Bulldogs deal Gold Coast's finals hopes a blow

WESTERN BULLDOGS 5.1 5.5 7.12 13.16 (94)GOLD COAST 2.3 6.6 7.10 9.12 (66)
Goals: Western Bulldogs: J Macrae 2 J Stringer 2 L Hunter 2 J Johannissen J Redpath L Dahlhaus M Bontempelli N Hrovat S Crameri T Liberatore. Gold Coast: C Dixon 3 J O'Meara 2 T Lynch 2 H Bennell J Martin.
BEST: Western Bulldogs: Macrae, Boyd, Johannisen, Wallis, Murphy, Minson. Gold Coast Suns: O'Meara, Swallow, Prestia, Dixon, Bennell, Kolodjashnij.
Injuries: Western Bulldogs: Griffen (virus) replaced in selected side by Johannisen. Gold Coast: Kolodjashnij (hamstring).
Umpires: Robert Findlay, Tristan Burgess, Leigh Fisher.
Crowd: 9746 at Cazaly Stadium.

Since Gary Ablett's season was ended by a dislocated shoulder against Collingwood last week, most of the attention has been trained on the Gold Coast's array of young talent. How would they cope in his absence? It was a fair question; the Suns looked finals bound, and their efforts to secure a win last week under duress outstanding.

But, ahead of Saturday's match, perhaps some of that attention, and respect, should have been paid to the Bulldogs. Given they, too, went in without their captain – Ryan Griffen was a late withdrawal with a virus – this was a significant win for the Dogs, and it dealt the staggering Suns' September prospects a real blow.

Probably, and understandably, the Suns were exhausted after last week's heroics, when they saw out the game with no interchange bench. The Bulldogs ran them ragged in the last quarter, piling on six goals to finish the match. They remain an inconsistent work in progress, but at their best they're quick, skillful and exciting.

Their best player was Jack Macrae, made the substitute last week against Geelong and given a very public dressing down by coach Brendan McCartney. Macrae responded in the best way possible, capping a 17-possession third quarter (he finished the match with 43) with two goals, including one to all but finish the match .

Other notables were Lachie Hunter, who played with the confidence of a man who knows he doesn't just belong at this level, but can dominate at it, and Griffen's replacement Jason Johannisen, who brought pace and a touch of flair to everything he did.

Fed by the remarkable early dominance of Will Minson in the ruck, who accumulated 18 hit-outs in the first quarter, the Dogs drove home five goals against the wind – all craftily kicked from well inside their 50 metre arc – in what once would have been a decisive break at Cazaly Stadium

Hunter was prominent in the surge, kicking a clever snap around the corner for his first, then setting up rookie Jack Redpath for another a few minutes later. In between, Johannisen streamed into goal thanks to the slick hands of Liberatore.

The highlight was Marcus Bontempelli's perfectly controlled one-handed mark over his head as he fended off his opponent with the other. Bontempelli kicked to Jake Stringer, who took his own one-hander before giving off to Luke Dahlhaus, who dribbled a check-side kick through off his right foot.

It was sublime football, and in previous games at this venue it might have been enough to win the match. In the previous three outings here, the wind has invariably been best on ground: the breeze rips in from the south of Trinity Bay and straight through the exposed suburban ground.

But the wind drops as afternoon turns to evening, and the AFL, which has copped some heat for its scheduling decisions this year, deserves credit for making this a twilight game. Curiously, most of the match, at least until the last quarter, was played at the southern end of the ground – the wrong end from which to be kicking.

The Suns hit back in the second quarter, with Charlie Dixon, touch and go to make this game with a corked calf, kicking his second. Fellow forward Tom Lynch intercepted an errant handball from Sam Darley; with no one in front of him, Lynch was forced to bomb from beyond 50, but it was good enough to roll through.

Then the cream rose to the top: a brilliant snap by Harley Bennell on his right foot, followed by an audacious run through the middle by Jaeger O'Meara, who was climbing on top of an absorbing battle with Liberatore, to give the Suns a half-time lead.

The third quarter was an arm wrestle; the ball lodged down the Bulldogs end for most of it, but the nominal home side was unable to score until Jake Stringer scrambled through a goal in the 12th minute, the Suns immediately responding via Jack Martin. But it was one of the few Suns forays forward for the quarter.

The final disposal count of 419 to 304 tells the story of a side that was probably cooked before the match began. The Suns have a good run home, and may still make the finals. The Dogs won’t, but their fans, a good number of whom travelled north for the game, have plenty to look forward to.

This story Bulldogs deal Gold Coast's finals hopes a blow first appeared on WA Today.