A FRENETIC final quarter comeback has secured Footscray an emotional VFL grand final victory, with the Bulldogs beating reigning premiers Box Hill on Sunday by 22 points.
The AFL's Western Bulldogs chose to end their VFL affiliation with Williamstown last year and so for the first time in almost two decades, the name Footscray returned to elite competition as they entered a team in the Victorian league.
For the success-starved club and their supporters, the 16.13 (109) to 13.9 (87) grand final win was the Bulldogs' first major trophy since they won their only VFL/AFL premiership in 1954.
Despite Box Hill's loss, there was some good news for AFL affiliates Hawthorn as star forward Cyril Rioli made it through his first game in three months and declared himself fit for grand final selection next Saturday against the Sydney Swans
Box Hill held a six-point advantage at the final change andextended it to 18 points early in the last quarter, before a Bulldogsavalanche as mounting injuries took their toll.
While Billy Hartung (groin) and Luke Andrews (knee) were unable to play the final term, the medical staff decided that Rioli had done enough and would not return to the field.
The Dogs kicked three quick goals tolevel scores, before Christian Howard slotted a difficult shot from theforward pocket to give Footscray a six-point lead.
Footscraysealed the premiership when Liam Jones kicked two late goals to take histally to five for the day.
Bulldogs BrettGoodes (30 disposals) and Lin Jong (31 disposals) were terrific in thewin, and Jarrad Grant collected 20 touches and could have kicked morethan his one goal if not for inaccuracy.
Goodes was named the Norm Goss Memorial medallist as best afield for his influential performanceSpoils of victory: Footscray players pose with the VFL premiership cup. Picture: AFL Media
With senior-listed ruckman Ben McEvoy and midfielder Brad Sewelllate withdrawals,adding to the selection intrigue that will surround Hawthorn in grandfinal week, other Hawks stood up in Box Hill's bid forback-to-back flags.
Mitch Hallahan (31disposals) was excellent in the midfield, and James Sicily added somespice to the Hawks' attack with his speed and aerial exploits and bootedthree goals.
First-year wingman Hartungalso kicked a goal from 15 disposals and provided plenty of run before suffering his injury in the last term.
Coach Chris Maple said it had been a remarkable run by his team.
When the club had decided to stand alone in the VFL, it wasn't even sure it would be able to field a side.
"To do what we have done is pretty special - words can't describe how I am feeling," he said.
"We know we are going in the right direction and the Bulldogs' style of play stands up in finals footy."
The match was played in front of 23,816 mostly Bulldogs fans, the highest crowd for the VFL in 25 years.
FOOTSCRAY 4.2 7.4 10.7 16.13 (109)
BOX HILL HAWKS 4.2 7.3 11.7 13.9 (87)
Footscray: Jones 5, Dickson 2, Redpath 2, Campbell, Fogarty, Grant, Howard, Pearce, Tutt, Young
Box Hill Hawks: Sicily 3, Hallahan 2, Ross 2, Collins, Grimley, Hartung, Lowden, Willsmore, Woodward
Footscray: Jong, Goodes, Jones, Grant, Russell, Howard
Box Hill Hawks: Hallahan, Sicily, Ross, Litherland, Hartung, Woodward
CROWD: 23,816 at Etihad Stadium