Marcus Bontempelli and the Bulldogs grand final loss: ‘We can’t carry the burden’


Marcus Bontempelli hasn’t watched the replay of this year’s grand final.

“Don’t know if I will,” he says.

But, if he does, the Western Bulldogs’ captain and star player could be forgiven, if he thinks there might be a different ending in an alternative universe such was their dominance for a stretch of the crucial third quarter.

They were up and looking for all the world like they were going to win the grand final and Bontempelli was going to cap it with the Norm Smith medal for best on ground.

When he kicked his third goal to put the Bulldogs up by 19 points, they held that lead until nine minutes to go in the third quarter.

But then the Demons kicked three goals in quick succession, followed by another a few minutes later to hit the front, with just four minutes left.


The Dogs are still in the game, but suddenly there’s another three goals and the game is as good as over, as the Demons, with steamroller-like momentum, pile on another nine in the final quarter to record a stunning 74-point win and a 95-point turn-around in just a quarter-and-a-half.

“You’re sort of just trying to get yourself into — not damage control — but just trying to stem the flow as much as possible, and it just seemed like we couldn’t do anything right and they just kept going on with it,” Bontempelli says.

So, to watch it again and put yourself through that torture?

Even asking the question feels like ripping the scab off a very raw wound.

Instead, Bontempelli is focused on the learning element, processing what happened and how it played out, saying “you do realise that once that game’s done it’s on to the next one”

“Whatever you can take forward you do and whatever you don’t need to, you’ve just got to let go.

That may be so, but processing such a loss takes time.

“Immediately after the game is a pretty numb and empty feeling,” he admits.

“You do have to just ride that wave of emotion and do your best to put it to one side and then you have to let it go.”

Bontempelli has been doing that in the aftermath of the grand final: Hanging out in Western Australia, fishing with some mates in Exmouth and not thinking about football for a little while.

“A lot of people are on a break where they’re probably able to easily sort of forget about it and discard it and dive into whatever they’re doing,” he says.

“But there will probably moments as we get back into training and then the talk starts up again and closer to round one about how we’ll deal with it.

“We’ll all be doing our best to put that into the rear-view mirror.

Knowing what it’s like to win a grand final after helping the Bulldogs break a 62-year premiership drought in 2016 will help ease the pain of losing.


“They’re at different ends of the spectrum when it comes to the emotions, but they’re probably on a par in terms of the beauty and excitement and ecstasy of winning one and the emptiness and the numbness of losing one. They are pretty similar.

“I definitely think there’s some benefit of using some of the energy and the disappointment of this loss to hopefully carry us forward a little bit.

“It won’t be the main driver, but it might form part of something for us.”

And Bontempelli is confident that his team will be able to do that without any lingering scars thanks to the number of young players in the team.

The losing team gathers together sitting on the ground as they watch the winners receive their AFL premiership medals.
Western Bulldogs are a young side and Marcus Bontempelli thinks the team can bounce back from their grand final loss.(Getty: AFL Photos/Gary Day)

“We’ll get another chance, hopefully, to play football again and resurrect some of the things that we didn’t do well.

“You’ve just got to look forward to the future and be positive about it,” he says.

Marcus Bontempelli has already done so much in football: He won a premiership when he was just 20, is the captain of his team and one of the elite players in the AFL.

He’s won four club best-and-fairest awards, been named an All-Australian four times and came second in this year’s Brownlow Medal.

Despite all the achievements, he’s still only 25 and definitely ambitious for more success.

“Hopefully, I can continue to help others to explore what their best looks like and if we can sneak in another one [flag] along the way that’d be great,” he says.

In the meantime, there’s an 18-month-old Kelpie at home in Melbourne, whom he hasn’t seen for months to come home to and a new book to promote.

Marcus Bontempelli book cover
Amid another big footy season, Marcus Bontempelli has been busy off the field, releasing his first children’s book.(Supplied: Affirm Press)

Bontempelli has co-authored a children’s book based on his own family life as a kid growing up with three sisters and his Nanna down the road.

“I think the one thing I reflect on most probably dearly is the fact that I’ve been able to include my family and the people in my life that are super important to me and to be able to put all that together in a neat little book is just a really cool project to have been a part of,” he says.

“Nanna was, particularly, a key feature in those primary school years.

“There’s a lot of females who have had a strong influence in my life,” Bontempelli says.

He says it’s given him plenty of lessons.

“Understanding people, understanding emotions, there’s a sensitive side to the book and probably to myself that, hopefully, is conveyed and comes across quite nicely: That the key thing is about making mistakes and being able to front up to them and be honest about them,” he says.

The Bulldogs might have made a few mistakes in the grand final, but Marcus Bontempelli is the first to admit that they were beaten by a much better team on the day.

For now, there are lessons to be learned, and a new season to look forward to and as always, the chance for redemption.

It could be another book.


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