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Match report: Dogs become Giant killers to advance to Grand Final

Highlights: GWS v Western Bulldogs The Giants and Bulldogs clash in the 2nd preliminary final
SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - SEPTEMBER 24: Marcus Bontempelli (left) and Tom Liberatore of the Bulldogs celebrate during the 2016 AFL First Preliminary Final match between the GWS Giants and the Western Bulldogs at Spotless Stadium on September 24, 2016 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Michael Willson/AFL Media)
Marcus Bontempelli and Tom Liberatore celebrate a goal

THE WESTERN Bulldogs' fairytale has continued with the sentimental favourites qualifying for their first Grand Final in over half a century after a nail-biting six-point win over Greater Western Sydney at Spotless Stadium.

In a pulsating, action-packed and nerve-racking preliminary final, the Bulldogs - who had lost nine of their 10 previous Grand Final qualifiers - edged the competition’s youngest club 13.11 (89) to 12.11 (83) to put themselves within one match of their first premiership since 1954. 

Full match coverage and stats

It was a final for the ages. The Bulldogs were ahead by two points at the first quarter, nine at half-time and down by one at the last break, before falling behind by as much as 14 points early in the final term. 

But, in keeping with a classic that had swung continuously and breathlessly, the Bulldogs dragged themselves back from the brink and wrenched back the lead with a runaway goal to Marcus Bontempelli 16 minutes into the fourth quarter. 

Five things we learned: Greater Western Sydney v Western Bulldogs

A snap by Zaine Cordy two minutes later put the Bulldogs up by seven points, before Giants forward Jon Patton pulled one back.

Jack Macrae - who had kicked one goal all year - took a mark and kicked a clutch major to put the Dogs up by a goal, before Devon Smith missed his chance to level the scores. Dog Tory Dickson then had a set shot at goal as the siren sounded which hit the post for the most glorious behind in Bulldogs history.

WATCH: The last two minutes

They will now face the Sydney Swans in the biggest show of all and will be, to many, the overwhelming sentimental favourites.

Dogs coach Luke Beveridge was proud of how his side just never gave up.

“It was almost like a game of chess, a war of attrition, so to speak. There wasn’t any great margin in the game the whole time. Both teams have got tactical scenarios up their sleeve that you try to deploy, we were both fighting against each other on that," Beveridge said. 

“But we watched as our players kept picking themselves up off the mat, as did GWS, and it was an amazing game in the end. And, what an amazing day for our football club.

“For that group of 22 and their teammates that didn’t play, to get the club into a Grand Final after so long, it’s such a big night for our club.” 

WATCH: Top five plays

Giants coach Leon Cameron said his side couldn't match it with the Bulldogs for long enough

“We scrapped pretty well. We didn’t play particularly well for most of the night. Their pressure was great and I thought they probably had the better of us for, let’s say, two and a half quarters - which normally ends up in a win," Cameron said.

“... We had little moments, but we couldn’t get a lot of flow. They’re hard to win, prelims, unfortunately. But the boys have got to realise you’ve got to go the distance to win prelim finals.”

There were heroes across the park for both sides. 

Dickson and Clay Smith kicked four goals each for the Bulldogs, a product of an organised defence headed by Jason Johannisen, Easton Wood and Matthew Boyd. 

Patton, Toby Greene and Rory Lobb kicked 10 goals between them for the Giants at the end of a season that proved doubters wrong, caused some upheaval among traditionalists but, however you look at it, emphatically announced the arrival of AFL in western Sydney. 

How the fans saw it

The football was magnificent, the tension almost unbelievable. The Giants, despite a slower start, pegged back the Bulldogs' early surge, but found the going difficult in their attacking half under relentless defensive pressure.  

Both sides suffered a blow in the second term, with versatile Bulldog Jordan Roughead ruled out of the game after copping a ball to the face and Giants co-captain Callan Ward wiped after being struck in the head by Zaine Cordy’s knee.

The Bulldogs had settled into an early rhythm, laying siege for the first 20 minutes of the game, producing the first two goals. A spectacular mark on the wing by Wood epitomised their early purpose. 

However, the Giants returned their own double volley, setting up an arm-wrestle that would last throughout a torrid first half. For all the Bulldogs’ first-quarter statistical dominance, virtually nothing separated the teams on the scoreboard at the first siren. 

Goals to Dickson and Smith enabled the Dogs to snatch an eight-point advantage in the shadow of half-time. Patton’s second goal, at the end of an irresistible chain from defence, put the Giants back within two points. Yet again, however, Smith snapped truly as the Dogs again converted from a forward 50 stoppage. 

WATCH: Clay comes through in huge first half

Bontempelli left the ground in the first couple of minutes of the second half with what appeared to be a corked thigh, as the Giants erased the deficit to make it 41-apiece. 

A delicate one-handed mark and goal to Dickson against Heath Shaw came just as the Bulldogs seemed to be losing the momentum, but the squeeze was undeniable when mid-term goals to Patton and Lobb again put GWS ahead, before Shaw’s booming strike opened up an 11-point Giants lead, their biggest to that moment.

Yet again, the response was breathless, with Bontempelli and Caleb Daniel bringing it back to a point at three-quarter time and setting up a classic final quarter.

Greater Western Sydney: In the seventh minute of the second quarter Callan Ward wore a knee to the head from Zaine Cordy and was brought off through the interchange gates into the change room. Late in the term he was back near the boundary line apparently ready to play again. However, minutes later, he was ruled out of the match. 

Western Bulldogs: Fletcher Roberts left the field after just 12 minutes with a nose injury, but returned to play an important role on Jeremy Cameron.Jordan Roughead copped a ball in the face early in the second term, forcing him from the field and was later ruled out of the game with blood in his eye. Marcus Bontempelli struggled with what appeared a cork to the right thigh after one of the first contests of the second half and went up the race with the physiotherapist before returning to the game.

Stand-in skipper Easton Wood leads the jubilant Dogs into the rooms. Picture: AFL Photos

GREATER WESTERN SYDNEY         2.1      5.2      9.7     12.11    (83)
WESTERN BULLDOGS                      2.3      6.5      9.6     13.11    (89)

Greater Western Sydney: Patton 4, Greene 3, Lobb 3, D. Smith, Shaw
Western Bulldogs: C. Smith 4, Dickson 4,Cordy 2, Daniel, Bontempelli, Macrae

Greater Western Sydney: Kelly, Scully, Patton, Coniglio, Wilson, Greene
Western Bulldogs: C. Smith, Dahlhaus, Dickson, Morris, Wood, Johannisen, Macrae, Picken 

Greater Western Sydney: Ward (concussion)
Western Bulldogs: Roughead (eye)

Reports: Nil

Umpires: Nicholls, Schmitt, Meredith 

Official crowd: 21,790 at Spotless Stadium