RELIEVED Western Bulldogs coach Luke Beveridge believes his players never lost the belief they could mix it with the best teams during the finals and that confidence remains high within his camp.
The Dogs bounced back from three consecutive losses to end the regular season and remain in contention for the premiership after producing a dominant second half display to register an impressive 49-point victory over Essendon on Sunday.
The victory sets up a mouth-watering clash against the Lions in Brisbane next weekend and Beveridge said his players still believe they can win it all this season.
BULLDOGS v BOMBERS Full match coverage and stats
"If you look at the teams that are still in it, we didn't beat Geelong - that was after the siren - but we have beaten the other four (teams)," the Bulldogs coach said.
"That recent history gives you that understanding that you are good enough.
"Our guys have been unbelievably good on the road this year, travel doesn't concern us and our guys will look at it as an exciting opportunity."
The victory was the Dogs' first finals triumph since they tasted the ultimate success with a premiership in 2016 and Beveridge said he felt a sense of relief with the result.
FIVE TALKING POINTS 6203 days and counting…
"We live our lives turning what may be considered joyous celebratory occasions into relief as coaches and players," he said.
"But the satisfaction in the players’ eyes and the looks on their faces and the understanding that our supporters would get a massive lift out of that.
"I am relieved we have got the win, but I am so satisfied to see the joy and the happiness and looks on people’s faces."
Beveridge praised a host of key players for their performance against the Bombers, singling out livewire forward Cody Weightman for his four goals, onballer Josh Dunkley for helping slow down Essendon midfielder Darcy Parish after half-time, and late inclusion Josh Schache for his two-goal effort.
The premiership-winning coach also took time to praise stand-in ruckman Lewis Young and all but ruled out a recall for veteran big man Stefan Martin for next week's clash against Brisbane.
While Essendon ruckman Sam Draper was the dominant big man on the ground, Beveridge was more than satisfied with the efforts of 22-year-old Young as he contributed eight disposals and 18 hitouts matched up against the ever-improving Bombers' tall.
"I was really happy with what Lewy Young did," Beveridge said.
"It was really important that he was able to do that in a final, it was a significant day out for him."
Beveridge said Martin's ageing body was still feeling the effects of a practice match hitout against the Greater Western Sydney reserves last week and it was unlikely he will be used again this finals series.
"He (Martin) is probably that player at the moment that is an emergency break glass if we lost all our bigs and we had no one else to turn up to the stoppage and ruck, and we would bring him in,” Beveridge said.
"He has just missed so much footy and is not quite himself physically, so it would put too much pressure on the team.
"I think you guys (the media) can probably stop asking me that question now and if he gets picked it means we are still going after this week and it will be a big surprise to you."