I don’t have favourite players – except for Josh Dunkley

I don’t have favourite players – except for Josh Dunkley

I love Josh Dunkley. I should be too old for these favourite player types, but I haven’t been this into a player this much since Chris Grant.

It started like everything else, with the premiership. I just thought it was really cool that a first-year, 19-year-old could slot in and play that well – extraordinarily well compared to forecasts – like the team itself. I suppose I thought the same about Zaine Cordy and Toby McLean.

Dunkley’s dad was a very old-school Sydney fullback named Andrew Dunkley. From an era when fullbacks weren’t part of the build-up play, he had the worst kicking action in the entire league, dropping the ball far too high for accuracy. Josh’s original kicking style took after his, which means his set shots are coin tosses, though he has improved his kicking markedly.

But he got stuck in, got plenty of the ball, could handball with the best of them and chipped in with goals, and his tackle count was through the roof. He was highly involved in the first three finals.

After two years of injuries and playing as a forward he was thrown into midfield in 2019, racked up 650 possessions, finished second in the admittedly always questionable Bulldogs best and fairest count and made the All Australian squad. The sky was the limit.

Josh Dunkley of the Bulldogs handpasses the ball

I’ve spent every Bulldog game of the last two years mentioning incessantly: “Look how good Dunks is! He does absolutely everything!”.

There was one Melbourne game in 2019 in which he touched the ball 39 times, racked up 15 tackles, scored two goals, appeared in ruck contests, half-heartedly stood the mark for his brother Kyle Dunkley to score his first AFL goal over him (Josh’s arms weren’t raised) and saved a goal by appearing from nowhere to deliver one of those comedy movie flying tackles. The Dogs won it by only eight points.

In the end that versatility has killed him, as Beveridge absolutely sacrificed him in 2020 to try dealing with the Dogs’ never-ending and septic ruck problems.

I’ll admit that he did not step up in the GWS final when we needed him to, but on another team he would have three midfield years under his belt and would already be one of the elite midfielders of the competition.

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I don’t know why I like him so much. It may be connected to the team’s otherwise undelivered promise of the 2016 premiership. Half the premiership team was gone within a year and a half, and I’d like to hold onto the half that’s left.

Dunkley has a nice-boy vibe about him. His family sticks together and his charming pandemic-era interviews and blogs were focused on the single-minded task of being a better footballer. This on the surface is a basic goal but one that, for all their Bulldogs pedigree, you haven’t always got the impression from Tom Liberatore and Lachie Hunter.

Martin Flanagan’s book on the premiership suggests the club knew early on he was future captain material. So I’m sad there isn’t a place in midfield for him, as he was the main catalyst of the Dogs’ midyear improvement in 2019.

For all the Dogs’ deficiencies, our midfield is overloaded and I don’t blame Dunkley for wanting to leave. What in-and-under midfielder wants to spend their days rucking against 200-centimetre monsters? I’m still certain he’ll walk at the end of 2021.

This leaves me with only one more year to watch the Dogs with him in it, to be boring and repeat ad nauseam: “Wow, look at Dunks! Look at all the stuff he can do!”.

Most people on social media were on the club’s side, but I was on Dunkley’s. If he leaves, that’s another piece of the 2016 puzzle thrown away.

I had actually pictured Dunkley as one of the last remaining premiership players at the club in 2028 or whenever. On a personal, emotional level if my favourite player leaves, one who I thought had a ten-year career with them coming up, I might stop caring about the Dogs afterwards.

Sydney, Geelong and Richmond all pulled a random premiership out of their behinds and used it to completely transform as clubs. We did the same but went back to being what we were.