For many AFL fans, Luke Beveridge can be difficult to understand. Since he took over as the head coach of Western Bulldogs, the team has moved on solidly. But that often goes against the logic of outsiders.
He cited both Che Guavara and the children’s book The Salty Dog to his team as motivational resources, a group he leads based on trust and working together toward a common goal.
Every Thursday, when the team roster comes around, the Dogs roster guesses seem to fail even the most avid followers. Beveridge shows the right amount of respect for traditional team positions and blades – none. All that matters is victory.
That way has been successful too, with Beveridge the most successful coach in the long history of the Bulldogs.
But for all of Beveridge’s experiments, there was one constant. Jack Macrae stood in the middle, collected the ball and used it to good effect.
Often overshadowed by higher profile teammates, the three-time All Australian is arguably the most consistent player in the league on the most inconsistent team in the league in recent years.
‘Bevo Ball’: Territory and Possession
While there is much mystery and chaos associated with descriptions of Beveridge and the Bulldogs’ approach, at the heart of it is an application of one of football’s core tenets.
Territory and property. If you win both, you will win many football matches.
The advancement of ‘Bevo Ball’ is the way territory is gained and maintained. It apparently exists to make other parties uncomfortable – the concept of gaining the upper hand through uncertainty.
It all starts with the Bulldogs’ tight defensive lineup – one based on teamwork and space.
At the moment of a turn, the Bulldogs quickly get into shape by setting up triangles across the ground to separate the field from opponents.
The weight of shapes tilts to the valuable center of the ground. The dogs then force teams to work slowly around the ground to get the ball into the defense.
The triangles are spaced so that a Bulldog can contest any kick made over the covered area – leaving no unwanted, unchallenged targets.
The design is to negate easy kicks or leading opportunities. It is also to lull the opponents to sleep so that they fall a foul into the trap, or a long kick down the line.
In these long, down-the-line matches, the Dogs have some talented airborne greats and a host of midfielders and smaller defenders who know how to position themselves to win (or capture) the ball.
Strike Wins and Skillful Defensive Ball User Key
That feeds on the second element of Bevo Ball, the possession part – largely through the game stoppage. Since their breakthrough in 2016, no side has been better at winning strikes.
By constantly turning the so-called ‘neutral’ ball into an advantage, the Dogs use the boundary as an extra defender.
Ideally, this results in a weight of within 50 entries for the dogs, enough to stifle opposing defenses.
In defense, Bevo Ball has favored experienced ball users over pure denial of defensive skills. Players like Caleb Daniel and Bailey Dale are perhaps more valuable in this scheme than any other and are relied upon to gain ground and maintain possession.
Bevo Ball can sometimes get loose, like last Friday night against Sydney. Parties moving the ball quickly can prevent the Bulldogs’ defenses from setting to the ground and expose the Dogs’ underpowered defenses.
Allowing quick, direct ball movements from opposition parties has been their biggest problem this year.
The Bulldogs’ system involves stopping teams from finding a clear ball in the center of the ground. Overall, the Dogs have been better at this than most teams. But when opposing sides break through, the Dogs’ deep defense offers little resistance.
Likewise, if the Dogs fail to gain possession through interruptions, they may struggle to get the area so desperately needed for their strategy to work. This is also what is cruel to them in the 2021 grand final.
So far, their dominance has largely been maintained this year – thanks in part to the AFL’s Mr. Consistency, Jack Macrae.
Jack Macrae is the lord consistency of the dogs
Despite all the moves of Beveridge’s magnet, Bevo Ball lives and dies on the consistent effort of his players.
Some players are constantly hailed in the media, others attract attention with flashes and trickery. Macrae instead chooses to let his actions on the field speak for themselves.
The former number six draft pick is arguably the most consistently great player in the league without being talked about all the time.
In a midfield full of great stories and personalities, Macrae’s quiet genius often goes unnoticed. Macrae is an all-rounder – he can fill almost any role anywhere in the world.
He is as reliable as anyone else in the league at getting the ball and putting it to good use.
Not only does Macrae collect the ball mindlessly, he uses it with skill. His ability to contribute to scoring opportunities is critical to the success of the Dogs forward line.
Macrae fits into a super-sized Bulldogs peak midfield group, with the 191cm Macrae mated to the 193cm Bontempelli and 187cm Dunkley.
Even Bailey Smith (184cm) and Adam Treloar (184cm) are taller through the body than most other midfielders.
This group has long given Beveridge an edge in winning possession. Anything can go in, or be the escape to move the ball forward. Without the ball, they know which roles to fill in their tight defense structure.
Where Bontempelli and Smith often work for the ball, Macrae is a true ‘whole ground’ player.
Mister Consistency conquers his possessions the full width and length of the field.
That means Macrae gets fewer notable goals, but is no less valuable to the end result. At Bevo Ball, the system is more important than the individual.
With time running out for the Bulldogs’ 2022 season, there’s little room for error for Beveridge and Macrae to send the Dogs back to the top eight and into September.