'Greatest Bulldog ever': Luke Beveridge on cusp of AFL immortality

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Luke Beveridge, pictured here addressing his players during the Western Bulldogs' clash with Geelong.
Luke Beveridge addresses his players during the Western Bulldogs' clash with Geelong. (Photo by Dylan Burns/AFL Photos via Getty Images)

It’s hard to imagine any figure looming larger over the Western Bulldogs than the great Ted Whitten and Charlie Sutton.

For all those decades the Dogs tried and failed to add to their single premiership success, the legend of that pair grew larger and larger.

Whitten was the star player and would go on to become the club’s longest-serving captain. He still is today. 

Not just a Footscray legend, Mr Football was a legend of the game.

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Sutton was the captain/coach of the 1954 premiership team, and the further that faded into history the greater that achievement became. He was the one. The only one.

Great players have donned the red, white and blue in more recent times – Doug Hawkins, Chris Grant, Brad Johnson and Scott West particularly.

But on Saturday, Luke Beveridge has the opportunity to eclipse the feats of all of those legendary names in the Bulldogs’ history.

To be the man who broke the drought in 2016 was one thing, to become a two-time premiership coach will etch his name as one of the giant figures ever at Whitten Oval.

Bigger than Whitten? When a name has been so synonymous with a club it’s difficult to imagine a current coach eclipsing that, but you can make a fair argument that delivering a second flag would make Beveridge the most important Bulldog ever.

Luke Beveridge's rare departure from modern coaches

Beveridge is an intriguing figure. In an era when AFL senior coaches are more methodical and robotic than ever, ‘Bevo’ provides a rare departure.

He's a mix of the old and new art forms of coaching. The old is his ability to motivate his players, to focus their attention on a particular task, to inspire them in a new way.

Geelong coach Chris Scott always publicly says that every AFL player should come to every game with the self-motivation they need to do the job. His message is more about plans, structures and methods than emotional motivation.

Beveridge is a storyteller. He crafts a message and a theme for his players. In the hum-drum of a long AFL season, anything new is likely to get players who hear the same old talk every week listening.

Martin Flanagan’s book about the Bulldogs’ journey to the 2016 premiership, 'A Wink From The Universe', includes notes from Beveridge’s coaching diary – his thoughts before a game and after a game.

They give an insight into the way he goes about his job.

Before a Round 7 game against Adelaide, Flanagan writes that Beveridge’s notes include a colour photo of a centipede.

“If a centipede had to think about moving all its legs in the right order, the task would be too complex and daunting!” Beveridge wrote in the diary. 

“Have Faith – Everything Together – Chase the Game – Not Sure What Phase It’s In? – Defend.”

It mightn’t be the ranting and raving of a John Kennedy, and no doubt probably leaves a few players scratching their heads, but it’s the ability to get players thinking.

Luke Beveridge, pictured here during a Western Bulldogs training session.
Luke Beveridge looks on during a Western Bulldogs training session. (Photo by Dylan Burns/AFL Photos via Getty Images)

Beveridge a mix of old and new school approaches

Beveridge blends that old school art of inspiring and motivating with the modern approach of showing his emotions and building genuine relationships with players.

The relationship aspect can’t be underestimated in the modern game. There are several coaches in the past few years who have lost their jobs because they couldn’t get it right. Tactical nous meant little if the players weren’t invested in their coach.

Flanagan writes of two memories trainer Paul Maher had of Beveridge’s early days as Bulldogs coach.

One was about looking after each other. About being one-and-a-half men – the idea that if every player is as much for his teammate as he is for himself, he becomes one-and-a-half men.

The other is a meeting in which Beveridge sat his players in circles and encouraged them to talk about the worst things that had ever happened to them, as a means of preparing for, and living through, adversity.

“From the start, says Maher, he talked about caring,” writes Flanagan.

Success has followed Beveridge everywhere he’s been as a coach. He famously took amateur club St Bedes to three-straight premierships – in C Grade, then B Grade, then A Grade, an almost unheard of feat at any level of football.

He was at Collingwood then Hawthorn in development or assistant coaching roles in premiership years.

Then he became the great drought-breaker at Whitten Oval.

His act of handing his premiership medal to injured captain Bob Murphy will forever be one of the most memorable grand final day moments.

It speaks of a man who does things differently. Who crafts the old techniques with the new. It might be just days away from making him the greatest Bulldog ever.

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