The Bulldogs celebrate a goal. (Photo: AFLW)

The Bulldogs have cemented a spot in the top eight after a strong performance from captain Ellie Blackburn in the dying stages of their final round encounter with the Blues. 

After the Bulldogs were on the back foot for the best part of two and a half quarters, Blackburn was able to get her side back in the contest alongside the likes of Kirsty Lamb and Deanna Berry.

Berry (13 disposals) continued her career best form, playing the midfield/forward role well over the past few weeks. She was able to use her run and carry to deliver the ball inside 50. 

Blackburn played a key part in the Bulldogs performance overall, with her ability to burst out of the contest and get through traffic to hit up a target or kick a goal proving crucial. 

The 27-year-old finished with 23 disposals, nine clearances and scored two crucial goals, including the match winner.

Speaking post-match, Western Bulldogs coach Nathan Burke said that Blackburn was close to missing the match altogether.

“You can’t love a person and a footballer more than that,” he said. 

“You guys don’t know the sort of issues she’s had on a physical level over the last couple of weeks that she’s been dealing with.

“Her particular condition isn’t helped by flying, so we flew to Perth and back last week and I honestly didn’t think she was going to play today. From not training for the whole week and then to come out and do that, that’s special.” 

Burke was proud of the way Blackburn was able to step up, especially after having been in doubt for most of the week. 

“She’s a leader in every sense of the word, we often talk about the spiritual leader as well as the physical leader,” he said.

“She just wasn’t going to be beaten today and what she did was amazing. Ever since last night I’ve been scheming in my head going, ‘how can I just nurse her through the game?’

“The idea was we’d play her forward for most of the game, give her really short stints on the ground and see what happens.

“Hopefully the  scoreboard is in a way that allowed me to do that but I couldn’t do it, I just needed her in the middle and she delivered like she always does.”

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The beauty with the Bulldogs’ side is the versatility within the group, with a number of players able to play multiple positions.

One key example has been Sarah Hartwig, who has moved from the backline to up forward. She was once again strong in her attacking role, kicking a goal.

Burke said that having moved the magnets around towards the back half of the season has allowed for a bit of a freshen up within the group.

“We always said as a coaching staff, our team at the start of the year won’t be our team at the end of the year, and part of that is to keep the team fresh a little bit,” the coach explained.

“We always knew Lizzy [Elisabeth Georgostathis] could go back, we always knew Elle Bennetts could go back.

“We wanted to change up the look of the midfield, so Dee Berry and Browny [Eleanor Brown] have come in the middle. Sarah Hartwig has gone forward, so there’s five changes, which is  25 per cent of the team or over. 

“One it freshens up those players – the other players see them doing well so it freshens them up and gives us a bit of a different look.

“So the fact is all those players have grasped that opportunity, and then we can still change them around. Elle Bennetts in the last quarter came into the midfield, which Mimi Hill was running riot on us, so we put Elle Bennetts on her and did a wonderful job.

“Then Snelly [Elizabeth Snell] who’s never played in the backline before has to go back and do that job to allow Elle to come up. They’re a really versatile lot, no matter what I throw at them they take to it and have a crack.” 

The win means the Bulldogs will make their first finals series since the club’s historic premiership win back in 2018. 

“We ticked off a couple of milestones in the rooms which was good,” Burke said.

“Three in a row is a milestone, and then making finals is a milestone as well. I have to buy two cakes this week it looks like, but happy to do that. 

“You’ve got to be in it to win it and we’re in it, so we’ll see what happens.”

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