Footscray took a while to get going in 2023. But once the Bulldogs did, they were almost unstoppable.
BY THE NUMBERS
Position: 6th (after finals)
W-L-D (%): 13-7 (130.5%)
Players used: 53
Played every match: 4 – Charlie Clarke, Ewan Macpherson, Cody Raak and Lachlan Sullivan
AFL players used: 29
Debutants: 9 – Jedd Busslinger, Charlie Clarke, Caleb Lewis, Rory Lobb, Tristan Maple, James O’Donnell, Connor Smith, Sam Willoughby and Bailey Young
Best and Fairest: 1st: Lachlan Sullivan, 2nd: Jordon Sweet, 3rd: Buku Khamis, 4th: Ewan Macpherson, 5th: Hayden Crozier
J.J. Liston Trophy votes: Lachlan Sullivan (21), Toby McLean (12), Jordon Sweet (11)
Coaches MVP votes: Lachlan Sullivan (102 – winner), Jordon Sweet (41), Toby McLean (38)
VFL Team of the Year representatives: Jordon Sweet and Lachlan Sullivan
Goalkickers: Buku Khamis (41), Mitch Hannan (20), Luke Goater (19)
(Averages – minimum 6 matches)
Disposals: Lachlan Sullivan (30.9), Toby McLean (27.8), Joel Garner (21.3)
Kicks: Hayden Crozier (15.8), Lachlan Sullivan (14.8), Joel Garner (14.1)
Handballs: Lachlan Sullivan (16.1), Toby McLean (15.9), Robbie McComb (10.2)
Marks: Tim O’Brien (7.9), Jedd Busslinger (6.5), Hayden Crozier (6.2)
Tackles: Toby McLean (6.0), Lachlan Sullivan (5.9), Jordon Sweet (5.3)
Hitouts: Jordon Sweet (43.2), Sam Darcy (8.6), Buku Khamis (4.6)
Clearances: Lachlan Sullivan (7.6), Toby McLean (6.8), Joel Garner (6.2)
Inside-50s: Joel Garner (5.7), Ewan Macpherson (4.5), Robbie McComb (4.5)
Rebound-50s: Tim O’Brien (4.7), Hayden Crozier (4.5), Josh Bruce (3.7)
WHAT WENT RIGHT
The second half of the season. The Bulldogs were in the bottom four after Round 10 before going on a tear, winning 10 matches in a row to climb to sixth spot and enter the finals as one of the form teams of the competition. They then belted reigning premiers the Casey Demons in the elimination final to make it 11. In that run they piled up club record scores and victories over the Demons, Northern Bullants and Sydney Swans, having also kicked their highest score in a loss to Brisbane Lions earlier in the year. Captain Lachie O’Sullivan is a genuine champion of the competition, winning both the rebel Coaches MVP award and Bulldogs’ best and fairest, while sharing second spot in the Liston Medal. He was duly named captain of the VFL Team of the Year and deserves an AFL opportunity. Jordon Sweet was the VFL’s dominant ruckman and Buku Khamis wouldn’t have been out of place in the Team of the Year after kicking 41 goals.
WHAT WENT WRONG
The first half of the season. Admittedly the Bulldogs had the hardest draw in those first 10 weeks, running into each of last year’s top four teams in Casey (away), Brisbane Lions, Southport and Gold Coast (in Darwin), plus a trip to GWS and a clash with Grand Final-bound Werribee. But they would have been disappointed to lose all of them as they fell to 2-6. Their last quarters were the biggest issue, winning only two of their first eight and notably giving away a 19-point lead to the Lions in Round 2 that could have set up their season. The semi-final loss to the Hawks would sting given they had beaten them convincingly at the same venue just a month earlier.
You’d have to mark the Bulldogs’ season as a success, especially as they did it without a home ground with VU Whitten Oval being out of action for the entire year. While they took a while to get going against the fellow heavyweights of the competition, once they did they were almost unstoppable. Their 11 consecutive wins came by an average of 55.9 points, showing their best was as good as anyone. The question mark was being able to put together four quarters against the better VFL teams. The Bulldogs would be hoping for a friendlier start to the 2024 season to get the wheels rolling earlier.