It was looking like it was going to be 2016 for the Dogs all over again last season, but their valiant finals efforts came crashing down in the final quarter and a half of the Grand Final.
Despite letting slip a second flag in five seasons, the red, white and blue will be right up there in premiership contention yet again in 2022.
With a list still hitting the peak of its powers and enough growth to excite even the most pessimistic fan, here’s why the Dogs are a massive chance of going one better this year.
5th (15-7, 132.8%)
After a couple of seasons where the Dogs were left struggling to find their identity post-2016, they came roaring back up the ladder in a big way.
Always one of the main contenders throughout the regular season, a loss to Melbourne set them back from the top of the ladder.
Some tight losses in the final rounds pushed them out of the top four when it mattered before a crazy finals run had the Dogs hitting their straps at the right time.
A brilliant second quarter in the Grand Final had them looking likely of winning their third flag in their history before they were at the mercy of a Demon blitz.
Tim O’Brien (Hawthorn), Sam Darcy (National Draft Pick 2/Oakleigh Chargers/Father-Son selection), Arthur Jones (National Draft Pick 43/Claremont), Luke Cleary (National Draft Pick 61/Sandringham Dragons), Charlie Parker (Rookie Draft Pick 15/Sturt), Robbie McComb (Rookie Draft Pick 23/Footscray VFL), Cody Raak (Category B Rookie/Western Jets/Bulldogs Next Generation Academy).
Easton Wood (Retired), Lewis Young (Traded – Carlton), Patrick Lipinski (Traded – Collingwood), Ben Cavarra, Will Hayes (both delisted).
As far as flying under the radar goes, Jack Macrae has it all worked out.
The prolific midfielder is looking as polished and fit as ever, with plenty of muscle and class telling the tale of a hefty off-season. If he continues to elevate to new levels, the Dogs midfield will only get scarier.
Tim O’Brien has hit the ground running at his new home as a free agent from Hawthorn, slotting into a much-needed key defensive post. While he has been ruled out of Round 1 with a hamstring injury, His athleticism and marking power make him an exciting proposition for Luke Beveridge and co to bolster the back half.
Bailey Smith etched himself into finals folklore with a dream September last year, but he has come back looking even more menacing and as one of the most recognisable faces in the game. Entering just his fourth season at AFL level, the young star will continue to rise to new levels
What to look forward to:
Having more depth in their key position stocks will be key for the Dogs, who can experiment more with their set-up before gaining the likes of Josh Bruce back later in the season.
Jamarra Ugle-Hagan looks to be the answer up forward with Aaron Naughton, while the duo of Stefan Martin and Tim English will continue to pinch-hit up forward when not rucking.
Down back, Once fit, Tim O’Brien will add much-needed cover without Young and Wood, giving their talented midfield plenty of cover and an emerging crop of talls to rely on.
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It’s a big year for:
With so much pressure on the recent number one draft pick, the electric forward will certainly get a good run at it in 2022.
After having to spend so much time on the sidelines working his way into the side, only to miss out on the finals, Ugle-Hagan will be raring to make himself a regular in the team.
If he can show his eye-catching best and his zippy pace to catch out defenders, he could add another element to the Dogs’ forward line and make a name for himself as a popular draft pick.
Biggest unanswered question:
Can the Dogs actually finish in the top four?
They may have been one of the best teams in recent times, but the Dogs have never been consistently solid in the home and away season.
After an electric start to 2021, they looked on track to secure the double chance for the first time in ages and provide a solid base to attack the finals series from.
But a late fade out in form had them scrambling to recapture their best in September, as they looked tired in the second half after a busy month of finals footy.
If they can rectify their late season woes and finish in the top four, they may get the balance right to attack September and this time come home with the cup.
Coaching pressure index:
The way Luke Beveridge steered his side back into flag contention was nothing short of admirable.
His nous and ability to get the best out of his players came to the fore yet again, meaning Beveridge has proven his star quality as a coach.
Although the Dogs didn’t get the chocolates in 2021, Beveridge doesn’t look under much pressure at all heading into this season unless his young chargers suffer an unexpected slide down the ladder this season.
Round 1 line-up:
Many will have their eyes on the Dogs and will be expecting them to bounce back in a big way.
2022 will be telling for the red, white and blue, who will have to buck the trend of losing Grand Finalists who flatline the next season.
But with their talented list and simmering talent ready to burst through, you would be silly to write off the Dogs from challenging for the flag again in 2022.