WESTERN Bulldogs coach Luke Beveridge admits dropping two players for the Toyota AFL Grand Final became emotional, but it was obvious that the changes needed to be made given the quality of inclusions.
The Bulldogs omitted Laitham Vandermeer and Ryan Gardner for the premiership decider on Saturday to make way for returning defender Alex Keath (hamstring) and small forward Cody Weightman (concussion).
The Bulldogs have used 41 of 43 players this season and Beveridge said he hoped those who had missed out on a place in the Grand Final 23 would still feel part of the club's journey.
"It was a little bit emotional, as you can imagine," Beveridge said in Perth as the coaches and captains came together for the Grand Final eve media conference.
"But I think you'd understand, Alex Keath has had a sensational year for us, and Cody has really come along in leaps and bounds. It was quite obvious that they needed to come back into the side.
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"Ultimately the hope is the boys who have missed out have got this vision of themselves getting this opportunity maybe next year or in the future.
"They've been such an important part of our journey this year … each one of them helping us win important games. They definitely feel a significant part of it."
Beveridge said the pre-Grand Final bye had been key to allowing Keath to take his place after recovering from a hamstring injury, while Weightman would have played if the Grand Final was held last week.
Selection aside, the bye had not been a big factor in his team's preparation overall, given they came out of the preliminary final win against Port Adelaide with momentum and were ready to go last week.
Having led the Bulldogs to the 2016 premiership, Beveridge said there was a different feel to this year's build-up, despite reaching the decider again from outside the top four.
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"I still say that the overriding emotion that I could detect on our players' faces after we won it in 2016 was surprise," the coach said.
"If you look at their faces, how wide eyed they were, it was like they were saying to each other 'How did that just happen?'
"I think this year and the lead-up to this game, we're different. We've been in the top two for a fair period of the year and we believe we belong there. We fell out of it at the end of the year, but it hasn't been that meteoric-type rise.
"It's been a team that has been consistent all year and our expectations have been a little bit different."
Beveridge described Melbourne as the "most consistent team of the year" with the greatest balance between attack and defence of any team in 2021.
"The challenge is huge for us and we've experienced that, especially the first time we played, how powerful their team can be," he said.
"Our players have processed that and are doing their best to prepare for it."
Captain Marcus Bontempelli will be the centrepiece of a star-studded midfield that will go head-to-head with the Demons' duo of Christian Petracca and Clayton Oliver.
It's a battle the AFL Players Association Player of the Year said he was looking forward to.
"The opportunity to go up against the best in the comp is clearly a challenge and exciting," Bontempelli said.
"We've played each other twice, and three times including the pre-season game, and have both got a good understanding of what both teams are capable of.
"It's going to shape part of the game and it's exciting to be a part of."