2016 AFL Grand Final preview
As the saying goes: “You couldn’t write a script like it!”
That statement rings true as the Western Bulldogs had been decimated by injuries all year while the Sydney Swans were embarrassed in its first up, Qualifying Final loss to Greater Western Sydney.
A number of words could be used to describe how both sides, particularly the Dogs, overcame their issues and made it to the Grand Final: hard work, perseverance, fairytale.
Whatever words you choose would be fitting as they both overcame setbacks and injuries and will now play off for the greatest prize in Australian sport.
The Swans needed to infuse host of young talent including Callum Mills, Tom Papley, Aliir Aliir, and the returning Lance Franklin into a side that, despite finishing fourth last season, disappointed after losing consecutive finals games and exiting the finals series in straight sets.
The Swans answered any questions that were asked of them and more as a dominant midfield, led in part by Mills who won the 2016 Rising Star Award, and Franklin’s 74 goals helped Sydney finish first on the ladder.
A rollercoaster finals series has seen Sydney get belted by GWS in a game where they appeared slow to the ball and looked to be outworked, but bounce back and steamroll Adelaide in a semi-final to the tune of 46-points and demolish Geelong in the prelim final by 37-points to book their place at a shot at the premiership.
The Swans enter the game not at 100 percent however, as key backman Allir was ruled out with a knee injury, while Mills and captain Jarrad McVeigh were brought back into the side despite hamstring and calf injuries respectively that kept them out of Sydney’s Preliminary FInal win.
The Bulldogs enter their first season decider since 1961 with nearly the entire football world rooting for them, as it is almost a miracle that they were able to make the Grand Final.
Injuries and perseverance would be the best words to describe just how this season has gone for the sons of the west, as captain Robert Murphy was lost in Round 3 for the season with an ACL tear, forward Jack Redpath tore his ACL in Round 18 and gun midfielder Mitch Wallis broke his leg in the same match.
Having to overcome so much adversity has made the Bulldogs stronger as a team, dominant finals wins over West Coast (away) and to three-time reigning premiers Hawthorn highlighting the club’s resolute nature.
Despite such great wins in their Elimination and Semi-Final wins, the Dogs best was in the prelim, as they came from behind in a see-sawing battle that pitted two great midfields against each other to beat GWS by six points (also an away game).
On the first Saturday in October, the Swans and Bulldogs will clash in what should be a titanic battle.
Both sides possess star quality; Marcus Bontempelli, Jason Joahanissen and Lachie Hunter for the Dogs, Luke Parker, Isaac Heaney and Franklin for the Swans.
The side that wins the midfield battle should go on to hoist the premiership cup, as the game will be won or lost in the middle third of the ground.
The small forwards for both sides will also be key, particularly for the Bulldogs, who will rely on sharpshooter Tory Dickson to kick accurately and the mercurial Jake Stringer to shine bright in the biggest game of his life.
Given the Dogs giant killing and fairytale run so far, and nearly the whole of the country behind them, the Victorian side will most likely be jittery early.
If they can handle their nerves and not get blown away in the first quarter, like Geelong were, the Bulldogs should be able to hold Sydney’s forward line in check and win the club’s second ever premiership and first since 1954.
Expect Johanissen to use his speed to break away from stoppages, linking up with Bontempelli and Hunter, both are players whose skill can create something out of nothing.
If they are able to play their games unhindered, one of those two should be a strong chance to win the Norm Smith Medal.