WESTERN Bulldogs coach Nathan Burke has challenged All-Australian selectors to reward inspirational midfielder Ellie Blackburn with her fourth career selection in the team of the year and not be swayed by his group's difficult one-win season.
Blackburn produced one of her finest performances on Saturday to lead the Bulldogs to their first win of 2023, with her emotions spilling out after the siren in a post-match interview and a rousing rendition of the team song at Mineral Resources Park.
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The 28-year-old finished with a season-high 32 disposals and eight inside 50s, lifting in the final quarter with 12 touches and three clearances as the Bulldogs fought desperately to see off a late West Coast fightback.
"She has been absolutely enormous all season. Sensational," Burke said after the emotion-charged win.
"She probably won't get a look in [for the All-Australian team] because we haven't won games, but if you can find a more consistent midfielder who affects the outcome for the team more than her, good luck to you.
"She has not played one bad game all year – not one – and those All-Australian selectors better look very hard and close, because I'll be sh*tty if they don't."
Burke said Blackburn had been the "epitome of a captain" this season and teammates had followed her lead on Saturday, jumping into her "jet stream" and lifting in the hot and windy Perth conditions.
After building a 25-point lead during the third quarter and then hanging on as the Eagles pushed relentlessly late, Burke said it was reward for his injury-hit team's resilience in 2023.
"I might be a little bit croaky actually, it was quite emotional," he said.
"I'm just so pleased. They've worked really hard and we just haven't had any reward for it.
"Now they get reward for their hard work and their dedication and their perseverance and their resilience. All the stuff that they've needed to get to this point in the season.
"Today it all comes flooding out. So there was a bit of emotion going on."
West Coast interim coach Rohan McHugh said his team was disappointed after a draining fortnight that started with Michael Prior's "unacceptable" post-match comments after a loss against Melbourne and then saw the coach stand down after a win against Essendon last week.
McHugh took the reins on Wednesday and implemented a more attacking style, and was pleased with his team's ability to wrestle its way back into the match after falling well behind.
He said he loved his first experience in the hot seat, with the Eagles now set for a week of study on their top-two opponent Adelaide in their last match of the season at Mineral Resources Park next Saturday.
"I really enjoyed it but it's just the next two weeks for me and we've got Adelaide next week. I can't wait for that," he said.
"I said to the girls, we get to come up against the best, we'll have some individual learnings this week. I said get ready to do some research on who you're going to play on this week, because if nothing else you're going to learn.
"Really looking forward to this week and I really enjoyed today."