The name Brad Johnson has become synonymous with the Western Bulldogs, writes Colby Allen.
The “Smiling Assassin” Johnson lined up today to break fellow legend Chris Grant‘s game record for the club that he had given his heart and soul to for fifteen years. For years, Johnson was the marquee player for the Dogs. Even in his thirties there’s no denying the talent that he possesses. From his tender years as a shy, hard-working eighteen year old, Johnson has grown to become a true legend of the Western Bulldogs Football Club. And today, against the Fremantle Dockers, he would solidify his legacy as a club champion in game #342.
The Dockers were struggling by all definitions of the word. Even after a win in the Western Derby their success was attributed to “tanking”. The boys from the west had a point to prove, so was an upset on the cards? Could the Dockers spoil Brad’s party? Could they finally salvage some pride out of this season? If the Bulldogs had anything to say about it, not likely.
Lindsay Gilbee – who lost his father overnight – set up Mitch Hahn with a penetrating kick into the forward 50 which allowed Hahn to run into the goal square and hammer it home. Will Minson, one week after a disappointing performance against the Saints scored one of the better goals of his short career, a snap shot from close distance flying through the big sticks to give the Dogs an early two goal lead. Both teams came out firing, a free flowing style of football on show as Johnson racked up the touches against Chris Tarrant. Chris Mayne‘s embarrassing miss from only ten metres out was compounded by West Australian Brennan Stack kicking two quick goals as the alarm bells were already ringing for Mark Harvey and the Dockers. It took an after the siren shot from Mayne to provide a small ray of hope for the Dockers, but they were still looking at a twenty-point quarter time deficit.
The Bulldogs went into quarter time knowing that they had dominated the stagnant Dockers, kicking 5.2.32 to a disappointing 1.6.12, highlighting the wastefulness of the Fremantle players in front of goal. Stack staked his claim to a regular spot in the Bulldogs best 22, picking up eight disposals and booting two goals. Josh Hill also would’ve made fantasy owners very happy, amassing nine disposals as well as laying four tackles and kicking one major over the course of the quarter. Johnson was dominating Tarrant in every way, pushing up the ground to pick up nine possessions, a fairy tale was well on the cards for BJ.
Young revelation Greg Broughton had an excellent first quarter despite the sub-standard efforts of his team mate, getting nine disposals and two tackles in the opening term. Matthew Pavlich started in the engine room to try and direct play for the Dockers, despite the scoreline the Fremantle skipper managed nine disposals. Mark Harvey would need a minor miracle to bring his troops back into the match, his team looking second rate compared to the rampaging Bulldogs.
The Bulldogs picked up right where they left off early in the second, Hahn kicking the opening goal of the quarter before Jason Akermanis added to his good work, kicking an additional two goals in the space of two minutes. The Fremantle contingent fell silent in the second term, their hopes of a major upset evaporating before their eyes. The criticism of the Bulldogs over the past couple of seasons has been their lack of a genuine key forward, but as Johnson draws to the end of his career, Minson is shaping up as a future superstar full forward for this side, the big man kicking his second for the game midway through the quarter. It was a long time between drinks for the Dockers, but under pressure utility Kepler Bradley finally showed something to the coaching staff who have persisted with him, taking a strong contested mark and kicking just Freo’s second major for the game. Suddenly there was some hope for the Dockers, winning two clearances in a row and translating them into goals, Mayne running in to kick his second. But their good patch of form wouldn’t last, Akermanis kicking his third of the quarter from a free kick from fifty out.
It was an embarrassment of riches for the Bulldogs, whilst for Fremantle it was just plain embarrassment. The scoreboard at half time told the story: 12.4.76 to 5.8.38 compounding Fremantle’s terrible play.
One positive the Dockers could take out of the first half was the return of livewire forward Mayne, after a dreadful miss early in the first the youngster recovered to kick three vital goals for his side. Pavlich was also doing all he could to breathe life back into the seemingly dead Fremantle team, picking up 19 disposals as well as three tackles and three marks.
It was all one way traffic with the Bulldogs players enjoying the poor form of the Dockers, Daniel Cross in particular enjoying the match managing to get himself twenty disposals, whilst Adam Cooney also racked up 18 as well as two tackles. Stack in his second game booted three goals coupled with twelve touches of the ball, giving Dream Team and Supercoach players another option to consider for their fantasy teams. Akermanis would also have increased calls for him to play on next year, at half time already having three goals and twelve disposals next to his name.
Once again the Dogs came out in a dominant fashion after the long break, Akermanis didn’t miss a beat, converting a set shot from only fifteen metres out to take his tally to four. Aaron Sandilands got the answer immediately, a routine set shot from directly in front directed right through the middle for the big man’s first. Pavlich also booted his fourth, overcoming a groin complaint to score a set shot from fifty. Despite only having a slight chance of taking anything away from this match, Fremantle’s effort after half-time improved out of sight, the Dockers kicking three in a row after Antoni Grover kicked from long distance off only a few steps. A sad sight for any fan came soon after though, Johnson coming from the ground with an injured thigh. First year player Hayden Ballantyne had his number taken for a head high hit midway through the third on Liam Picken.
Fremantle could be proud of their third quarter performance, their desperate style of footy taking the game to the high flying Bulldogs. But their improved intensity wouldn’t be enough to snatch the lead, the three quarter time scoreline reading 14.6.90 to 8.11.59 to the Bulldogs.
Pavlich led the way for the Dockers, his three quarter time total of 26 touches as well as three goals and four tackles a remarkable effort from the big man. Broughton would have every reason to be happy with his match, racking up 25 touches as well as three marks playing off the half back flank.
Akermanis turned back the clock to kick a bag of five from 17 possessions and showing tremendous forward line pressure, laying five tackles. Cross also set up a lot of the play for his side, amassing 23 handballs in amongst 28 touches disposals. Coming back onto the ground following his corked thigh Johnson was having a solid outing, 18 touches and six marks with Tarrant following him closely.
First blood was drawn by the Dogs early in the fourth quarter, Callan Ward picking the ball up off the deck to score a lovely snap to take the margin back out to six goals. It was a tightly contested final term as both teams had to work hard in order to find space. As the minutes ticked by the Fremantle players and fans alike saw their chances of an upset become more and more unlikely, whilst a fairytale match for Johnson was now the most likely result. A contentious fifty metre penalty at the halfway point of the fourth quarter against Tarrant saw the margin blow out to 43 points thanks to Daniel Cross coolly slotting the resulting free kick. Stack capped off a fantastic game by kicking his fourth goal of the game (and his career) after taking a superb overhead mark. Bradley managed to pull one back for the Dockers, but it seemed like too little too late for the West Australians. The Bulldogs were well on their way to giving Johnson the victory he deserved.
As the siren sounded all the attention was on Brad Johnson. The superstar ended up with stats of 22 possessions, eight marks and six tackles to cap off a wonderful game for the Bulldogs.
Akermanis was best on ground in the encounter, kicking five goals as well as 23 disposals and an outstanding eight tackles. Cross also starred, finishing with 25 possessions, 28 of them being handballs. Cooney will also be pleased with his contributing, managing to rack up 30 touches over the course of the game.
Pavlich maintained the high standards he has set himself over the years of his fantastic career, an exceptional display of 30 touches as well as two goals, six marks and four tackles. Broughton also would have made many fantasy coaches happy, 33 possessions and eleven marks confirming his status as one of Fremantle’s brightest prospects.
It was a great game for everyone involved. Johnson solidified his position as one of the greatest in AFL history, Pavlich proved that he is a genuine All-Australian contender and both clubs could walk away from the game knowing that they have some terrific young prospects amongst their ranks.
So now it’s back to the drawing board for the Dockers. A finish above the bottom four now seems near on impossible, they’ll be looking to the future and to build around the crop of current young stars at their disposal. The Bulldogs will once again be making a push towards the top four, a massive confidence booster for them and if they can find some good form over the coming weeks, we may soon see the Bulldogs in the top four once more.
Note: Gilbee’s father passed away over the night, so from everyone at FanFooty, our thoughts are with the Gilbee family.