Pre-season prediction

Prior to the commencement of the 2013 season, this year looked to be one of gloom for the Western Bulldogs, coming off a disappointing 2012 where they finished 15th. This lack of expectation was reflected in the Bound For Glory News season predictions, which had the Dogs winning the wooden spoon. The general consensus was while the Dogs added impressive youth, they would not find the immediate improvement to keep them from the foot of the ladder.

2013 season overview

An opening round thumping over the Brisbane Lions – who had just won the NAB Cup triumph – suggested the Dogs could make a mockery of pre-season predictions. However, this victory preceded a run of seven consecutive defeats, mounting pressure on the Dogs and coach Brendan McCartney.

Consecutive victories over St. Kilda and Port Adelaide eased this pressure, but a shock loss to Melbourne seemed to be the spur for the Dogs for a late season revival. Teams such as West Coast, Carlton and Adelaide all needed victories to keep their finals hopes alive, yet they could not deal with an impressive and ever improving Bulldogs outfit.

It was not only the results which pleased Dogs fans and gave them hope for the future, but the way in which they went about their football. After Round 16, the Dogs were first in the competition for disposals, handballs, disposal efficiency and contested possessions, as well as being second for inside 50s and third for clearances: form unbefitting of their 15th place finish.

Positives

The impressive end to the season as a collective was compounded with the performances of individuals who had career-best seasons. The form of Ryan Griffen, who ultimately won his second best and fairest along with All-Australian selection, was outstanding. He surpassed his previous bests in total disposals, clearances and contested possessions, and was more than ably supported by Tom Liberatore.

Son of club legend Tony, Liberatore led the competition for clearances in just his third year of AFL football, emphatically putting his well-publicised personal setbacks behind him. Another young gun Luke Dahlhaus also displayed the consistency needed in order to elevate himself to the next level: after Round 16, Dahlhaus averaged 20 disposals and 2 goals a game.Yet, perhaps most important of all was blooding their youth, with last season’s prized draft picks Stringer, Macrae, Hrovat and Hunter all receiving valuable game time.

Negatives

While the Dogs were greatly improved by season’s end, their second consecutive bottom four finish would want to be rectified by Brendan McCartney in the short term. Despite the great showings by season’s end, the Dogs ultimately had eight wins in comparison to 14 losses. While McCartney has fostered a great culture down at the Kennel, there is no substitute for results, especially for a young side.

The overwhelming opinion regarding the Dogs’ struggles has been their lack of key forward. Throughout the season, they used the likes of Tom Campbell, Ayce Cordy, Liam Jones, Lukas Markovic and Tom Williams as their key forward, yet all predominantly struggled through either form or fitness. Of these five, Tom Campbell had the best goal return at an average of 1.5 a game.

Key signings and departures

What was perceived to be the Dogs’ greatest weakness was instantly addressed in the trade period. The aforementioned lack of forward target was rectified as – after being at loggerheads with Essendon – the Western Bulldogs traded pick 26 for Stewart Crameri. Other signings to the main list included Sam Darley, formerly of GWS, as well as promoted rookie Brett Goodes.

The high profile departure of the Dogs was in the form of 210-game veteran Daniel Cross, who since his delisting has been picked up by Melbourne. Dylan Addison was also delisted and has found himself a new home at GWS, while Lukas Markovic, Nick Lower and Patrick Veszpremi were also moved on.

However, the biggest piece of business the Dogs made over the off-season was the contract extension of coach Brendan McCartney for a further two years. Additionally, a change in the captaincy has been announced, with club champion Griffen taking over from Matthew Boyd.

The Draft

The Western Bulldogs had the fourth selection in this year’s National Draft, using it on Northern Knights midfielder Marcus Bontempelli. Bound For Glory News’ Jourdan Canil described Bontempelli as a 100-metre player who “reads the play so well”. Picks 42 and 60 brought mature aged defender Matthew Fuller and midfielder Mitch Honeychurch to the club respectively. Along with the elevation of Brett Goodes, the Dogs drafting as a whole received a B+ in the Bound For Glory News draft grading.

Overall grading: B

While the Dogs ultimately finished in the bottom four for the second consecutive year, it was a year which presented many positives, topped off with an impressive off-season. Their late season form displayed that they were a team who were quite clearly on the improve, with a host of youngsters being the core of this group for years to come.