Luke Beveridge Has Absolutely Nothing, And Absolutely Everything To Prove
Through six rounds, the Western Bulldogs, along with their 1954 Grand Final demonic dance partner, remain the league’s only undefeated teams.
This blistering start represents the Dogs' best start to a season in almost 80 years, while the Stats Insider futures model has them entrenched as favourites to win just the club's third-ever flag.
That last premiership, that 2016 heaven-sent fairytale, completely changed Bulldog history and was co-authored by the same coach who now, apparently, infuriates large swaths of Bulldogs fans, despite their rollicking start to the season.
Let’s take a look at why Luke Beveridge is one of the league’s best, yet most polarising coaches, and why 2021 will be the ultimate referendum upon his reign.
‘Why are people so unkind?’
Luke Beveridge is nothing if not a tinkerman.
In fact, the surf-obsessed, former counter-terrorism expert is the kind of guy who could arrive in paradise and instantly start worrying that his work desk is too wobbly, while also trying to convert his kettle into a pillow.
He’s allergic to stasis, seemingly unable to cease spinning his team’s wheels, forever keeping his squad, and club’s fanbase, in a state of high anxiety.
Last season he used a league-high 40 players en route to a second-straight Elimination Final exit, while the early forays of 2021 have done nothing to dampen the perception that the Bulldog’s coach is the league’s consummate mad-professor.
And yet, for the most part, Beveridge's methods have worked remarkably well.
His 57.14% win record as coach is the club’s best, as too are his 4 September wins, while he’s of course one of just two Bulldog coaches to ever win a premiership.
By the end of this season he’ll have made Finals in 5 of his 7 seasons at Whitten Oval, while it’d be absolutely fair to suggest that if he was no longer employed by the Dogs, he’d have the entire league making serious enquiries as to his next move.
Yet despite his record there remains a level of hostility towards him, and which likely derives from the very core of what makes him such a remarkable coach to begin with.
Luke Beveridge is so confounding to so many because in a world ruled by cliches and norms, he simply can’t be pinned down.
He coaches like a child lost amid a world of toys, enjoying unlimited experimentation and creative freedom. And he does so with an air about him as though he couldn’t give a single you-know-what about how you perceive him.
And to be frank, this unrestrained freedom bothers the absolute bejesus out of some, reminding them that their own creative exploits are limited to what degree on the oven they choose to heat their frozen pizza at.
In a world that increasingly devalues expertise, and where so many are of the opinion they could step in at a moment's notice and perform your job better, the mere mention of Beveridge sends a chill up the spines of many Bulldog fans playing along at home.
But do they have a point?
Yeah, they do actually. To a degree.
2021 is a season where the pressure cooker is about to absolutely explode among Bulldogs fans who rightly expect nothing less than a deep, deep run come Finals time. The likes of which Beveridge hasn't come close to delivering since those magical few weeks of 2016.
And that pressure is only amplified because of how ridiculously good this Doggies list is.
Go on, get your recently arrived uncle from Estonia out of the garage and it’d take him about 10 minutes to determine that these Bulldogs are seriously talented. Especially the one with the number 4 on his back. Oh and the one with the 11, and the one who you got for a song from the Magpies. And the little one with the helmet, and the one at the other end of the field who likes an angry PE teacher and who's forever repelling opposition crusades.
But what your Estonian uncle mightn't be aware of is that this list has been talent-laden for years, while there's a reasonable argument Beveridge has actually gotten in the way of that talent at times, perhaps even preventing the team from realising its true potential.
While the Dogs have so far ploughed through 2021, currently possessing the best inside-50 differential in recorded history, the reality is the Dogs have so far been able to run roughshod over a powderpuff of a schedule. The combined records of their victims sits at a lowly 11-25, while none boast a winning record.
And it's against the very best where this club, and indeed Beveridge, will be ultimately judged.
Indeed since winning the 2016 flag, the Dogs have lost 17 of their 21 matches against top-4 opponents, which is an uncomfortable reality the Bulldogs are clearly going to have to confront should they wish to avoid yet another meek September exit.
For Beveridge's most fervent critics there remains a fear that while sheer talent can easily dispose of inferior opposition, it's the Doggie's coach who too often gets in the way when the going gets tough, and until he can prove otherwise, a high level of trepidation will remain.
Luke Beveridge has absolutely nothing, and absolutely everything to prove.
Yes he’s a premiership winning coach, and to some, an unmitigated genius, and should the earth be spinning in another 339 years, he’ll still hold an unimpeachable place in Bulldog history.
Yet this season, right now, and despite the club’s incredible start, the pressure is rising, the bulk of which is resting firmly upon his shoulders.
For the Doggies, there’s a premiership coupon to be redeemed in 2021, the likes of which aren’t always left at their doorstep, and owing to the peculiarities of sport, simply can’t be taken for granted.
No stress, but Luke Beveridge has the fate of absolutely every Bulldog fan in his hands.
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