Donnybrook booked its place in its first South West Football League grand final since 2001 after a dominant 26-point semi final win over Bunbury in front of a vocal home crowd at VC Mitchell Park on Sunday.
In the battle between the league’s most potent forward line and the league’s strongest backline, defence was the key influence on the day as both teams combined for the lowest-scoring semi final game in seven years.
The respective defences, led by captains Shane Cristaldi and Codey Hay, held up strongly and spoiled almost every marking opportunity available inside the forward arcs throughout the match.
Kicking with the wind in first quarter, the Dons needed to take control of the game early and they did just that as Brett Eades capitalised on a long forward 50 entry that cleared the marking contest and ran into a open goal to put the Dons on the board.
Hayward Medal contender Chris Atthowe, who spent large parts of the day battling a tag from Jake Prowse, then made it two not long later after slotting a deadly accurate set shot from the boundary.
Leading goal kicker Brett Peake almost got in on the action at the other end, but his long range shot was adjudged to have been a behind, to the dismay of the travelling fans.
The Dons then continued their dream start when a lucky bounce in front of goal took the ball away from the Bulldogs’ defender and into the hands of Eades, who slotted his second to open up a three-goal lead.
After a slow start the Bulldogs worked their way into the game late in the first quarter, but big forward Matt Martin was the only player able to hit the scoreboard when he received a 50 metre penalty after taking a mark on the lead deep in the pocket.
With a 13-point lead at quarter time, the Dons didn’t let up and a strong mark on the lead early in the second quarter saw Eades slot his third.
Jace Cormack and Dion Parker were pivotal in the Dons attacking forays, with Parker hitting the scoreboard in the second term when his opponent slipped over and left him unattended.
The Bulldogs had their chances but Cristaldi and Cody Miller were regularly able to get the spoil and clear the ball back out of the Bunbury forward 50.
Bunbury rallied late in the term when a huge snap from Mark Longbottom caught the breeze and sailed over the goal line, before Martin kicked his second to close the first half with the Bulldogs trailling by just nine points.
The Bulldogs were confident they had weathered the best Donnybrook could throw at them throughout the first half, but it didn’t prove that way as Donnybrook came out of the break and took control in the premiership quarter.
The Dons kicked the next three goals, including a nice snap from Fraser Healey, while the Bulldogs were wasteful with possession and inaccurate in front of goals, resulting in just three behinds for the quarter.
Needing to overcome a 27 point margin in the final term, the Bulldogs looked to use the wind to their advantage.
They were able to stop the Dons from heading into their forward half too often, with Lance Smith kicking the Dons’ only goal of the quarter, but weren’t able to break the defensive shackles at the other end.
Martin slotted his third of the game, but it was all the Bulldogs’ could muster before the final siren sounded on the 9.5 (59) to 4.9 (33) defeat.
The game marked the Bulldogs’ lowest score of the season and the first time Peake was held goalless all year, although he had several chances which were wide of the mark.
The loss means Bunbury will face Augusta Margaret River at Hands Oval next Sunday for a spot in the grand final after the Hawks held on against a late Eaton charge for a five point win in the other semi final.