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A history of Bulldogs first finals

Brett Montgomery kicked four goals in the side's 41-point win over Collingwood in the 2006 Elimination Final. - Western Bulldogs,GWS Giants
Brett Montgomery kicked four goals in the side's 41-point win over Collingwood in the 2006 Elimination Final.

The Bulldogs have had mixed success in the first week of the finals since making their inaugural VFL finals appearance back 1938.

Having finished a game clear of Collingwood that year, Footscray wasted chances in the opening half of their first final, kicking 6.11 to the Pies' 9.1 before fading after the long break and losing by 41 points. 

The Bulldogs endured four more First Semi-Final losses in the 1940s but broke through for a first finals win against Essendon on the opening weekend of the 1953 finals series.

Including the 1953 breakthrough, the Bulldogs have had success seven times in the first week of the finals.

Here's a look back at those seven wonderful wins. 

1953

Having finished in third place ahead of Essendon on percentage, the Dogs started the First Semi-Final well with the wind at their backs, jumping out to a 19-point quarter-time lead.  The Bombers fought back with the breeze in the second term and Footscray's advantage was a solitary point at the half. 

The Dogs appeared to have blown their chances at the last change, having outscored the Bombers by only three points with the third-quarter wind advantage, but with what was described by Percy Beames in The Age as a "fierce spirit", the Bulldogs outscored Essendon against the wind to record their first-ever finals victory.  Peter Box was the star of the win, and Beames also praised "the inspiring leadership of Charlie Sutton". 

Unfortunately, the Dogs bowed out against Geelong in the 1953 Preliminary Final, but it was only a year later that Footscray earned a rest in the first week of the finals for the only time in their history. Three weeks later, the Bulldogs had their first VFL premiership.

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1956

Come from behind wins are not rare, even in finals, but the manner in which Footscray pulled of such a win in the 1956 First Semi-Final was unique.  On a wet afternoon at the MCG, the slippery surface condemned this match to a dour, low-scoring affair. 

By three-quarter time, the Cats and Dogs had scored only 11 goals between them, six to Geelong and five to Footscray.  The Bulldogs headed into the final term trailing by two points, and the final term promised to be as tough and torrid as the first three. 

That proved to be the case, but what nobody expected was that neither team would score a major across that final half hour of footy. The Dogs only took a few minutes to score the two behinds needed to level the scores, and then added three more behinds to eke out a three-point margin. 

The Cats went forward many times in that last quarter, but the Footscray defence held firm until the dying stages, at which point Geelong's Noel Rayson had a shot from an acute angle that just missed. 

With that behind the Cats' only score of the term, Footscray held on for a two-point win. In doing so, the Bulldogs became the only side in VFL/AFL history, to come from behind at three-quarter time in a final and win, without kicking a last-quarter goal!

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1961

Amazingly, the Bulldogs' next win in the first week of a finals series came off the back of another goalless final quarter.  Footscray held a comfortable lead over St Kilda for most of the first three quarters in their 1961 First Semi-Final, and by the last change were still 20 points clear. 

The Dogs tired in the final term as the Saints edged to within seven points, but the gap was too big to bridge, and Footscray held on to win by nine points, with Charlie Evans named best on ground in The Age on the following Monday morning.

Two weeks later the Dogs proved too good for the reigning premiers Melbourne, earning a place in the 1961 premiership decider against Hawthorn.

1997

For the Dogs, the 1961 triumph over St Kilda would be their last win in week one of the finals for another 36 years.  But when they finally broke through, the Bulldogs did so with a bang. 

In their first full season under the new coach Terry Wallace the newly branded Western Bulldogs finished third on the ladder, and opened their finals campaign at the MCG against Sydney.

The Swans had made the previous year's Grand Final, and with Footscray having lost its last six week-one finals, Bulldogs fans arrived at the home of footy with a sense of trepidation. 

However it took only one quarter for the nerves to subside, as the Dogs blitzed the Swans with a nine-goal burst in the opening term. They then cruised to a 35-point win, earning a week's rest and setting up a Preliminary Final clash with Adelaide.

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1998

A year on from their Sydney Swans slaughter, the Bulldogs were back at the 'G, this time hosting West Coast. The first quarter of this match didn't quite produce the first-quarter blitz of 12 months earlier, but the Dogs did start very well, and led by 23 points at the first break. 

After an even second quarter, the Bulldogs put the foot down after half time, with a six-goal-to-one third term, and they went on with the job in the final quarter, eventually winning by 70 points, which to this day remains the Dogs' biggest winning margin in the final. 

Chris Grant (21 possessions and four goals), José Romero (27 touches) and Simon Minton-Connell (five goals) were the stars in a win that again set up a week off and a Preliminary Final date with Adelaide.

2006

After disappointing first week losses in the 1999 and 2000 finals series, the Bulldogs missed out on finals for five years before returning to September action under Rodney Eade in 2006. 

The Bulldogs finished the home-and-away season in eighth spot, and not many expected them to provide fifth-placed Collingwood with much resistance in their Elimination Final match at the MCG. 

After the Dogs kicked the opening two goals of the match, the Pies slammed on five majors in a row and those pre-match prognostications looked accurate. But, inspired by Brett Montgomery, who had been ironed out by Magpie Brodie Holland early in the match, the Bulldogs worked their way back into the game, and actually led by 10 points at the long break.

The Bulldogs then blew the Pies out of the water with a magnificent third term, and cruised to a 41-point win. Montgomery, having dusted himself off after Holland's heavy hit, went on to be a match-winner, kicking four goals.

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2016

A decade on from their win against Collingwood, the Bulldogs had endured four more first-week finals defeats, three under Rodney Eade, and the most recent a heartbreaker against Adelaide a year earlier in Luke Beveridge's debut season as coach.

Another Elimination Final beckoned in 2016, but on the surface of it, this looked to be an even harder task than any of the previous four opening week losses. Not only did the Bulldogs have to travel to Perth to take on the might of the West Coast Eagles at their Subiaco fortress, they were doing so on the back of a loss at the same venue against lowly Fremantle.

Few gave the Bulldogs any hope, and even diehard Doggies fans were struggling to conjure up a scenario in which the red, white and blue would prevail.

The first 10 minutes of the match did little to change those thoughts as the Bulldogs squandered opportunities and the Eagles made the most of theirs to kick the game's first two goals. 

But a clever mark and goal to Liam Picken sparked the Dogs. By quarter time they led by 13 points, and they extended that to 24 at the long break. From there, the Bulldogs did not look back. They silenced the home crowd with four of the first five goals of the third quarter, and they did not relax their grip on the match at any stage from there. 

When the final siren sounded, the Bulldogs were 47 points clear and asking themselves, ‘Why not us?’

Three weeks later, they were a premiership team.