Western Bulldogs 4.2 7.4 10.7 13.12.90
Hawthorn 5.3 9.5 12.6 15.9.99
Western Bulldogs: Picken 3, Hunter 2, Dale 2, Campbell, Murphy, Boyd, Dahlhaus, Liberatore, McLean
Hawthorn: Roughead 5, Smith 3, Puopolo 3, Burgoyne, Sicily, Schoenmakers, O'Brien
Alex Docherty's Best
Western Bulldogs: M. Boyd, Macrae, Picken, McLean, Bontempelli, Liberatore
Hawthorn: Roughead, Sicily, Mitchell, McEvoy, O'Meara, Smith, Gunston
By around 10:30pm on Friday night, both Hawthorn and the Western Bulldogs farewelled three champion footballers with over 900 games of experience at AFL level. Unfortunately, there had to be a winner and a loser, and it was the Western Bulldogs who had their faint finals hopes snuffed out by the Hawks, as they sent out their former captain Luke Hodge on a high note, downing the Dogs by nine points, denying the perfect send-off for Matthew Boyd and Robert Murphy.
It was almost a packed house at Etihad Stadium on Friday night, with just over 48,000 in attendance, and whilst the margin says it was close, it wasn't a spectacular game of footy, with skill errors by foot and by hand every second minute, but the beautiful moments of this game came before and after the siren.
Rival captain Jarryd Roughead greeted Robert Murphy at the coin toss at the start of the game with a warm embrace, followed by a handshake from Hodge before the first bounce, and when it was all said and done, Hodge recieved a post-match interview from both Luke Ball and Chris Judd - who were taken after Hodge in the 2001 AFL Draft at picks two and three. It was also very heartwarming to see a triple-premiership defender in Josh Gibson walk around a lap of Etihad Stadium at half time, to the loud cheers of the 48,090 spectators.
Boyd and Murphy got a similar interview with Western Bulldogs' games record holder and good mate Brad Johnson, who played alongside the duo for most of the 2000s, and then came the very emotional guard of honour as Etihad Stadium farewelled three champions with a rousing applause. Whether Dogs' fans loved Hodge or not, whether or not Hawthorn supporters loved Murphy and Boyd or not, one would find it hard not to acknowledge the careers of all three men.
However, despite all the heartwarming scenes all throughout the night, the Western Bulldogs still had a chance to play finals football and failed to rise to the occasion, as Hawthorn led at every change, only letting the Bulldogs take the lead in the opening minute of the game, with Liam Picken converting the easiest of opportunities, however, from there, the Hawks took control of a lead that never exceeded four goals.
Despite many instances, to which the Western Bulldogs tried to fight back and reclaim the lead, they just couldn't do it, which really has been the story of their season as they have become the first team since the Hawks in 2009 to miss the finals altogether after winning the premiership the previous year - pretty ironic that it was the Hawks that put the final nail in the 2017 coffin, given that it was the Bulldogs that shut down Hawthorn's dream of being just the second team in VFL/AFL history to win four premierships in a row.
After an even opening term which saw nine goals kicked between the two sides, the Hawks opened up a three-goal lead in the second quarter, before goals to Lachie Hunter and Liam Picken dragged the margin back to a solitary point, but the Hawks were able to open that lead back with four unanswered goals and led by as much as four goals midway through the third quarter. For a side still with a chance of playing finals, it looked as if the Bulldogs didn't really want to win this game for most of the night.
But momentum swung the Dogs' way just before three-quarter time with a pair of goals from Luke Dahlhaus and the much improved Bailey Dale, but the Hawks had every answer to every question the Bulldogs had throwing towards them. The Bulldogs had 16 inside 50s in the final quarter, but as it has been the case for most of the season, they squandered so many chances in front of goal, kicking 3.5 in the fourth quarter. Robert Murphy horrifically spraying his shot on goal late in the game - summing up what kind of season the Dogs were having.
Had the Bulldogs won this game, they would've had to rely on Essendon, West Coast and St. Kilda all losing their games in order to make their third consecutive AFL Finals Series, but with the Bombers and the Eagles both winning their games on Sunday, it was always going to be up against the Bulldogs to make the finals this weekend.
Leading The Way
In the final game of his career, it was Matthew Boyd that wound back the clock with a stellar game in defence. With 33 disposals, 12 marks, three inside 50s and one major, you could say Boyd definitely put in everything he had in his farewell game. His goal, along with Bob's goal in the opening quarter were celebrated with every Bulldogs getting around them afterwards which shows how much these guys really appreciate having the old stagers around at the club.
Jack Macrae was again outstanding in the midfield, also recording 33 disposals along with seven tackles, six inside 50s and five clearances, Toby McLean finished his 2017 campaign in fine style with 26 disposals, six tackles, four inside 50s, four marks and a very good goal from long range in the fourth quarter, whilst Marcus Bontempelli (21 disposals, five marks, four tackles and three clearances) and Tom Liberatore (23 disposals, five marks, five inside 50s and a goal) were very busy.
Liam Picken was the Dogs' most dangerous forward on the night, kicking three goals before half time and could've added a few more in the final quarter, when the Doggies needed goals the most. Lachie Hunter and Bailey Dale were also dangerous any time they went forward, each kicking two goals, whilst young Patrick Lipinski on debut looked lively with 18 disposals, four marks and three behinds and will definitely be one to look out for in 2018.
Whilst the Bulldogs were very disappointing for their retiring duo, the Hawks had quite a few winners around the ground in what was Luke Hodge's final game. Whilst Hodge's stats were very quiet on his last game (14 disposals, three marks and two rebound 50s) Harry Morrison in his debut game showed that he has a future in AFL level, recording 21 disposals, six marks and three inside 50s.
The man that took over from Hodge as Hawthorn captain, Jarryd Roughead was sensational on Friday night and completed a comeback season after missing all of 2016 with knee issues and cancer troubles. Roughead kicked five goals from 19 disposals and 10 marks and proved a handful for the Bulldogs defenders all night long.
Former Swan Tom Mitchell has unquestionably been the recruit of 2017, averaging over 35 disposals - on Friday night he had 32 disposals - the 20th time in season 2017 he has reached 30 disposals or more in a game - along with seven marks, six tackles and four clearances. Another Hawthorn recruit brought in this year in Jaeger O'Meara has had a less harmonious year than Mitchell, but had a really good game with 25 disposals, 11 tackles, five clearances and showed why Hawthorn were so keen on him - dodgy knees and all.
James Sicily bounced back from a horror night against Carlton with 31 disposals, 12 marks, four rebound 50s and a goal to be one of Hawthorn's best defenders on the night, whilst Jack Gunston's move from forward to defence continues in sublime style, recording 26 disposals, eight marks and five rebound 50s. Ben McEvoy (17 disposals, 29 hitouts, nine tackles and five marks) was prolific and got the better of Jordan Roughead on the night, whilst Isaac Smith (21 disposals and three goals) and Paul Puopolo (19 disposals and three goals) were also very impressive.
On To The Off-Season
With the Bulldogs' 2017 campaign now officially done, a long pre-season awaits the boys in red, white and blue and season 2018 shapes a big year for the Western Bulldogs, there's no doubt that this side will be back in finals contention sooner rather than later.
The focus does turn to the Trade Period and the AFL Draft, where the Bulldogs hold the 9th overall pick in the 2017 AFL Draft. What does the side do about it? Do they trade it away to get a solid player in return or will they continue to bring in younger players to continue setting up it's youth for the long haul ahead.
2017 was a very disappointing year to be a Bulldog, and I'm not going to deny that, as will anyone else. However, nobody can ever take away that special feeling of what we achieved last year.
The Western Bulldogs will be back.