It's the morning after the day before and it almost feels like waking from a dream. In a result that absolutely nobody predicted even six months ago, we now live in a world in which the Western Bulldogs are reigning AFL premiers.
Unless you live under a rock you'll know that much has been made made of Footscray's premiership and grand final droughts. While that is crucial to the narrative and culture of the club, one needs only cast their mind back just over two years to see where this club has come from to claim an unlikely flag.
Perhaps it is time for the Dogs to shed their "battler" tag and be seen as a trendsetter.
A little over two years ago an article appeared int The Age describing the Dogs as Melbourne's least relevant club. According to the author, Michael Gleeson, they had become "invisible." The club received little newspaper coverage and had the lowest average crowd numbers and membership of any of the Victorian clubs. Of course, this lack of engagement can be put down largely to on field performance.
2014 was the fourth year in succession that Footscray had won less than 10 games in a season. To say they were mired in mediocrity would be rather an understatement. Looking through the eyes of a Doggies supporter, it would've been hard to see in what direction the club was moving.
Fast forward to the 2014 trade period and the tumult that ensued following Ryan Griffen's shock defection to Greater Western Sydney. Griffen's decision eventually cost coach, Brendan McCartney, his job and the club looked to be in a position set back even further from where they were. In what seemed almost like a knee-jerk tit-for-tat reaction, the Dogs secured the highly regarded young Tom Boyd on a multi-million dollar contract and some pundits wondered whether the club had lost their minds.
Enter Luke Beveridge. His path to senior coaching was slightly different to many others in the game. In a way, it was similar to his former boss, Alastair Clarkson. Rather than going from his playing days straight into an assistant role at an AFL club, Beveridge took up a post at VAFA club St Bede's Mentone, guiding them from C grade to an A grade premiership in three seasons. From there he went on to a player development role at Collingwood, playing a part in the youngest Premiership side in VFL/AFL history in 2010.
Experience gained from these two jobs appears to have proved crucial to taking over an incredibly inexperienced team. From the last game of 2014 to the first game of 2015, the Dogs had lost almost 700 games of experience. The round one 2015 team that beat West Coast had 11 players that had played less than 50 games.
The other appointment that stands out on Beveridge's resume is his three years as a defensive coach at Hawthorn. One can see Hawthorn fingerprints all over this Dogs team. Very much like the Hawks, every player on this team has a role and knows exactly what it is, and if the role needs to change they are able to adapt. This is very much evidenced in the resurgence of Liam Picken as a player.
Beveridge's defensive nous has been crucial to Footscray's turnaround. They have gone from a team that was consistently in the bottom four for scores against from 2012 to 2014, to the third best defence this year. Notably, this is often a sign of a club in rebuild mode - get the defence in order, learn how to not scored against and then focus on kicking scores yourself.
Yet, this team is not in rebuild mode. Or is it? This team has an average age of just over 24 and average only 82 games. Age-wise thats very close to Hawthorn in 2008 and Collingwood in 2010, but in terms of games it is well below. Yet, there doesn't seem to be a feeling of a team getting ahead of itself or winning too early. Maybe it's a reflection of the evenness of the competition, but it's hard to envisage a letdown for this team this year but more likely another step forward. While doomsayers were predicting the apocalypse and five consecutive GWS flags, it's worth remembering they'll have to beat this team to do it.
The next step will be for the Dogs to start kicking high scores. Tom Boyd's breakthrough performance in the Grand Final will have their supporters rubbing their hands together. His four goals made hime by far the best big man on the ground and he can build on that next year he'll go a long way making his name as one the top forwards in the league and living up to his pay packet and number one pick status. The intriguing possible addition of Travis Cloke will make for a very different forward line too.
There is no doubt whatsoever what the appointment of Beveridge has done for this club and any other clubs on a lookout for a new coach should take heed.
Beveridge is not only a greatly skilled football coach, but also a quality man. As evidenced by his giving his Jock McHale medal to Bob Murphy and the giddy grin on his face as Murphy and Easton Wood hoisting the premiership cup, he is perfect person to guide a group of young men to greatness. We are privileged to be along for the ride.