THE WESTERN Bulldogs progressed to a first preliminary final since its successful 2016 campaign on Saturday night, overcoming Brisbane by one solitary point in an unbelievably thrilling clash at the Gabba.
Here are the biggest talking points from a dramatic Bulldogs victory.
ICE IN THESE DOGS' VEINS
The 'ice in my veins' celebration from Bailey Smith told the story. Although his sensational goal from the boundary with a tick under two minutes remaining didn't necessarily win the game for the Western Bulldogs – Zac Bailey had evened things up with 80 seconds to go before a dramatic match-winning behind from Laitham Vandermeer – it did go to show the composure needed to win this thrilling contest. The Bulldogs enjoyed all of the key moments when it mattered. Smith's goal was important, but not as influential as Vandermeer's heads-up play to rush the ball through for a point with just seconds on the clock in a tied game. Caleb Daniel's composed kick from the last line of defence to find a teammate, with barely any time remaining on the clock, then sealed the deal on another incredible September night for Luke Beveridge's side. Talk about keeping your head when it mattered most.
FINALS NIGHTMARE CONTINUES FOR BRISBANE
The dramatic loss continued a horror September record for Brisbane and Chris Fagan. The Lions have now lost six of their last seven finals and have a 1-5 record in the post-season under Fagan's watch. Saturday night's heartbreaking defeat meant a second straight-sets exit in three years for Brisbane, having also thrown away a top-four finish in 2019. The hoodoo is quickly becoming a problem for these young Lions, who haven't been able to capitalise on their superb home-and-away record. They also haven't been able to profit from making the Gabba a fortress in recent times. Brisbane has won 29 of its last 35 games at its home venue. However, four of the club's six losses during this streak having been in finals games. Clearing this mental hurdle will give Fagan and his impressive but developing group plenty to ponder over the summer.
LIONS v BULLDOGS Full match coverage and stats
CONCERN AMID THE ELATION FOR BULLDOGS
The one-point win gave Luke Beveridge plenty to smile about, but also plenty to fret about heading into a preliminary final against Port Adelaide next week. After a breakout performance against Essendon in an elimination final, Cody Weightman's night came to a disappointing end at half-time against Brisbane. Copping a high hit following a collision with Marcus Adams on the stroke of the main break, Weightman was unable to return and was ultimately replaced by medical substitute Jason Johannisen. Although the Western Bulldogs used the term 'head knock' to describe Weightman's injury, a concussion would see him enter the AFL's 12-day protocols and would mean he definitely misses next week's heavyweight bout with the Power. Influential captain Marcus Bontempelli also limped from the field late in the game with a worrying knee injury, but said post-match he had initially been cleared of any structural damage.
PAYNE'S PAINFUL END MAKES FOR MORE LIONS HEADACHES
Friendly fire came back to bite Brisbane again on Saturday night. Jack Payne, only in the side after Dan McStay was knocked out accidentally by teammate Nakia Cockatoo last week, came from the field in the second quarter with blood flowing from his forehead after copping a stray knee from fellow Lions player Lincoln McCarthy. It spelled the end of his night, forcing yet more headaches upon Brisbane. Payne, normally a defender and without an AFL goal to his name, had been forced to start forward in a Lions team without the injured trio of Eric Hipwood, Cam Rayner and McStay. The side's medical substitute, Ryan Lester – who, like Payne, is normally a defender – also went forward when he entered the game. Without an AFL goal himself in 1484 days, Lester snapped through a crucial major in the third term to extend Brisbane's lead at the time to 18 points. Even the talented Harris Andrews was shifted into attack to give the Lions a spark late in the match, but the injuries up forward proved too much to overcome.
PROLIFIC MACRAE COMES TO DOGS' RESCUE
Lachie Neale set the AFL/VFL record for disposals in a finals match last week when he found the footy 46 times against Melbourne. Jack Macrae spent large periods of Saturday night as though he was coming for that crown, finishing his evening with 38 disposals. Clearly the best Bulldogs performer at the Gabba, Macrae's influence was evident throughout the evening. He had 23 touches to half-time, half of Neale's tally from last week, overshadowing his Brisbane counterpart through his composure in congestion and his run and drive when receiving the ball in space. His goal to start the fourth quarter, slashing a 10-point deficit to just four and coming amid a flurry of four consecutive Dogs majors, typified his brilliant night. Macrae ultimately finished with 38 disposals, 19 contested possessions, 11 clearances, 10 inside 50s, 758m gained and nine score involvements, proving the most influential Bulldogs player when the game was in the balance.