WE MAY be about to witness the greatest premiership of all.
The Western Bulldogs are on the verge of what would be the most hard-earned, famous flag in football history.
Forget their 2016 triumph, which was won from seventh in a magical run to the Grand Final win over Sydney. That pales in comparison to what a victory in two weeks against Melbourne at Optus Stadium would mean, which would be their fourth straight win away from home in four different states.
POWER v BULLDOGS Full match coverage and stats
It has never been done before, with the Dogs reaching uncharted territory if they salute under lights in Perth on the final Saturday in September.
The Dogs' barnstorming first half against Port Adelaide at Adelaide Oval set up their third straight finals win, all of which have been claimed away from home after Victoria's COVID-19 outbreak forced the finals out of the state.
First it was an elimination final victory over Essendon in Launceston, then an epic semi-final win over Brisbane at the Gabba before the Power became the Dogs' latest victim after being pulled apart by the visitors. Two of the wins have come against fierce opposition crowds, and even in Tasmania the red and black faithful far outnumbered the Dogs' contingent.
But that only tells some of the Dogs' finals story. Beveridge and his troops have been on the road again more than Willie Nelson, leaving Melbourne two weeks ago for Launceston and then flying to Brisbane after dispatching of the Bombers.
After the win over the Lions, they travelled to Perth where they were based for most of last week before trekking to Adelaide for the preliminary final.
They will now head back to Perth to regroup under tight COVID-19 protocols for the best part of a week before being granted the same freer movement that their Grand Final opponents Melbourne are already under.
The Bulldogs have claimed more frequent flyer points in the past fortnight than most Australians combined for the past two years, jetting across five states for three brilliant wins.
FIVE TALKING POINTS Dogs make the most of fast start
Forget the scenic route to this year's Grand Final. The Bulldogs have hit countless detours, traversed each roadblock, dodged every pothole and found themselves still at the desired destination. Heck, the car even looked like it was broken down late in the season with the Bulldogs' spluttering end to the home and away year throwing their flag push into chaos.
Their long way to the final game was in some ways self-inflicted: after being alongside Melbourne as the best teams of the home and away season, their three straight losses to end the regular campaign saw them bumped out of the top four and facing four consecutive do-or-die finals to clinch the club's third ever premiership.
They have also resuscitated their campaign on the run. They lost their leading goalkicker and spearhead Josh Bruce to a season-ending knee injury in round 21 but shuffled their forward group and got back to their free-wheeling best. Their midfield, under fire for a second-half-of-the-year drop-off, got moving again, with Jack Macrae, Marcus Bontempelli and Tom Liberatore having big finals series.
They deployed players in new roles – Josh Dunkley in run-with midfield jobs and Bailey Smith more time in attack – and even broke the glass in case of emergency by gambling on bringing back ruckman Stefan Martin for the preliminary final in his first game in nearly 100 days.
Last year, well before Richmond had claimed its second consecutive flag, Tigers coach Damien Hardwick declared that year's premiership would be one of the greatest ever won given the COVID-19 battle that gripped the world, including the AFL. But another season of interruptions, changed plans, roadtrips and tests (Beveridge said this week the Dogs have had 14 COVID-19 tests in the past month) has shown the 2021 flag to be just as hard-fought and special.
Melbourne, too, has endured, with its come-from-behind round 23 win over Geelong setting the Demons up for their more straightforward passage to the Grand Final. It is chasing its own piece of history after an equally dominant preliminary final win over the Cats and would too lay claim to having gone the extra mile for its premiership push away from the MCG and its masses of fans.
The Dogs and Dees met twice this year – Melbourne won in round 11 before the Bulldogs overturned that result in round 19. The Bulldogs' blip from round 21-23 aside, the clubs were the clear best two teams in the home and away season.
Melbourne, who last won the flag in 1964, is searching to break the greatest premiership drought in football. It has shown its mettle, also facing extended periods away from home and outside of its MCG surrounds that usually so familiarly blanket finals football. The Demons are longing for their 57-year wait to end. The Dogs are looking to create their own history, with the carrot of perhaps the greatest flag ever within their sights.