Melbourne Demons not the only ones under AFL grand final pressure, Western Bulldogs say

The Western Bulldogs have dismissed suggestions Melbourne is under more pressure heading into Saturday’s AFL grand final at Perth Stadium, saying they too feel the weight of expectation to reward their loyal fans.

Much of the build-up surrounding the decider has revolved around the Demons’ long premiership drought.

They haven’t won a flag since 1964, which is the longest current drought in the AFL.

But Bulldogs fans have also been far from spoilt, with their 2016 triumph just their second premiership since joining the VFL/AFL in 1925.

‘It’s all about the now’

Bulldogs defender Caleb Daniel has rejected the idea one team was dealing with the weight of expectations more than the other.

“I think there’s pressure on us, there’s pressure on them — like you said the drought, I don’t think they’ll be reading too much into that,” he said.

“It’s all about the now for them, and it’s all about the now for us.

“Both teams probably come under a fair bit of pressure, and it’s who’s going to be able to weather that pressure, whether it be in the game, or in your head, it’s going to be a huge battle.”

Coming out of quarantine

The Bulldogs spent last week in quarantine because of WA’s COVID-19 restrictions, confined only to their hotel and the training ground.

This week they’re free to roam around the community, and while that seems like good news, Daniel says it’s a fine balance between enjoying their newfound freedoms, and keeping their minds on the job.

“Coming out of that obviously it poses some challenges, if you do too much or whatnot,” he said.

“But the club’s sort of showed their faith in us and has allowed us to go and, within sort of reasonable situations, just treat it like a normal week.”

Grand final week has a different feel for the players, being so far removed from most of their supporters in Victoria.

Grand final lead-up more ‘low-key’

Like almost all of his teammates, Melbourne forward Tom McDonald is going into his first grand final, but he says there’s a big difference between this September and the Demons’ last finals campaign in 2018.

“It’s definitely a bit more low-key being here,” he said.

“You’re not at home with like a TV going, like I’ve barely had the TV on in the room, and we don’t have the newspaper out in the morning to see things.

“It’s definitely felt a bit more subdued than it did even in Melbourne when we played in 2018 in the [preliminary final], so hopefully that’s a good thing.

“I understand how much everyone has got around the game here, but we’re probably not interacting with people as much as you would if you were in Melbourne.”

A remarkable turnaround

A grand final berth marks a remarkable turnaround for McDonald.

After struggling with form and fitness and fearing his career was under threat, he was on the lookout for another club last off-season, but there were no takers.

“If I cut my salary by 90 per cent I might’ve got a gig somewhere but I wouldn’t have been able to live on that wage,” he said.

“I was lucky that I was still contracted to Melbourne so I knew I could at least come back and try to prove myself.”

He did just that in 2021, with 31 goals in 22 games to be the club’s third-leading goalkicker, and playing a crucial role for a team now looking to add the ultimate prize to its minor premiership success.

McDonald says there’s no doubt small forward Charlie Spargo will play in the decider, despite hurting his ankle at training on Saturday.

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