Dale Morris has endured a tough 18 months but at a crucial time, he returns to a Bulldogs side bereft of leaders.
A favourite son since being recruited back in 2004 through the Rookie Draft, Morris had cemented himself as one of the Dogs consistent defenders.
Morris had played at least 18 of the 22 premiership season matches each season from 2006 until 2011 when he critically broke down in a game he would rather forget. A week before the season came to a close, Morris suffered a broken tibia in his lower right leg and that match against Essendon would be his last for a while.
In late April of 2012, Morris made a comeback through Williamstown in the VFL reserves and thought he would be on the road to resuming his AFL career.
“Everything felt right about the situation. It was at Werribee, where I’d set out on my AFL career and it just felt like it was going to work out perfectly,” he said just days before the match.
To his disappointment, he started to feel pain in his leg and more x-rays revealed a stress fracture three centimetres below the original break. Morris later was resigned to the fact that he would be missing a whole season of footy.
A popular club man, he spent that season at the footy club passing on his knowledge to the youngsters coming through the ranks. That’s the sort of person Morris is and typifies why he is loved so much at the Dogs.
Ironically, Morris made his AFL return in the NAB Cup against Essendon, the club he broke down against nearly 18 months prior. It symbolised for him the long road to recovery that was finally coming to an end.
“It’s all starting again. I did the injury against Essendon (in 2011) and now I’m coming back against Essendon. I’ve almost come full circle,” Morris said just days before taking the field.
It’s been well documented that the Western Bulldogs have struggled over the last couple of years. In fact, they haven’t won a game for premiership points since the 17th of June in 2012 when they triumphed against Port Adelaide by 38 points.
It’s no secret that the club has lacked leadership with the ever consistent Matthew Boyd having to do too much work on game day. In fact, out of the 22 matches the Bulldogs played in 2012, Boyd led the possession stats for 15 of them. That’s a staggering state that the coaches will look to change in 2013. Boyd is a true leader of the footy club but with Morris returning, this should affect his on-field performance for the better.
Morris returning to the fold should help the Bulldogs’ overall on-field performance immensely. He is a much-loved member of the footy team and at 30 years of age, he offers experience in a time crucial to the club’s development. In recent years, too much has been left to too little and with Morris on the sidelines, he has been able to do nothing about it. The 151 gamer and All-Australian in 2008 is finally making his comeback and this should help the Bulldogs immensely in a time when leadership is crucial.
Whilst some Bulldogs fans and footy fans in general may argue that the recruitment and emergence of top draft picks Jake Stringer and Jackson Macrae or the continued development of key forward prospect Liam Jones are highlights of the season ahead, it is the return of Dale Morris that should excite them the most.
For a team that has lacked inspiration on the park for the last few years, Morris returning is a huge boost for followers of the Bulldogs. He adds defensive structure and all-important leadership, something the boys from Whitten Oval have lacked for far too long.