So this is what it feels like to lose a grand final. A new position for any Bulldogs fans born after the 1961 loss when it was still the VFL. We have known heartache before – just look at the image of Rohan Smith pounding the turf in 1998 after surrendering a 22-point lead in the final quarter of the preliminary final against Adelaide. This is undoubtedly worse and, yet, infinitely better to have made it at all.
We just hoped, perhaps, after all the years without success, we could just skip the final hurdle and move straight on to another dose of that pure joy to which the Bulldogs introduced us in 2016. But, this time, it was the Demons’ long-starved fans’ turn to experience that elusive feeling.
So now we must come to grips with the other extreme and, with Victoria, New South Wales and the ACT in lockdowns, most of us must do it largely alone. It is the shitty conclusion to what Covid has rendered a strange and unfamiliar finals series. Like so many aspects of our day-to-day lives, the pandemic has thrown out the usual rituals and celebrations involved in the lead up to a grand final – unless you happen to live in Western Australia. Of course, players and coaches and all team support staff have faced massive disruptions. Still, for fans enduring a post-season from the confines of home, it has all felt a bit off.
Separated from other fans and loved ones with whom we have previously shared the highs and lows (and let’s be honest, there were many more lows) – that burden has fallen on those unlucky enough to live with a Bulldogs supporter. In my case, that is a Sydneysider NRL-loving boyfriend bewildered by the intensity of my feelings about the red, white and blue. Sure, plenty of couples have been tested by lockdown. For us, working from home while sharing one office chair and a dining table in a small apartment was nothing compared to the tension of sitting down to watch the Bulldogs together, even in the regular season. While I am baffled by his enduring optimism towards his objectively hopeless Wests Tigers, he is shocked by the angry grump I turn into at the first sign of trouble for the Dogs.
Aside from the Covid changes, something felt noticeably different about this Bulldogs team, too. Bevo (coach Luke Beveridge) summed it up on Friday when he reflected on the feeling among players in the lead-up to 2016 grand final as being chiefly surprise. Fans too could simply not believe we had made it to the MCG on that last weekend in September. In the stands that day, I turned to my dad, then aged 65 and never having seen a premiership (he adopted the Bulldogs when he started primary school in Altona in 1955) and said just before the opening bounce “it’s all downhill from here”. This year, with their mantra of “yield to none”, this team – although underdogs going in against the more-favoured Demons – gave us reason to believe they could do it. On Saturday evening, I was excited and hopeful as Bont led the team out onto the ground. A very strange and unfamiliar feeling indeed.
By three-quarter time, hopes well and truly dashed, I retreated to the bathroom to get a head start on the wallowing. “It’s all over,” I texted to my dad. “I’m afraid I have to agree,” he responded. At least, my sister offered, the score wasn’t close, thus thwarting any risk he might have a heart attack. My partner kept watching but at least turned it down, muting the Melbourne cheers as they scored goal after goal. When it was finally over, he took down the posters and offered me a cup of tea and some lollies. Next weekend we will watch a movie.