IT seems an eternity ago that the Western Bulldogs kept Lance Franklin and Kurt Tippett to a single Grand Final goal.
The Dogs’ finals hopes are all but shot, needing to beat Hawthorn and hope Essendon suffers a dramatic loss to Fremantle.
The miracle scenario involves them winning and making up 8.4 percentage points, but we all know that won’t happen.
Because they just can’t stop their opposition’s star having a field day.
The club’s post-season debrief will centre on motivation, ball movement and the continued form slumps of most of their best players.
But Luke Beveridge will know finding a star defender capable of playing on the big dogs is up there as the club’s top priority.
Charlie Dixon simply monstered the Dogs defence in Ballarat, with four goals, eight marks and 18 disposals.
Just as Jon Patton (four goals) did last week, and Joe Daniher (six goals) a fortnight before that.
All year the Dogs have failed to quell the monsters, as Jack Riewoldt (four goals), Harry Taylor (five goals), Taylor Walker and Josh Jenkins (seven goals between them) strutted their stuff.
If the Dogs can’t secure Adelaide’s Jake Lever, they will go hunting for a similar big-bodied defender to limit the stars.
Champion Data statistics show the Dogs are the second-easiest defence to out-mark in the competition based on one-on-one numbers.
Their backs are the second-worst at winning contests as well, so their intercept game has gone.
They showed foresight in attempting to lure Geelong’s Tom Lonergan in 2014, then still found a way to assemble a premiership back six.
Joel Hamling came in from Round 19 onwards and beat Josh Kennedy, Jon Patton and Franklin and then left for Fremantle.
Easton Wood’s intercept work was brilliant and allowed Fletcher Roberts to play his role, with Matthew Boyd a valuable interceptor.
Marcus Adams will return next year but it is questionable if he is the only answer given the Dogs have played him forward at times anyway.
Bailey Dale, Lewis Young and Bailey Williams have made their mark this year, but how many Dogs have actually improved?
Dale has and Toby McLean’s midfield work has been impressive, even if most of the midfield has been dropped at one stage or had a dip in form.
But Beveridge’s next coaching challenge is how to reboot Jake Stringer, whose year has ended with a second hamstring strain.
Bulldogs Brownlow Medallist Adam Cooney on Sunday urged him to have the biggest pre-season of his life over summer and return in elite shape.
As Cooney says, he explodes around the contest but has to realise you sometimes need to run a total of 1km just to get a stat, not just hope it comes into your area.
The Dogs desperately need a star goal-kicker like the 2015 version of Stringer, as he kicked 56 goals and seemed unstoppable.
Only they know if rivals have worked him out or at 23 if he is just going through the growing pains of a mid-sized forward with extra attention.
No player is untradeable in AFL footy.
Would the Dogs consider a Stringer trade if a rival threw up an offer that allowed them to address their key position needs forward or back?
Probably not, but it will be that kind of off-season of examination for the Dogs.
By next Sunday they could be only the second premier since 1999 to miss the finals, which gives Beveridge a mandate for bold change.