THE FINAL DAY of the 2022 home and away season was just about the most unique experience of my football career.
Having just walked off the park in Launceston after doing all we could to ensure we were a shot at making the finals, usual recovery and warm down routines were cast aside for a projector screen in a hotel conference room, as we watched Carlton and Collingwood battle it out in what has to be the game of the season. It was pure torture, incredible drama, and ultimately a day of great excitement.
But let me backtrack a little. Here's how it all unfolded.
Our season has been a bit of a rollercoaster. We've had some great moments, including a massive 101-point win over the Eagles, and our epic victory over the Demons in Round 19, but equally some days we'd love to have back. The clash against the Crows in Ballarat certainly springs to mind. I guess you could say that we really struggled with consistency in 2022.
But going into Round 23 we were still a live chance of playing finals, and that's all you can hope for as a player. As a reminder, we entered the round in ninth place, four points and a smidge under 1 percent behind Carlton, who occupied the final spot in the top eight. The equation for us was simple; win our game against the Hawks and pray the Blues lose later in the day. If both happened, we were in.
If any of my teammates said it felt like any other game, they weren't telling the truth. We were all nervous. Because while we were still alive and in finals contention, we also knew it could very easily be our final game of the year. In many ways it felt like an early elimination final. That's how we treated it, too. Bevo was really pushing the 'we can only control what we can control' message all week.
The nerves were probably reflected in our play early on. The Hawks took it right to us, leading at various stages by a couple of goals, but fortunately we were able to pull away late and secure the win, which allowed us to draw level on points with the Blues. But with nothing guaranteed we weren't exactly celebrating wildly. In fact, it was probably the most bizarre feeling I've ever had after a win. I've never played in a draw at AFL level, but I imagine it's a similar type feeling whereby you haven't lost but you also aren't sure how to react.
But at least we had done our job. Now it was over to Collingwood.
The Blues and Magpies game at the MCG started about 15 minutes before ours had ended. As we were walking off the ground at Launceston, a Doggies fan leaned over the fence and shouted "the Pies are up, the Pies are up."
We got back into the rooms, sung the song, and within minutes just about every player had their phones out either watching the game or checking scores.
We then showered, changed, quickly packed up our things and jumped on the team bus back to our hotel in Launceston where, for the first time in my AFL career, sat and watched an entire live half of football with all of my teammates. It was honestly one of the most bizarre scenarios but an epic hour where we rode the emotions along with the 88,000 at the MCG.
To be honest it's not a great feeling having to rely on and barrack for another team. We'd prefer to have sewn up our spot with the win over Hawthorn, but that's not how footy works. It can be a cruel game - just ask the Blues after all.
We were a little flat going into the final quarter after Carlton had dominated the third term and opened up a 22-point lead. It started to feel very real that our season was over. But with each Collingwood goal, our group started to get more and more animated.
I was sitting with my great mate Adam Treloar when Scott Pendlebury marked the ball at half back, turned and sent the ball towards Jamie Elliott. He turned to me and said "Elliott will kick this" and sure enough, he did.
ABSOLUTE SCENES!— Western Bulldogs (@westernbulldogs) August 21, 2022
Incredible 😆😆😆 pic.twitter.com/TW0gaUmEW2
Until this point I thought the Blues would be able to put one more on the board and put the game beyond reach for Collingwood, but bizarrely it was when the Pies hit the front that the nerves kicked into overdrive. However when it was clear Collingwood would win, we celebrated as if we had won the game.
I can't remember ever being so invested in a match we weren't playing in. I really believe that the emotion of the day and the rollercoaster ride of being in and out and back in finals really brought our group closer together. Funnily enough I felt for Carlton, but at the same time, making finals again was an achievement of which we're very proud.
The scenes on Sunday galvanised us. Now we sit here with full belief that we can challenge any side in the top eight, knowing that none of the results in the past matter. In finals, it's back to 0-0, and I believe we are fully equipped and ready to make an impact given most of our players have finals experience, while many of our opponents do not.
And in finals, as I know from the past, anything is possible.