AFL 1 year ago

The 2016 Grand Final Experience: From my perspective

  • The 2016 Grand Final Experience: From my perspective

    Panoramic view of a packed out MCG during the pre bounce huddle between both teams. Image is my own

  • The 2016 Grand Final Experience: From my perspective

    MELBOURNE, VICTORIA - OCTOBER 01: Bulldogs players celebrate the win during the 2016 AFL Grand Final match between the Sydney Swans and the Western Bulldogs at Melbourne Cricket Ground on October 1, 2016 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Michael Dodge/AFL Media/Getty Images)

Premiers. Every time I utter the word, I can't help but laugh to myself. It's been just over a week since the doggies won the crown, but I still incessantly message my mate with the word 'premiers' in big capital letters. What an experience.
This piece isn't quite about the game, but more of a personal reflection of the significance of the event. I ask that you take the time to read it, but if it's not what you're looking for, I don't hold anything against you if you decide not to read on.

The whole week was a bit of a blur to be honest. I had assignments due the following week which I hadn't started, work matters, but the Western Bulldogs had qualified for the Grand Final in stunning fashion against the young GWS Giants

Dad and I generally get loud during any sports game, and sure enough I was screaming my head off, but during the whole second half I could not believe how quiet my dad was. He ditched his usual fanatic approach to a game and sat in near silence. The game was so tense, I'm pretty sure I was standing for the whole fourth quarter. My brother, who isn't a huge football fan, was sitting and watching with intent. 

It was then, the package Jake Stringer, found Tory Dickson inside 50 metres with 29 seconds to go, and I couldn't believe my eyes. The Bulldogs, regardless of Dickson's kick, were going to their first Grand Final in 55 years. The siren sounded and I probably screamed the house down. Little did I know of what would come next.

That Sunday afternoon dad and I were at the VFL Grand Final, watching the Bulldogs' reserves side take out the VFL title against Casey Scorpions. Dad went to take a phone call, returned, and told me that my mum and my brother had managed to grab us a couple of tickets, courtesy of dad's mate, and we were going to the 2016 AFL Grand Final. We had no idea how to react, we just laughed. It was such a ridiculous notion in the past, because tickets were always either super expensive or super exclusive. 

For dad and I, it was going to be an experience just being there and watching the Bulldogs playing in the big one, against a proven premiership side no less. Regardless of the result, being able to say I was going to the big game was just nuts. 

Now I'm 22 years old, but the idea of going to a Grand Final made me as excited as a 5 year old in a lolly shop. I was over the moon, at 22 I'd be going to my first Grand Final for the team that we actually support.
I was so excited for the game, I was completely unsure what to expect.

What would the atmosphere be like?
How packed is it going to be?
Are the Doggies really underdogs?
Do we have good seats?
Are Sydney going to run over us?
Will the Doggies pull off the unthinkable?
I wish Murphy was playing.
Can I get myself a pie without getting ripped off?
You know, the important details.

It was the little things in the lead up that had my chest well up with excitement. Dad proudly hanging up the flag in the lounge room, seeing red white and blue dominate the state, seeing articles upon articles of opinions and analysis. Generally, as a sports writing fanatic I always have an opinion and generally have my mind made up before the big dance. But this year, all week long, I had no clue. I couldn't bring myself to say the Bulldogs were going to win, but by the same token I couldn't bear to say the Doggies would lose. 

Friday came, we went to the annual Grand Final parade. I saw the cup in person, and it dawns on me. I'm going to see two teams fight it out for the biggest prize in AFL. It's a strange feeling, sharing the same ground as the team you want to beat. It's almost a silent acknowledgement. You're aware the other team is there and you'll say the odd remark like 'it'll be a cracker of a game', or what have you, but in your eyes the only things that exist are yourself and the team you're supporting. 
The boys went past, and several players got cheers and jeers. My favourite one came from dad. As Buddy Franklin went past, dad yelled "Go Hawthorn!!". Buddy did a double take, and it made me laugh.
The biggest cheer of the parade came for the float carrying the kegs of Carlton Draught. 
'Straya.

Grand Final day came. Dad and I got to the MCG early, and just walked around and hung about. 
Regardless of who you barrack for, or whichever team you were supporting on the day, there is no doubting the buzz that was created, everyone was keen for the game. Everywhere I looked I saw masses of colour, red, white, blue, countless footy tops, scarves, flags, banners, right down to the scalpers with homemade signs hoping to score last minute tickets. You name it, it was all there. Dad and I casually strolled around the stadium, breathing it all in. 

The Fox Footy team were doing a live broadcast and we saw the legendary Brad Johnson smiling from ear to ear. I was lucky enough to have had photos taken with GWS Giant Jonathan Patton, and former Olympic champion pole vaulter Steve Hooker. I also walked past TV presenter and writer Waleed Aly, as well as Coleman medallist Jack Riewoldt. All of them dressed to the nines for the occasion.

It was a huge day. We made our way to our seats, counted down the hours, minutes and seconds. During the anthem I shed a few tears, just being there on the day was amazing, I was a little overwhelmed with emotion. I told you, I was excited.
Immediately after, the roar that ensued was absolutely electric. My hands slightly sweaty with anticipation, my heart already pounding in my chest even before the first bounce. It was on like Donkey Kong. 

I was on edge for the entire game, but every so often during a stoppage in play or quarter time I still thought to myself 'I'm here at the bloody Grand Final'. I yelled, heckled whoever I could, jumped out of my seat, completely lost myself in the game. 

Normally, I have an analytical mind when it comes to any sort of sports I like, but I couldn't deal with thinking about the statistics and specifics. My mate said to me 'forget about the game and be a fan for a day. I'll take care of the stats.' So I did. 

By the end of the third quarter the feeling of belief inside the MCG was unmistakable, Doggies supporters got louder and more confident as the game went on. Merely a quarter stood between the Bulldogs completing the impossible. It also dawned on me that it would be the final quarter of this incredible day, my Grand Final experience was coming to an end. And I still couldn't quite pick a winner, until the Dogs took over in the final quarter. 

The attendance was confirmed at 99,981. I remember the number clear as day, because I think of myself as the 1 in that number. 1 lucky kid who got to witness this incredible occasion. 

There was a single play that finally made me think 'the Bulldogs have done it'. Centre square, Buddy Franklin picks up a loose ball, looks completely unaware as old dog Dale Morris chops him down beautifully, the ball spills. Tom Boyd picks up the loose pieces and has a boot from inside the centre square, the ball drops just inside the goal square and bounces across for a goal. I thought surely, SURELY, the Dogs have done enough. I was completely engrossed in the game, so any idea of time was out the window for me. 

There was the final goal by Liam Picken who bombed it high into the stands, and the last score by Toby McLean, as the siren sounded. I went crazy, dad and I went absolutely bananas, and I've got the video footage on my phone of the last few seconds before the siren, and the MCG, went off.

Everything afterwards was just bloody fantastic. The trophy presentation was great to witness in person, a few more tears were shed (no shame in telling everyone they were mine) when Bevo gave Murphy his Jock McHale medal, a humble Grand Final act if ever I've seen one. We belted out the club song time and time again full of passion, the walk to the station with hundreds of other supporters in a jovial mood (bar that one poor swans supporter stuck with us the whole time home), the drive home dad and I were chatting about the win practically non stop. I've been to Grand Finals of other sports before, but wowee. Is it even possible to be on such a high for so long?

The fact is yes, it is. After 55 years of pain, anguish, close call preliminary final losses, it's possible. And if you screamed enough, it's possible to lose your voice and still feel on top of the world.

Everyday for about a week I'd messaged my mate that the Bulldogs are premiers, dad brought home 4 premiership posters, my Facebook page was covered with pictures, videos, and a whole lot of red, white and blue. It wasn't just winning the game, but it was the blood, sweat, tears, dedication and belief of the Bulldogs. They proved that anything is possible. Making a Grand Final is big enough in itself, regardless of where on the ladder you come from. 

But actually winning a premiership from 7th place? Before this year, it wasn't even a thought. North Melbourne got close from 6th, making the preliminary in 2014, but ultimately fell short.

If anything, the Bulldogs are an example for all. Literally anything is possible if you believe. 

If you've made it this far and you're still reading, I've gotta take a moment and acknowledge a few people. Firstly, any Sydney Swans supporter reading this, well done. I mean that sincerely, the Swans had an amazing year, finishing 1st in a tight finish to the season, and made me doubt even the morning of the Grand Final if the Dogs would be able to beat a premiership side. The Swans are still top competition, and I think you'll make it to the big dance again soon.

Cheers to my dad's mate Phil who helped us out with the tickets. As cliche as it sounds, you've made a dream come true, I never thought I would've been going to a Grand Final with my dad, but your generosity made it possible. I hope you get to go see your mighty Tigers battle it out at the big dance one day, it's an experience you won't forget. 

Thanks to mum, my brother Luke and my cousin Andrea for putting up with the antics before and after the final. Anyone who knows mum knows she's not a keen sports fan, but she's put up with fanatical rubbish from a whole lot of codes, and this was possibly the biggest deal we've made of a game. 

Finally, there's dad. We've been to a lot of games over the years. I count 3 A League Grand Finals, 2 domestic Basketball Grand Finals, 1 indoor soccer Grand Final (despite you narrowly missing my goal), a couple of NBL finals games, but only a few people like us can say we were at the 2016 AFL Grand Final.

Thanks for bringing me up a sports fanatic, and for a hell of a day that I won't forget.

Here's to more Grand Finals in the future old man.

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