SOUTH Fremantle is just one win away now from a third straight WAFL Grand Final appearance with coach Todd Curley proud of the way his Bulldogs group was able to turn things around on Saturday.
South Fremantle was taking on Claremont in a fifth final in three years at Fremantle Community Bank Oval in Saturday's qualifying final as quite the spirited rivalry went up another gear between the Bulldogs and Tigers.
Last year's Grand Final is a game nobody involved will forget at the same venue with South Fremantle winning by three points while the Bulldogs also beat the Tigers by a point at Fremantle Community Bank Oval back in Round 14.
Claremont might have only won one of those last four finals against the Bulldogs, but that was a 47-point thumping in the second semi-final last year and the Tigers looked capable of producing a similar result.
They controlled most of the opening half and then went up by 30 points to start the second half and South Fremantle needed to find something special, and they did.
The Bulldogs would kick seven of the game's last nine goals to be in front when the siren went, but Claremont had a chance to win it afterwards but Jared Hardisty's shot sailed wide.
That meant South Fremantle won by a point to set up a second semi-final battle with Subiaco this Saturday at Leederville Oval, and Curley was a happy coach afterwards.
"There's a great feeling in the rooms and so it should be," Curley said.
"It was a fantastic win and sometimes the wins that you have when things don't go to plan but you find a way are much more powerful than if you just roll out and it all happens from the start.
"We certainly are not getting ahead of ourselves and we have some things to work on, but if we win next week then we are pretty aware of what opportunities will come.
"We win so we move on and we're happy, but I thought we showed a fair bit of resilience playing fairly ordinary footy in the first half. We gave up a four-goal margin going out to kick into the breeze in the third quarter, I thought we showed a bit of ticker to get back into the game and then found a way."
Curley wasn’t making any excuses and by half-time he could do nothing but hope that the Bulldogs would be able to turn things around against the Tigers.
"They were better than us, they were much harder at the footy, won the contested ball, won the clearance and dominated the field position," he said.
"I thought we started OK and the first 10 minutes was alright, but losing Dent probably unsettled us for a bit. The first quarter as a whole wasn’t too bad, but the second quarter was what probably let us down.
"Our ball use was pretty ordinary in the first half as well which meant they were able to get some real bounce off some of our real poor entries, or poor use going forward. Credit to them, their pressure was good and our ball use was poor and then they got us on the turnover to score.
"Their first half was really good but our second half saw us find a way, which isn’t easy in a final. There's a fair bit of pressure out there and it can be easy to start letting all those outside influences weigh in on your effort, but our boys dug in and turned it around, and I'm really proud of them."
Curley paid tribute to his players for being able to dig deep and be able to turn the tide against quality opposition with the similarities at times to last year's Grand Final impossible to ignore.
"It was to the boys' credit for turning it around, they made it happen. We identified that they clearly had been better than us at half-time in all areas and they had got to play the game on their terms," Curley said.
"I thought we willed ourselves back into the contest and it certainly wasn’t lace out, pretty footy. But we just found a way and our pressure went up clearly. There were some selfless, individual efforts and we got a bit of momentum, and kicked straight.
"It's a strange one and if you look at the Donaldson stoppage goal there late in the last quarter, that was almost identical to one that he kicked in the Grand Final.
"Then Jimmy Miller is having a long shot from the far side and it was déjà vu. Thankfully we were on the same side of the ledger again but there's certainly a bit of a rivalry there between us two clubs."
South Fremantle now prepares to take on Subiaco in Saturday's second semi-final with a spot in the Grand Final up for grabs.
"They have obviously been a good team this year to finish on top and we can't wait to get up to Leederville Oval to have a red hot crack against them," Curley said.
"We'll have a good look at them this week and then we'll pick the best 22 that we think can get the job done. We look forward to getting up there and getting stuck in."