By Sam Young
Port Adelaide has virtually ended the Western Bulldogs season and spoiled the party with a 17-point victory in the historical first ever AFL Game in Ballarat. Post-game, coach Ken Hinkley said, “I think we have been knocked around a bit since the showdown and I don’t think anyone has really given us too much since that poor performance, which we owned. We have put together a pretty solid season. We have won games in Shanghai, we now one won in Ballarat, we won ones in Brisbane, we have won games in Melbourne,” showcasing that Port Adelaide have very much had a good season.
Undoubtedly, the crowd got behind the Western Bulldogs with 10,087 spectators squeezing into Mars Stadium on Saturday. A two goal breeze blew to the southern end of the ground, but besides that, it was arguably a perfect day for football. Western Bulldogs coach, Luke Beveridge, praised the Ballarat City council and the curators for the surface saying it was the best in the country.
“We have always said that Launceston is probably the best surface in the competition and it is the curators down there do a fantastic job for the games, but now I think it is second to this. The surface here is just superb.” Bulldogs captain Robert Murphy won the toss and elected to try and take that advantage and kick with the breeze; with it appearing to be the right decision when at the three-minute mark, Bailey Dale kicked the first ever goal at Mars Stadium. The game was played at a frantic pace with plenty of contested footy to be won. When, Matt Suckling goaled from outside 50 on the boundary at the ten-minute mark you got the sense that the doggies could run away with it early. It was up to Port Adelaide ruckman, Paddy Ryder, to turn the tide, with the big man playing an outstanding term, bagging importantly the powers first goal of the match at the 13-minute mark but then one later for his side to only trail by sevenpoints at quarter time. The first quarter also calmed its fair share of causalities with Jake Stringer injuring his left hamstring again this season and taking no further part in the match. For the Power, Dan Houston injured his shoulder whilst livewire Sam Gray suffered a corked thigh after a collision with team mate Paddy Ryder. The friendly fire however didn’t hinder the Power as both men finished the match. The Power started the second term where they left off with Ollie Wines goaling early to take the lead for the first time in the match. However, it was short lived, as one minute later Lachie Hunter won and free kick and convert from 25 mts out-of-dateout. But once again, the Power responded and with Charlie Dixon and Robbie Gray getting on the scoresheet. Local boy Jordan Roughead responded after Ryder’s masterclass in the first, whilst Jackson Macrae picked up 14 possessions in the second term alone before finishing the match with 41 disposals to keep the Western Bulldogs in it.
The match was constantly a seesawing affair with the Doggies finding another gear with another goal to Bailey Dale, who continues to impress in what was arguably his best game for the club. Skipper Bob Murphy was gifted a golden opportunity after the siren but failed to convert from 35 as the Dogs took a six-point lead at the major break. Marcus Bontempelli was quite all afternoon so it was up to Bailey Dale to carry the load. He kicked his third after taking a strong contested mark in the opening moments of the third quarter, and the Dogs looked like they might be away. But Port continued to fightback with sublime finishes from both Chad Wingard and captain Travis Boak gave the power the lead for the first time kicking to the Northern end. It took a lucky bounce from a kick from Lachie Hunter to retake the lead, before Josh Dunkley got on the end of a clean centre break to put his side two goals up. This lifted the local Ballarat crowd with an estimated 7000 local Bulldogs really urging on their side.
Port ended the quarter with another Dixon goal and some momentum, even if it was somewhat marred by an off-the-ball incident between important Port defender Tom Jonas and Luke Dahlhaus. Sam Gray continued to battle through the pain for the Power and at the three-minute mark he kicked a miracle goal from the forward pocket to level the ledger once again.
At the seven-minute mark there were fears it might have been curtains for Bob Murphy who clashed heads in midfield with Brad Ebert. Defiantly,Murphy played out the game but his sides premiership dreams were over as Port Adelaide rammed home six last quarter goals to run out the victors. Charlie Dixon ended the game with 18 disposals, eight marks and most importantly four goals in one of his best games for the club. Ken Hinkley said, “He’s played some great football for this club. It was game in a big day in a big moment, but Charlie has been amazing for us not just today but all year.” Hinkley also praised the opposition saying it takes real guts to play in regional areas or other areas like they did in China back in Round eight.
“We’ve got Shanghai as our first of our second home grounds, so Ballarat can be our second. Its great courage by the Bulldogs like we’ve done, taking a game to a different spot. Takes a bit of courage, I think it’s great for the game to take it to the regional centres when we can and if we can like we did taking it overseas it can only have positives for the game.” Port host the Gold Coast Suns next week whilst the Western Bulldogs play Hawthorn on Friday night and have to win, and probably fairly well to make the finals.
Luke Beveridge was obviously dejected in his press conference post-match. When asked about his sides mathematical chances of playing finals he said, “It’s in the lap of the gods, we need teams to lose to make it. We still have got another game we just gotta see how the other results fall. The City of Ballarat has really embraced us and it is just a shame that we couldn’t win for them today, and obviously we enjoyed the experience until the final result.” The Bulldogs will be returning to Ballarat in the future and Beveridge has vowed that they will give the local fans the result they so much desperately desire. “We are here for the next four years and we need to get the ledger back on square first off and make it a place where it difficult to come and play the opposition.” Western Bulldogs 11.13.79 def. by Port Adelaide 14.12.96