Luke Beveridge and Leon Cameron graduated to AFL senior coaching from the Alastair Clarkson finishing school, a year apart.
Cameron went to Greater Western Sydney in 2013 and – as is often said – was handed the keys to the Ferrari, a high-performance machine he could not drive to success.
Beveridge joined the Western Bulldogs in 2014 and two years later – with a patched-up, banged up unit starting from sixth on the finals grid – won a drought-breaking premiership.
Bulldogs coach Luke Beveridge.Credit:AFL Photos
Now, after a refit of the Bulldogs squad, Beveridge is living Cameron’s overwhelming challenge. He has a shiny new Mercedes, and the tank is full of high-octane fuel, but the vehicle’s GPS is broken.
In nine seasons as senior coach, Cameron could not craft a premiership-winning blueprint to match the extraordinary talent and speed the Giants possessed. He took the so-called orange tsunami – that dynamic game plan that Cameron strangely lost faith in – to five finals series, culminating in the 2019 grand final disappointment. The critics won out.
Beveridge is now in Cameron’s seat as the driver challenged to navigate a powerful engine many other AFL coaches would be envious to drive. The horrendous opening to the season shows Beveridge is steering the Mercedes way off course.
The AFL’s best coaches have left Beveridge in their dust.
The Western Bulldogs cannot defend. Since winning the 2016 premiership, they have ranked in the bottom nine teams for conceding a score from an opposition inside-50. To put this into perspective, 15 out of the past 18 premiers have ranked top six in this indicator.
More damning, the Bulldogs were ranked 15th of 18 for defending the opposition’s ball movement from the defensive 50 last season. Despite a full pre-season to address this glaring weakness, Beveridge could not devise a plan to stop Melbourne on last Saturday. The Demons scored 50 points from their defensive 50; the league average is 12.
The Bulldogs’ list wants for nothing. It has the league’s best midfield, led by captain and four-time All-Australian Marcus Bontempelli. Tom Liberatore, Adam Treloar, Bailey Smith and Jack Macrae are prolific and young ruckman Tim English is elite. Half-backs Caleb Daniel and Bailey Dale are All-Australians, and Aaron Naughton is one of the game’s best key forwards.
The Bulldogs have a high-quality list.Credit:Getty Images
Beveridge once faced a void with key-position defenders, but after claiming Liam Jones as a free agent and being gifted father-son wunderkind Sam Darcy in 2021, he no longer has this excuse.
Adding to Beveridge’s woes is his inability to halt the opposition’s momentum. In the 2021 grand final, the Bulldogs led by 19 points midway through the third quarter but lost the game by 74 points. Melbourne kicked 12 unanswered goal, and Beveridge’s Mercedes went way off course.
The script was repeated in last year’s elimination final against Fremantle. The Bulldogs coughed up a 41-point lead to lose by 13 points.
Josh Dunkley won the Western Bulldogs’ best-and-fairest award last season after announcing he would leave to join the Brisbane Lions. When comparing Brisbane’s pre-season training to his former club, Dunkley noted that the Bulldogs hardly ran in the pre-season. Could a lack of fitness be a reason for their fadeouts in big games? Melbourne kicked eight goals to the Bulldogs’ four in the second half on Saturday night.
Adding to the club’s troubles is Beveridge’s repeated bizarre public comments.
Before the 2021 grand final, he fired back at criticism of Treloar with this: “If you’re going to fail in life, fail at something that is noble. Fail at something you can dust yourself off and be proud that you had a go.
“If you’re failing at trying to pull people apart and bring people down, like two or three journalists did this week, I don’t know how people around you can live with you, how they can lie in bed with you, how they can look at themselves in the mirror.”
In the post-game media conference after last year’s season-opener, Beveridge launched an extraordinary personal attack on journalist Tom Morris.
After the round 10 win against Gold Coast last season, he vaguely questioned the tactics of Suns defender Sam Collins on Naughton. On review, Collins’ method was entirely within the rules.
Beveridge was due to come out of contract at the end of this season. However, the club surprisingly and prematurely extended his deal to the end of 2025.
It would have been wiser for the Bulldogs board to wait until the midway point of the season to gather more evidence on whether Beveridge can fix the broken navigation system in the shiny new Mercedes.
Adam Kingsley eventually inherited the keys to the GWS Ferrari; only time will tell whether Beveridge’s mechanics can fix his broken GPS or whether the Merc needs a new driver.
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