The critical error that lost Bulldogs the grand final
The Western Bulldogs made a critical error in the 2021 AFL grand final that cost them victory, according to former player Nathan Brown.
The Bulldogs blew a 13-point lead to go down to the Demons in the season finale, and the big reason why was their failure to adapt their strategy at the bounce when they repeatedly refused to have a sweeper – a roaming player to shut down the space on their side of the ground.
“You want a turning point, it was in the middle of the ground late in the third term,” Brown said on Nine’s the AFL Footy Show.
“Melbourne love to get the ball out the front of the contest and the Bulldogs, the last time they played them at the MCG [in round 19] they set up with two players that didn’t allow that.
“In the third term they had to set up the same, and I think this is where Melbourne won the game and at the same time where the Bulldogs lost it.”
With all the momentum and a handy lead, the Bulldogs failed to shut down the centre clearances, and quickfire goals to Melbourne to end the third quarter completely flipped the game on its head.
“Late in the third term, Bulldogs were up 13 points, they didn’t have a sweeper. They get sucked in, there’s no sweeper and massive space to work with,” Brown said.
“That’s OK, it happens once. The very next clearance, they don’t have a sweeper.
“You think at this point they’d have learnt. You don’t have a sweeper, you pay the price against the Demons.”
Again and again, the Demons feasted on the oversight, as Brown pointed out in the highlights.
With less than a minute to go in the term, Clayton Oliver again scored for the Demons, ending a highly pivotal passage of play.
“The game is over there,” Brown said.
“They didn’t set up any differently, they didn’t change anything up. Bont [Marcus Bontempelli], [Tom] Liberatore, [Jack] Macrae, [Adam] Treloar was in there. Did a message come from the bench? I’m not sure. Because everything they set up the same.
“They ranked 17th for hit-outs this year but second for clearances so they backed themselves in, but at some point in that third quarter they needed to change what they were doing.”
Port Adelaide legend Kane Cornes said taking off Bontempelli for a rest was also a big factor in Melbourne reasserting their dominance.
“They’re on fire [and] he comes off the ground,” Cornes said.
“Last game of the year, they’ve just had a week off, surely you leave the best player in there to play 96 per cent of the game? Rest him forward just don’t send him off, because what happened next is stunning.”
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AFL great Matthew Lloyd agreed with Brown’s analysis of the error in the Bulldogs’ strategy.
“That is exactly how they lost the game,” he said.
“It’s the reason they lost the three games of the season – Essendon, Hawthorn, and Port got them that way. That’s why it was a stunning turnaround in the finals, because they tidied that up.
“But they were exposed.”
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