Thrilling matches, tense finals, huge marks and a series of unforgettable storylines made the 2019 AFL season one to remember.
The evenness of the AFL’s top bracket of sides was shown by the fact just one win separated Geelong, who finished first, and the fifth-placed West Coast, while Greater Western Sydney went from sixth to reach the grand final after a stunning September run.
It was Richmond who would ultimately win the premiership, their second in three years, Damien Hardwick’s side finishing the season full of momentum.
A new campaign brings fresh hope for all 18 clubs, though, and our 2019 season reviews take a look at what went right, what went wrong, each side’s best players and how every club can improve.
The next team in the spotlight is Western Bulldogs.
- Ladder position: Seventh
- Eventual finish: Elimination finalists
- Home and away win-loss ratio: 12-10
- Home and away percentage: 107.2
Western Bulldogs AFL 2019 Season Performance Review
Seven losses in nine matches left the Bulldogs contemplating another season out of the finals during the mid-season bye. But something clicked at the Kennel in the second half of the season and Luke Beveridge’s men came home with a wet sail, winning seven of their last nine home and away fixtures to reach the finals playing an attacking brand of exciting football. Talk was even starting to emerge of the Bulldogs’ ability to potentially do what they did in 2016, when they won four finals in a row to win the premiership. Those hopes were snuffed out in the first stage of the post-season, though, Greater Western Sydney getting revenge for a heavy defeat to the Dogs only three weeks earlier with a 58-point win.
The Bulldogs were particularly hot from Round 21 to Round 23, beating Essendon, Greater Western Sydney and Adelaide by 104, 61 and 34 points respectively. The Dogs started three weeks to remember with a 104-point drubbing of the Bombers, a match in which they kept Essendon to just four goals and kicked 21 themselves. The Dogs added 19 against the Giants and kicked another 18 against Adelaide in Ballarat, filling fans with hope as they headed into the finals. There were no massive bags in the trio of the wins – Bailey Dale got five against the Crows – but an even spread of goalkickers and huge numbers for midfield stars Jack Macrae, Lachie Hunter, Marcus Bontempelli and Josh Dunkley were hallmarks of the triumphs.
With all that momentum behind them, the Bulldogs were slow starters against GWS in their elimination final. The Giants quickly built a four-goal lead and although the Dogs clawed their way to within a goal at one stage, a run of eight Giants majors in a row killed off their season. Bontempelli was kept to just 13 disposals and Dunkley and Hunter failed to have their usual impact, meaning the Dogs were overrun in the midfield. The Bulldogs had happy memories of Giants Stadium after winning their 2016 preliminary final there, but Greater Western Sydney proved far too strong on this occasion.
The best and fairest
It was no surprise to see Bontempelli win his third Charlie Sutton Medal, the silky midfielder enjoying another outstanding season in the red, white and blue. Bontempelli averaged 26.3 disposals per game in 2019 but it was more what he did with the football, the left-footer’s poise, vision and footy smarts a standout feature of his play. Young midfielder Dunkley was rewarded for his breakout season with a second-place finish, while prolific ball-winner Macrae finished third.
Bontempelli entered the 2019 Brownlow Medal as one of the favourites but was forced to settle for a share of eighth place. The problem? Macrae also won 22 votes, the pair stealing votes off each other as umpires had a regular debate about which of the pair deserved the full three votes. Dunkley also won his fair share, finishing in a tie for 19th with 15 votes, while promising young forward Aaron Naughton polled seven.
Of the three Bulldogs named in the initial 40-man squad, only Bontempelli made the starting 18, placed out on a wing in a brilliant midfield oozing with class. Macrae, who finished second in the AFL for total disposals during the home and away season, won a spot on the bench. Dunkley was picked in the provisional squad but missed out on selection.
The goal kickers
Small forward Sam Lloyd led the way for the Bulldogs in 2019, kicking 38.31 in a terrific season. Naughton added 32.27 and could be anything if he gets his body right, while Josh Schache showed glimpses he is coming good with 24 goals from 14 matches. There is plenty of scope for improvement in the forward 50 for the Dogs and if they get that right on a consistent basis, they should comfortably return to finals football.
The reason to be hopeful
Age is on the side of all of the Bulldogs’ ‘Fab Four’ in midfield, with Dunkley the youngest at 23 when the 2020 season starts. Naughton and Bailey Smith are stars of the future and the way the Dogs finished the 2019 campaign should give fans plenty of confidence. Josh Bruce and Alex Keath were canny acquisitions in the trade period, too, boosting the club’s key position stocks.