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Bulldogs full of belief for Cats clash

By Sam Lienert and Adam Cooper 04/09/2009 03:21:29 PM Comments (0)

Excitement has replaced anxiety and confidence taken over from hope as the Western Bulldogs prepare to take on Geelong in the AFL finals for the second year running.

The Bulldogs gave the Cats a huge scare in last year's preliminary final, a match that few had given them much chance of winning.

But on that occasion, they had key players carrying injuries, patchy lead-up form and less finals experience than now.

"Last year our form wasn't that great in the second half of the year and we had a few injuries as well, as most clubs do," forward Robert Murphy said.

"I'm sure we've still got a few this year as well, but we're in much better nick than last year.

"Certainly from my own experience last year having not played a final there was probably a bit more anxiety.

"I think there's probably a bit more excitement, that's probably the overwhelming emotion at the moment."

Classy young midfielder-forward Shaun Higgins, who like Murphy experienced finals for the first time last year, also feels he and others can play more significant roles.

"Obviously with another year's experience, not just with myself, but Murph, who had been (nine) years here to play a final, Mitch Hahn was the same, there were a number of guys in the same situation," Higgins said.

"When you get a finals experience under your belt and then another year where the team's been able to grow together, I think we're in really good stead."

While midfield star Adam Cooney and Murphy entered last year's finals playing with knee complaints, Higgins had just come off a long-term ankle injury.

"It was strange for me, I missed most of the season last year, so I was coming in obviously a little bit underdone and was rapt to play and had a little bit of a role, so personally it was a little bit weird," he said.

"But for the team, we were massive underdogs and we threw everything at Geelong last year and fell short. So hopefully we can go all right this week."

The Bulldogs' recent form-line against the Cats underlines their growing belief.

In their only home and away meeting last year, Geelong belted the Dogs by 61 points.

The preliminary final was a much more competitive 29-point loss.

The Cats' win in round nine this season was only decided after the final siren, before the Dogs broke through by 14 points a fortnight ago.

"As a group we've matured a lot and started playing some good football, so I guess it's just turned out the way that it has, being close games," Higgins said.

"But we're confident going into this week."

The Bulldogs' win in round 21 was their first over Geelong since the opening round of 2007, and according to coach Rodney Eade, re-affirmed the self-belief among the group.

But Cats coach Mark Thompson expected to glean little from their most recent game.

"I don't think it's a disadvantage or an advantage," he said this week.

"We always match up well against them, and we've had two pretty good close games this year, so that sets it up for a fantastic match.

"We're going to throw everything at this match and try and win it."

At selection, Geelong bolstered their firepower through the returns of forwards Paul Chapman and Travis Varcoe from injury, while Bulldogs utility Ryan Griffen and ruck Ben Hudson overcame hamstring troubles to earn recalls.

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