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Sunday Age

Still life in the old Dogs

Date: 16/07/2000
Words: 845
          Publication: The Sunday Age
Section: Sport
Page: 5
THE Western Bulldogs may still miss out on this year's finals, but after yesterday's amazing victory over Carlton, one of the best of the club's recent history, it will not be for want of inspiration.

The obituaries were being written yesterday morning, not just for the Bulldogs' season, but for an entire era. With key players on the verge of retirement, speculation continuing to mount about coach Terry Wallace's future, and the already undersized list having been deprived of most of its height, the reasoning seemed sound.

All of a sudden, at least for the moment, the Dogs have a little breathing space, a temporary four-point break in sixth place over Hawthorn and Richmond. While, with upcoming games against Collingwood, then Essendon and Hawthorn, the Bulldogs still have their work cut out, Wallace's tactical ingenuity in shutting down the Blues' free-flowing runners has given his side at least a pretty good chance.

``With four weeks to go we had to win two to be a chance, but two wasn't a guarantee. Now we've got one up our sleeve, we've got to get at least another one to be in the hunt, and, realistically, two out of three to guarantee our own position," was the coach's assessment last night.

You wouldn't bet against it on yesterday's showing, more in keeping with the gritty Footscray of old than the fast-running side of the past few years. The Bulldogs simply committed themselves to clog Carlton's forward line, at times three and even four men spare in defence.

While it made the Bulldogs' forward thrusts at times painful to watch, the Blues' frustration (not relieved, it must be said, by some unhelpful umpiring) was vindication of the Dogs' game plan. When it came to the crunch yesterday, the Bulldogs were harder than their opponent, reputedly the hardest side in the league.

All the Dogs' key players stood tall. Simon Garlick bobbed up with his best game of league football, rewarded with six out of 11 goals and, importantly, the Bulldog youngsters, thrown to the wolves in recent weeks, all showed real ability when the game was in the balance. Defender Mitchell Hahn was particularly impressive in a frantic finish, and first-gamer Robert Murphy also chipped in with some important touches.

As a statement of defiance, wins do not come a lot better. ``That's right up there with the best we've ever given to our supporters," Wallace commented later. The Bulldog coach has emphasised this week to his players the importance of not ``falling into the eight".

Along with Hawthorn's win in Brisbane last week, the Bulldogs' surprise victory has revived the stocks of the clubs chasing the last couple of spots in the eight. At least now, it doesn't look like someone is going to end up in the finals more by default than good management.

The biggest worry for the Bulldogs will remain their wounded list, which grew yesterday when Paul Dimattina aggravated a hamstring injury in his first game back from the same ailment.

With big men Chris Grant, Luke Darcy, Kingsley Hunter and Craig Ellis all out for at least several more weeks, if not the season, the Bulldogs will be going ``short" in attack for a while yet.

That could be a scary prospect indeed, particularly against the tall timber of Essendon and Hawthorn, both of whom have already worked the Bulldogs over with their height advantage when Grant and co. were still in the line-up.

Apart from bringing to an end its 13-game winning streak, the loss in real terms means little to Carlton, the Blues all but certain of playing the Kangaroos in the second qualifying final in a month's time.

Carlton coach David Parkin said last night he had been worried during the week about a lack of intensity among his troops, who trained only once with the footballs. He knows his side well.

While the pre-game withdrawals of skipper Craig Bradley and Adrian Hickmott were less than ideal for the Blues, there seemed some sense of ``we'll win it when we want to" about their play, best typified by Carlton's burst of three goals in less than three minutes in the third quarter to give it a seven-point lead, only to watch the Dogs hit back with three of their own over the next few minutes.

The Bulldogs might even have done Carlton a favor. Certainly, there's no danger now of the Blues going into next Friday night's blockbuster against Essendon too full of themselves. By the same token, if the Blues go under, with the prospect of a game against the improving Port Adelaide at Football Park to follow, three straight losses on end is a distinct possibility.

No side, no matter how well-performed during the year, would fancy taking that form into a finals series.

WEST COAST5.25.411.1013.12(90)
                P       W       L       D       For     Agst    Str     %
ESSENDON        18      18      -       -       2364    1435    W18     164.7
CARLTON         19      15      4       -       2376    1730    L1      137.3
KANGAROOS       19      13      6       -       2156    1984    W3      108.7
GEELONG         19      10      8       1       1894    1982    L1      95.6
MELBOURNE       18      10      8       -       1985    1776    W1      111.8
W BULLDOGS      19      10       9      -       2063    1988    W1      103.8
ADELAIDE        19      9       10      -       2018    1995    W1      101.2
HAWTHORN        18      9       9       -       1836    1873    W1      98.0
Richmond        18      9       9       -       1708    1854    L4      92.1
Brisbane        18      8       10      -       2058    1979    L1      104.0
West Coast      19      7       11      1       1938    2020    W1      95.9
Sydney          18      7       11      -       1801    1837    L1      98.0
Fremantle       18      7       11      -       1580    2096    L1      75.4
Collingwood     18      6       12       -      1738    2050    L1      184.8
Port Adelaide   18      5       12      1       1568    1899    W1      82.6
St Kilda                18      2       15      1       1538    2123    L1
72.4    10
82: M Lloyd (Essendon)
61: L Whitnall (Carlton) 1
54: W Carey (Kangaroos) 3
52: J Farmer (Melbourne)
49: A Lynch (Brisbane)
48: T Modra (Fremantle)
47: S Cummings (West Coast) 0S Lucas (Essendon)
43: D Bradshaw (Brisbane)
42: S Welsh (Adelaide) 0
41: Phillip Matera (West Coast)
40:C Waterhouse (Fremantle)
Essendon v Hawthorn
Brisbane v Port Adelaide, 12.30pm, Gabba
Collingwood v Sydney, 2.10pm, MCG
St Kilda v Melbourne, 2.10pm, Colonial Stadium
Fremantle v Richmond, 3.20pm, WACA Ground
Carlton v Essendon, 7.40pm, MCG
Hawthorn v Port Adelaide, 2.10pm, MCG
West Coast v Geelong, 8.40pm, Subiaco Oval
Sydney v Kangaroos, 7.40pm, SCG
Collingwood v W Bulldogs, 7.40pm, Colonial Stadium
Adelaide v Brisbane, 2.10pm, Football Park
Melbourne v Fremantle, 2.10pm, Colonial Stadium
Richmond v St Kilda, 2.10pm, MCG

PAGES 6-7: Carlton v W Bulldogs
PAGES 8-9: Ungarie: the land of the Danihers
PAGE 10: VFL, amateurs, country football
PAGE 11: The trials of Cockatoo-Collins
PAGE 12: West Coast v Adelaide
PAGES 14-15: Watch this space: football fund-raising.
PAGES 16-17: The trouble with Pikey
PAGE 18: Geelong v Kangaroos
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