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The upside of youth

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - JUNE 29: Ed Richards of the Bulldogs celebrates a goal during the 2018 AFL round 15 match between the Western Bulldogs and the Geelong Cats at Etihad Stadium on June 29, 2018 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Adam Trafford/AFL Media)
First-year players Aaron Naughton (18 games) and Ed Richards (21) were revelations in 2018.

The kids are our future, so they say.

In football terms, the Bulldogs are as well placed as any AFL club to reap the benefits of their litter of young, exciting and emerging group of talented pups.

In the face of a mounting injury toll in 2018, the Bulldogs backed in their youth, and the fans got a chance to sample the quality of the youngsters at VU Whitten Oval.

Over the course of the year, the Club added 186 games of AFL experience into its players aged between 18 and 21, second only to Carlton (198)

The Bulldogs fielded the least experienced team on average in 2018, playing a younger side than their opponents almost every week. They also blooded five debutants.

First-year players Aaron Naughton (18 games) and Ed Richards (21) were revelations, as was Billy Gowers (20), after he spent two seasons as Carlton rookie.

If you take a moment to look at Naughton and Richards’ highlight reels, it’s hard to believe 2018 was their first season in the big time.

Both made an immediate impact at the Kennel, earning AFL Rising Star nominations (Round 10 and Round 23 respectively).

The Dogs took a chance on Footscray’s Gowers, and the rookie rewarded them in spades, leading the Club’s goalkicking tally with 26.

Persistence paid off for 21-year old Brad Lynch (nine games in 2018) and 20-year-old Fergus Greene (five games), who both finished the season strongly after their first senior call-ups.

Lynch waited three years for his chance at the elite level, and burst onto the scene with some eye-catching performances at either end of the ground.

Then there were the likes of Pat Lipinski, Tim English, Josh Schache, Bailey Williams and Josh Dunkley, who elevated their games to another level.

Add those to the likes of Marcus Bontempelli, Lachie Hunter, Jackson Macrae, Toby McLean, Tom Boyd, Zaine Cordy, Bailey Dale, Roarke Smith and Caleb Daniel, who will be 23 years and under as we head into 2019, and you can see why the Dogs’ future prospects are bright.