IF EVER there was a rallying cry to be more Bulldog, it is now Ballarat.
Our city was completely swept up in Western Bulldogs' fairytale 2016 AFL premiership win after the club had spent 62 years in the wilderness. This was right on the cusp of bringing the first AFL match for premiership points to Ballarat.
One of the first Cup destinations was Ballarat.
Hundreds of people packed in near town hall on the Monday after Bulldogs' 22-point grand final win against Sydney to see 'Dogs' coach Luke Beveridge and club president hold the game's Holy Grail aloft.
This time is different.
There are a whole lot of sentimental feelings for grand final rival Melbourne, which now shoulders the league's longest AFL premiership drought of 57 seasons.
One of the Bulldogs' big drawcards has long been the second-favourite team factor. This is what has made them so appealling in their move to expand their territory west into Ballarat and western Victoria.
People genuinely like them.
Since that 2016 flag, the Bulldogs have invested greatly in Ballarat on and off the field from football development to literacy, leadership and health programs and business support.
It has been great to see so many businesses in Ballarat - even those still shut - to show their colours.
The Bulldogs' support for the whole community is the reason The Forge director Tim Matthews said his business was keen to join Plate Up Ballarat's Bulldogs menu takeover this weekend.
There is no doubt the past two years it has been harder to feel a tangible connection to the club amid lockdowns, COVID restrictions and a grand final in Perth.
But what a return to Mars should the Bulldogs' capture the premiership once more, especially if they know there has been a whole city here behind them.
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The 2016 premiership team featured Rebels products Jordan Roughead (Lake Wendouree) and Liam Picken, who hails from Hamilton.
While we do not have any on-field ties this year, there are strong Ballarat connections leading the campaign. Former Rebels coach Chris Maple, who lives in Ballarat, is the Bulldogs' coaching and operations manager.
Maple, who grew up in Ararat, has coaching ties across the district including leading Tatyoon to a runner-up finish in the Mininera league, one Central Highlands premiership from three grand finals at the Buninyong helm and the still talked about historic Ballarat High School firsts title in 2001.
In leaving the Rebels, Maple coached Footscray to the Bulldogs' 2014 Victorian Football League premiership in the club's long-awaited return to as a standalone state league outfit.
There is also Bulldogs' head of football Chris Grant, the beloved Daylesford product. The story goes, but has never been officially confirmed, Daylesford chose to become the Bulldogs in Grant's honour when entering the Central Highlands Football League.
Who can forget Grant's heroic Daylesford homecoming for a farewell game in 2008?
If the Western Bulldogs prevail, he will be the one presenting the Cup in Perth.
Time to come out snarling Ballarat.
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