CALEB Daniel says the Western Bulldogs are spurred rather than consumed by honouring retiring legend Robert Murphy and avoiding an unfortunate slide from flag to finals’ no-show.
The Dogs dreamt of delivering Murphy the premiership success that eluded their skipper when cruelled by injury in a compelling, against-all-odds march to the 2016 premiership.
Failure against Port Adelaide in the first match for premiership points in Ballarat would almost certainly seal the Dogs’ fate as the seventh unit to miss the finals after winning a flag.
“We are really optimistic and if we can get some wins on the board we give ourselves a chance. It is a really important game and stepping stone,” said 167cm Daniel.
Bulldogs coach Luke Beveridge insists Murphy, 35, should walk away fulfilled from his career following a phenomenal 310-game influence at the Whitten Oval through dark times and cheer.
Leaving an obscure Ballarat setting with Port Adelaide derailing its finals chances and premiership defence would be a hollow end for a champion the premier couldn’t stomach.
“It is always emotional when a great of your footy club retires and won’t be around next year. It is also a happy time when you celebrate a career of the greats like Bob and Matty Boyd,” said Daniel.
“Hopefully we can come out there and use that as a bit of motivation.
“We are happy playing wherever, it is a pretty crucial game.”
Daniel, 21, rocked up to the Whitten Oval as a pint-sized kid from South Adelaide during spring 2014 and it was dual All Australian Murphy who rolled out the red carpet as mentor and mate.
Murphy had joined the Dogs when Daniel was three but it was the South Australian who became a premiership on-baller inside two AFL seasons.
“He has been a massive influence on everyone at the footy club,” said Daniel of Murphy.
“I always remember walking in to the footy club and he was the first person to welcome you and say ‘G’day’.”
Daniel delivered a match-turning display on debut in round 15, 2015 against Carlton with the good vibes planted by Murphy before the bounce.
“Before your first game he gives you some nice words of encouragement.
“He said ‘take it in, you are an 18-year-old kid, are allowed to look around the crowd and realise a childhood dream is coming to fruition’.
“It is amazing.”
The Dogs deep midfield rotation overwhelmed all comers last September but the manic work-rate has dropped.
The premier is ranked 14th for clearances and 17th from the centre with Tom Liberatore a metaphor for a hot and cold run.
Nothing has come easy this winter. There’s no second chances in Ballarat for the Dogs and their cherished leader but coach Luke Beveridge maintains the faith.
“We pride ourselves on our competitiveness and will to win but skills have been letting us down.
“The coach has kept everything cool, calm and collected,” said Daniel.
DANIEL BACKS TAILOR-MADE HELMETS FOR AFL
THE AFL fears current helmets may provide a false sense of security but Western Bulldogs premiership star Caleb Daniel won’t be discarding his trusty head piece any time soon.
However, Daniel welcomes the move to tailor-made helmets for Australian football and focus on concussion-related illness that’s viewed as a ticking time bomb globally by athletes in contact sports.
Daniel is yet to experiment with a helmet tailored for Australian football players but says any development in safety is welcomed.
The horror run of concussions endured by Daniel’s young peers including St Kilda’s Paddy McCartin, Melbourne’s Angus Brayshaw and Richmond’s Ben Griffiths has caused deep consternation industry-wide.
“It is definitely talked about, a serious topic,” 52-game on-baller Daniel told The Advertiser.
“Obviously the long-term issues have brought about the downfalls of some players recently so it is definitely on the radar and a thing we need to keep improving in the industry, the protection side and the head.”
The AFL is financing the design and build of innovative helmets in a bid to combat the long-term effects of concussion that threaten to discourage future talent from the game.
AFL researcher Dr Andrew McIntosh believes generic helmets worn by AFL players offer negligible concussion protection and less than those used at the turn of the century.
“I have worn it for a long time so it is more that confidence I guess,” said Daniel
“It is like wearing a mouth guard. I feel more confident when I have it on going for a hard ball and in the air. If you feel more confident wearing it then why not.”
Brayshaw was taken at No.3 by the Demons in the 2014 national draft ahead of Daniel at 46. Brayshaw has endured four concussions over 12 months and Daniel believes wearing a helmet will boost the prized Demon.
“If a player feels like wearing it and has worn one for a while it is more about the confidence side of it than the benefits. Angus Brayshaw has suffered concussions and is wearing it and it’s great to see,” said Daniel.
HARTLETT: PORT HAS MUCH TO PROVE
TAKING down Western Bulldogs in Ballarat would underpin the ticker in Ken Hinkley’s unit and vindicate Hamish Hartlett’s decision to remain at Alberton.
Half-back Hartlett last October became a lightning rod for Port Adelaide frustration at missing consecutive finals.
“Hammer” was linked with a shift to several Melbourne clubs despite holding a fresh, five-year deal.
Hartlett, 27, didn’t want to leave Port Adelaide and remains on a mission to cement his position in the hearts and minds of those that count.
“What is does is motivates you to prove people wrong whether they members or media saying what might be best for you,” said Hartlett, Port’s highest draft pick when scooped at No.4 by the Power in 2008’s national draft.
“You want to prove you have made the right choice which is the angle I have come from. Hopefully my best footy is ahead of me.”
Hartlett has missed one game – Carlton in April – this year due to a thigh strain and believes a shift to half back from midfield will pay dividends.
“From a personal point of view I have been reasonably solid without being outstanding,” said Hartlett, who could register 150 games if Port ventures deep into September.
“To be honest there are games I have played reasonably well in but I am still learning my role and there’s’ areas to improve in.
“I have enjoyed playing with the seven guys who have rolled through defence and being one of the more experienced guys it has been great to help a few guys develop.”
Charlie Dixon is another who arrived at Alberton carrying a truckload of expectation.
Former Gold Coast Sun spearhead Dixon has 38 goals – eight more than last year’s tally – and plenty left in the tanks says 145-game stalwart Hartlett.
“We knew Charlie was super competitive when he first arrived at the club and he hasn’t wavered,” said Hartlett with Dixon cracking 20 games in a season for the first time in his career.
Forward Dixon, standing 200cm, has the potential to tear an undermanned Dogs defence apart in Ballarat.
“We know he will provide a huge contest for us and proving to be a good leader as well,” said Hartlett.
“He has enjoyed that role and played the most number of games he’d played in a single year and will only get stronger.”
“He has been outstanding for us.”