TO BRENDAN McCartney’s credit, he didn’t shy away on Saturday night from his Bulldogs’ dreadful performance against Essendon.
”We’re filthy with how we are playing, though, we’re really disappointed with what we’re dishing up,” he said.
Struggling to tame the surging Bombers is no hanging offence, but the feeling about the Dogs in the football world even heading into the weekend wasn’t encouraging.
Leigh Matthews, in his weekly spiel on the AFL website, said the Dogs had ”a lot of players that are in a bad age profile” and that key forwards Jordan Roughead and Liam Jones were ”a long, long way off”.
”[Matthew] Boyd is 30, [Adam] Cooney is 26 but with a 40-year-old knee, [Brian] Lake is 30, [Bob] Murphy is 30,” he said.
”They have dropped to the bottom third. It’s very hard to see them getting out of there in the immediate year or two.”
Now almost certainly out of finals contention, the Dogs must work to ensure they aren’t bracketed with the ”irrelevant” tag. And it’s up to their supporters to help out, too.
Much has been made of their drop in membership, about 4500 down from last season, and attendance, with home crowds dipping to their lowest average in 15 years.
However, it should be remembered they are not the only team to suffer falls in attendance.
There is a feeling the Dogs’ western-region support base would be more inclined to spend their entertainment budget on football if they believed the team had a good chance of winning. A 5-8 record this season suggests that faith has been hard to have.
Another reason could be an apparent a lack of excitement, perhaps even a lack of salesmanship.
Under Rodney Eade and Terry Wallace, the Dogs had coaches who bought into issues and even enjoyed the cut-and-thrust of the media cycle. McCartney, certainly at this stage, is not as interested.
Captain Matthew Boyd is a fine on-field leader but, as one senior official from another club noted yesterday, compares to Richmond counterpart Chris Newman in terms of his low public profile.
When the charismatic Barry Hall and Jason Akermanis were around, the Dogs had natural appeal – and plenty of headlines. That’s no longer the case, with the club working to regenerate with younger voices that do not yet resonate as greatly.
President David Smorgon, for so long seen as the unofficial head of club presidents but now in his penultimate season in charge, has kept a particularly low profile.
While the Bulldogs’ front office works hard with limited resources, many in the football world feel there is a vanilla feel about the club. That’s disappointing, for there is much to like.
Bob Murphy is a class act, Ryan Griffen, in the words of Doug Hawkins, is almost in the ”Rolls- Royce” category, while Luke Dahlhaus is one of the league’s emerging midfielders. To see his smother and follow-up tackle on Saturday night was to see a man buying into McCartney’s principles.
That’s little comfort, though, when the wins are limited. For the time being, they must make do.
Already this season, the winless Gold Coast has become irrelevant on the field. Greater Western Sydney, Port Adelaide and Melbourne are all in the ”education phase”.
McCartney has sold himself as a teacher and his Bulldogs, too, are learning a new style.
However, they still have time this year to have an impact on the top eight and finish with a pass-mark report card. The same can be said for their supporters, who have four home games left to help the Dogs fill their coffers.
After a weekend of lopsided results, and with more set to come, the Bulldog fraternity would do everyone a favour if they could achieve those twin aims.
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