore stood in front of him circling his temple with a forefinger to indicate to Shaw and the football public in general that he thinks Shaw is crazy.

Against Sydney, GWS ruckman Shane “Big Mummy” Mumford flung Kurt Tippett to the ground like he was threshing a sheaf of wheat. Last week, in the vital early exchanges, Dogs’ ruckman Jordan Roughead didn’t take a backward step. Like his cousin, Hawthorn’s Jarryd Roughead, Jordan Roughead’s nonchalant appearance disguises a serious, intelligent footballer.

There are lots of players to watch in this Bulldog team. Matthew Boyd is a cement truck with poise and balance. If Dale Morris wasn’t a footballer, he’d be a nutrient in a health food – he’s that reliable, that wholesome. But my favourite Bulldog is Liam Picken.

His father, Billy Picken, was a football extrovert, a flamboyant, high-flying centre half-back at a poignant stage of Collingwood’s history. Liam is a football introvert who was known simply as a relentless tagger until Luke Beveridge arrived. Now he’s relentless in attack as well as defence. Picken’s jaunty step, his limitless appetite for the game, his unyielding nature, speak of everything that is authentic in a footballer.

As everyone knows, Bob Murphy will miss. I did a public interview with him at the Moyston Willaura footy club several weeks ago. I asked him how much having to watch hurt. He replied by saying that his favourite part of games are the moments before the first bounce when the players make a circle and commit to one another. That’s when he has to look away. Imagine the moment of commitment before a grand final with as much riding on it as this one.

Murphy’s replacement as captain, Easton Wood, has matinee idol good looks and floats like a butterfly over packs to take marks that are fraught with injury risks but exhilarating to watch. His panache and courage will provide the Dogs with their heartbeat.

The Swans have their own matinee idol in defender Dane Rampe, who looks like he stepped out of a Bertie Wooster novel with curly locks that dangle raffishly over his brow and a tipped moustache. Sydney have demolished their past two finals opponents by playing the game at a quicker tempo than their opponents can handle. The faster the Swans move the ball, the more dangerous Buddy becomes. The start of Saturday’s match is crucial. If the Dogs are with them at quarter-time, it’s a different drama.

The Dogs have truckloads of grit and a sense that anything’s possible. The experts have been saying they can’t win for the past three weeks. Each one of those games represents a giant step. Who’s to say they can’t take one more?

I believe the Dogs believe they can win – indeed, that’s it in the natural order of things for them to do so. It’s the same feeling Essendon had in 1993, a vintage year for footy. This could be a great grand final.

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

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