Bulldogs rally late over Hawks in finals thriller

Justin FrisSouth Western Times
Jordan Veitch is sandwiched by Bulldogs duo Matthew Martin and Jesse Gribble during a hectic passage of play in the preliminary final.Picture: Jon Gellweiler
Camera IconJordan Veitch is sandwiched by Bulldogs duo Matthew Martin and Jesse Gribble during a hectic passage of play in the preliminary final.Picture: Jon Gellweiler

The 2018 SWFL preliminary final between Bunbury and Augusta-Margaret River at Hands Oval had everything a football purist could want. Sports journalist Justin Fris takes a look at some of the reasons why this contest will stand the test of time in league history.

The build up

Augusta-Margaret River were riding the crest of a wave heading into their highly-anticipated clash against the Bulldogs.

Appearing down and out at 5-6, Matthew Jamieson’s Hawks completed a remarkable revival, winning six of their last seven matches of the home and away season, to secure the final spot in the top five.

Once in the finals series, the Hawks came from behind to stun South Bunbury by one point in the elimination final at Hands Oval, before holding off the Eaton Boomers five points a week later at Glen Huon Reserve.

Several Hawks, including Jamieson, also made another trip to Bunbury in the lead up to the game, as they celebrated Mitch Lynn’s Hayward Medal victory.

“I think over the journey he (Mitch) has been a really important part of not only my coaching but the club going in a good direction under my guidance,” Jamieson said.

“And I think it was a really good reward for effort.”

Things were a little easier for the Bulldogs, who finished second on the table behind Donnybrook. After thrashing the Collie Eagles by 113 points in the final round of the home and away season, the Bulldogs defeated the Boomers in the qualifying final, before being outclassed by the Dons in the second semi-final.

Bulldogs coach Jamie Nani believes the Eagles victory, coupled by a 12-goal haul from superboot Brett Peake, put his group in a good headspace heading into the finals.

The match

Predictably, things were tight and tough, just how both sides liked it.

The Hawks, who were playing in their fourth consecutive away game, broke the game open in the second term with excellent ball movement throughout the corridor.

With Jack Hick and Mitch Payne causing problems for the Bulldogs defence, the visitors burst out to a 17-point lead by the 11-minute mark of the second term.

To this day, Jamieson believes a greater conversion of opportunities could have put the Bulldogs out of business early.

Although his side trailed by two goals at half-time, Nani was not overawed by the task ahead of his side.

“You always go with the positive if you are behind,” he said. “Pump the boys up — and there was not much in it after that. But luckily, we kicked a few goals in the third quarter which put us in front at a crucial time and hung on.”

Mark Longbottom’s second goal of the afternoon put the Dogs in front as the clocked ticked into “time on”, before a wobbly drop punt from Payne on the siren ensured both sides would go into the final term with scores level.

In the final quarter, both sides threw everything at each other, however the class and skill of Bulldogs duo Brad Blake and Jesse Gribble ultimately wore down the leg weary Hawks in the dying minutes.

The aftermath

Although exhausted, the Bulldogs were bouyant in the changerooms post-match as they pondered their fate against the Dons in the grand final.

History will show they were convincingly beaten the following week, but Nani took positives from the finals series.

“I look back at this game in terms of elation for Jesse Gribble and Trav Gray in making a grand final,” he said.

“Previously Jesse had been involved in a few knocked out preliminary final sides and we thought maybe the curse had been lifted for him in terms of making a grand final.

“They (Jesse and Travis) were senior players who had been around for a while. But some of the younger guys, including Logan Farr, did not play a lot last year, but what he probably gained from tough, close games leading into a grand final would have be beneficial for him going forward

Jamieson also felt the campaign helped put the Hawks back on the map.

“I think people want to come and play for your club when they see where you are headed,” he said.

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