When Bob Murphy and Easton Wood held up the AFL premiership cup this year, it was nothing short of miraculous as the Western Bulldogs ended a 62-year premiership drought and created what is arguably one of the most iconic events in the history of the code.
The victory over the Swans was the pinnacle of a Finals season that saw the Bulldogs upset a number of heavyweight clubs. While there has been much conjecture about how a team, who were 15-1 odd favourites to win at the start of the year, have managed to take out some of the most formidable clubs in the game and secure the top spot, there’s no denying that it was nothing short of well deserved.
There are many elements that contribute to a team winning a premiership, but perhaps one aspect that is overlooked by many outside of the AFL, is the role of sport science.
The Institute of Sport, Exercise, and Active Living (ISEAL) at Victoria University has had a long-standing partnership with the Western Bulldogs. According to the Bulldogs’ General Manager, Football, Graham Lowe, it is an important one for the club.
“ISEAL offers highly-valued support for the physical preparation and management of our players,” Mr Lowe said.
“With specific skills in a number of academic disciplines including sports physiology, load adaptation, skill acquisition and data analysis, this partnership enhances and complements our capacity to prepare and recover our players, and ensure they can always be at their best.”
Club Melbourne Ambassador and Dean of ISEAL , Professor Westerbeek said the partnership had ramped up significantly over the previous 2-3 years to include high level research and staff.
“As well as providing scientific support to the team, ISEAL also makes staff available onsite as part of the partnership, including two senior sport scientists who have a 50/50 position within each institution,” Hans Westerbeek said.
In addition to the senior sport scientists, there are around 30 students from a variety of disciplines conducting research or completing cadetships at the club’s Victoria University Whitten Oval – a facility Westerbeek says is “shared intensely with the Bulldogs.”
During training or a match, there is often in excess of ten students from one of the four sport science streams collecting data that may be later used by the Bulldogs’ coaching, medical and performance teams. Areas of focus include player performance, fitness, skill acquisition, game analytics and recruiting.
ISEAL scientific support influences how the club operates, including “the Bulldogs’ training load and predicting how long players need to recover from an injury,” Hans Westerbeek said.
The partnership is also extremely beneficial to ISEAL as it gives them access to professional athletes in a real sports environment.
The victory of the Bulldogs is also, in turn, a triumph for ISEAL. The achievement of assisting both the Western Bulldogs and their VFL team, the Footscray Bulldogs, to premierships this year, builds upon ISEAL’s international recognition as a sport science institution.
But more than that, it cements Melbourne as a sport science leader.