How the Bulldogs changed the entire season

AFL, AFLW

On Monday morning I got up early – so early it was still dark. I wanted to make sure that the sun would come up.

That’s how mind-boggling and revolutionary Adelaide’s loss was. The six clubs who were finalists last season – Adelaide, Brisbane, Collingwood, Fremantle, Melbourne and North – were 23-0 against the non-finalists so far in 2022, and the composite winning streak had reached 31 wins since the last such defeat – also a Bulldogs win, 37-24 victoria in Round 5 against Melbourne in 2021.

Beyond that of course was the team the Dogs defeated: the reigning finalist, the only unbeaten club in 2022, and a team with a 270-plus percentage coming into a home game – a home game! – they should not have been challenged in.

Adelaide had allowed one goal all season during the first quarter – not on average, mind you; one goal in total Then the Western Bulldogs scored one in the first minute, another in the second minute and a third within the first five minutes of the game. They quintupled the defensive goals allowed for the Crows in one attempt.

How did they do it?

(Photo by Sarah Reed/AFL Photos via Getty Images)

They dominated the clearances early and played with overwhelming intensity and a planned, organised attack in those initial minutes of the game: four scores in those first five minutes, the first three coming off planned plays from the centre bounce, and jumping out to a 19-0 lead.

When you’re the underdog you’ve got to get the first punch in. You’ve got to give yourself an early advantage before the favourite realises they’re in for a fight. That’s exactly what the Doggies did, building a seemingly easy early lead before the Crows started taking the game seriously. The players will say publicly that they never underestimate any opponent, but watch that first five minutes again and then try to disagree.

Then they held on while Adelaide inevitably fought back. I guarantee that nobody thought the Crows would simply lie down and give up without a battle. A pair of goals by Hannah Munyard and Lisa Whiteley brought the margin back to seven, and many viewers thought that it had been fun while it had lasted.

But key to the Bulldogs victory, although it was under the radar, was Ellie Blackburn’s magnificent model of persistence in goal right before the end of the first, dragging the lead back to 13 points and letting everyone know that the opening flurry wasn’t just a flash in the pan.

The second burst by the Bulldogs lasted from the five-minute mark until early in the third, when they extended their dominance out to a 43-20 lead with a Kirsty Lamb goal 90 seconds into the second half. It was easy to think that maybe the Crows simply didn’t have it on the day and that perhaps the long-ignored pedigree of one of the two original AFLW teams had raised its head for an unfathomably dominant victory.

But that would fail to reckon with the gumption of the Adelaide Crows.

After that Lamb goal Adelaide outscored the Bulldogs 28-6, but that one goal – a bookend score by forward Bonnie Toogood, who had scored the initial goal of the game – was the essential score that allowed the Bulldogs to hold off the Crows in the end.

Have you ever heard of Zeno’s paradox? Imagine that you want to move from point A to point B. Before you get there you have to go halfway there. Then you must go half of the remaining distance, reaching the three-quarter point. Then you must get halfway home from there, to the seven-eighths mark, and so forth. By this logic you will never arrive at point B because those fractions will never quite reach all the way there.

In reality you get there because those small remaining margins are less than your body size. But in footy the Adelaide Crows provided the perfect demonstration of this mathematical concept, cutting the 15-point lead to nine with an Ashleigh Woodland goal and then to three points when Stevie-Lee Thompson put her 22nd career goal through the big sticks with under eight minutes remaining.

From there it went to a behind credited to Lisa Whiteley at six to go, and then the ball never got back across the centre stripe for the rest of the match as the Bulldogs kept trying to kick the Sherrin out of their zone and it kept coming right back in, with another rushed behind cutting the margin to one.

Then came the moment that felt inevitable: superstar Erin Phillips was credited with a mark well within the 50-metre arc that under different circumstances would be the point of contention for all Bulldogs fans. With under a minute remaining it seemed obvious that Phillips would once again be the hero, bringing victory to her Adelaide team with a last-minute goal that gave the Crows a five-point lead over a gallant but ultimately undermanned Bulldogs team that had been down two players early in the first half.

Except that’s not what happened.

Phillips’s shot landed short and right in a pack of multicoloured units, and the last minute saw four scrums and ball-ups within a few metres of the goal, the highlight being a Lamb full-body smother of a shot attempt from inside the square. Somehow none of the attempts made it across the goal line, not even to score a behind, despite 16 Crows being within kicking distance of the goal throughout the final minute of the game.

As the final horn sounded, with the ball safely in Bulldog hands, the world turned upside down.

Bulldogs players and coaches celebrated. Injured players were out there on crutches trying to soak in the victory vibe. To their tremendous credit the Adelaide players came over to congratulate their vanquishers before performing their home-field duties, handing out mini-Sherrins and signing autographs for the Crows faithful. That’s why the AFLW will continue to grow among its core fans – the up-close and personal nature of the relationship between fans and players.

In the big picture the Crows are still in the top two. They have one of the easiest schedules remaining, and a single loss won’t keep them from being a finals favourite. But the message sent by the Bulldogs beating the top-ranked team in the AFLW on their home turf is clear: the narrative of the ‘repeat top six’ is too easy, and the Bulldogs’ slow start plus their battle with COVID-19 that kept them from laying down games early in the season prevented us from seeing what this team could really do.

In the meantime we get an extra game to watch this week, Fremantle get a round off this week – having put an extra game under their belts while trapped in Melbourne for almost a month and Gold Coast, Brisbane and the Bulldogs each have a second game scheduled early next week in the league’s attempt to get ten games into each team before finals begin in mid-March.

Round 7

Gold Coast Suns vs Brisbane Lions
Saturday, 7:40pm AEDT, Metricon Stadium
Until Geelong scored on the siren to close their losing deficit to 11, Gold Coast actually sat in the six momentarily. As discussed here repeatedly, the six finalists from last season have continued to dominate the season – with one very recent exception – so Brisbane and Collingwood are back in and Gold Coast are back looking up. And while the Suns are 3-1 against the bottom eight, they are still winless against the six finalists in their history. The ELO-Following Football forecast predicts Brisbane by 17, and that’s our forecast as well.

Western Bulldogs vs Geelong
Friday, 7:10pm AEDT, Whitten Oval
With their victory on Sunday, the Bulldogs have established themselves as the best of the rest, the top team of the bottom eight and the one with the best chance of breaking the stranglehold on the finals positions. Geelong has made huge strides this season, but on their home field the ELO-FF system has the Dogs winning by 14. Then again, the Dogs won on the road last week…

Greater Western Sydney Giants vs Adelaide Crows
Saturday, 3:10pm AEDT, Blacktown International Sportspark
Adelaide’s rating dropped 4.5 points after their loss to the Bulldogs on Sunday, which reduced the point spread in this game to 18.5 in the Crows’ favour on the road. But it seems as though Adelaide might prefer a road game this weekend, giving the team a chance to bond in the first adversity they’ve faced. This is too strong a team to be upset a second time that quickly. We’ll agree with the ELO-FF number of 18.5 for Adelaide.

Rachelle Martin of the Crows celebrates her goal with Ebony Marinoff and Eloise Jones and Hannah Button

(Photo by Sarah Reed/AFL Photos via Getty Images)

Carlton Blues vs St Kilda Saints
Saturday, 5:10pm AEDT, Ikon Park
The Saints looked very good against Brisbane on Sunday, scoring a 57.8 blast rating for the game – Brisbane’s was 36, pulled down by missing their first 11 shots on goal. But while Carlton have struggled this season, they’re still a talented club with a higher rating than the Saints, and we have the Blues favoured by exactly two goals in this contest.

West Coast Eagles vs Richmond Tigers
Saturday, 7:10pm AEDT, Mineral Resources Park
Two evenly matched teams, with the excess talent in the Tigers line-up balanced by the home-ground advantage held by the Eagles in this match-up. Both teams are 1-5, and while we would pick Richmond on a neutral field, West Coast are two-point favourites under these circumstances at home. This should be one of the barnburners of the weekend.

North Melbourne Kangaroos vs Collingwood Magpies
Sunday, 3:10pm AEDT, North Hobart Oval
This makes the home-ground advantage somewhat different, as North have played here only once before this season – in Round 5 against Fremantle, when they won by ten. We have them favoured by nine here, but with the Magpies already two losses down this year, they’re playing under more pressure not to fall too close to the chase teams like the Bulldogs or Gold Coast. We’ll still take North, but we won’t be astounded if Collingwood pull off the upset after two embarrassing losses to Brisbane and Fremantle.

Sarah Rowe

(Photo by Dylan Burns/AFL Photos via Getty Images)

Brisbane Lions vs Melbourne Demons
Monday, 7:10pm AEDT, Metricon Stadium
Our prediction for these last two games may change slightly, as the Lions play earlier in the week and that game’s result might change their rating for this match. For now we see Melbourne as one-point favourites in a stadium that doesn’t provide a full home-ground advantage for Brisbane – which begs the question: why must the Lions play their home game there in the first place?

Gold Coast Suns vs Western Bulldogs
Tuesday, 7:10pm AEDT, Metricon Stadium
Both of these teams are going to be on very short turnarounds, but the Suns will have an extra day and no travel involved. Additionally, the Gold Coast have shown themselves to be a strong fourth-quarter team, which in our minds translates to a strong quick-turnaround team. So even though the Bulldogs are a one-goal favourite in our computer system, we’re going to put our bet on Gold Coast at home to hold off the Bulldogs in the second half, even in a stadium that feels half-empty with a typical, good-sized AFLW audience.

Our record

Last week: 6-1 (take a wild guess which game we missed).
The season: 31-9.

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