WHEN Brian Walsh took over the reigns as Golden Square coach at the start of the 2001 BFL season expectations were high.The Bulldogs hadn’t won a flag since Walsh led the club to back-to-back wins in 1988-89.A strong off-season recruiting campaign netted 13 quality players meaning anything less than a grand final berth would be considered a failure.11 rounds into the season the Bulldogs were in strife. With four wins and five losses the Bulldogs were in danger of missing the finals.“We won our first couple of games that year, but after that we struggled for a while,” Walsh recalled this week.“We just didn’t gel as well as we thought we would.”Unimpressive wins against Maryborough and Castlemaine in rounds 12 and 13 sparked the Dogs into action.They won another five games on the trot to secure fourth spot on the ladder at the end of the home and away season.Winning flags from the elimination final is not achieved very often. In fact, no team since Golden Square in 2001 has won the premiership from fourth or fifth.Full of confidence after seven-straight wins, Square thrashed Eaglehawk in the elimination final by 49 points.The following week the Bulldogs scored a four-goal win over South Bendigo in the first semi-final.Most expected Square’s run to come to a grinding halt in the preliminary final against the Derrick Filo-coached Kangaroo Flat.Square led all day and the final margin of 13 points flattered the Roos.The last stop was the grand final against arch-rival Sandhurst.The Mark Ellis-coached Dragons were red-hot favourites to win the flag. They’d lost just two games for the season and were coming off a 10-goal thumping of Kangaroo Flat in the second semi-final.“Sandhurst were deserved favourites, but we were always confident we could beat them,” Walsh said.“(In the finals) we were a different side. There was a lot of confidence in the group that we could win the whole thing.”Win the whole thing they did as the Bulldogs held off a determined Sandhurst in a thrilling grand final.The Bulldogs jumped the Dragons early kicking four of the first five goals.Sandhurst steadied and looked the stronger side going into the final quarter.Down by one point early in the last quarter, the Dragons started to celebrate a shot for goal from Tony Graham but the ball faded late and hit the post.That was as close as Sandhurst got to the Bulldogs.Consecutive goals to Marty O’Rielly, Dillon Anderson and Andy Freemantle secured Square’s first premiership in 12 years.“I still believe that’s the best premiership I coached,” Walsh said.“To come from the elimination final and win it was a massive effort.“And to think we nearly didn’t make the finals makes it even better.”The Bulldogs had a number of heroes.O’Rielly dominated on his wing and was a deserved winner of the Nalder Medal.Centreman Gary Learmonth was outstanding throughout the finals, while rookie ruckman Brad McCormick and defender Mark Billings played key roles in the grand final.Centre half-back Greg Cox and Sandhurst star Ben Sexton were involved in an enthralling duel.Sexton took a dozen marks, kicked two goals and won the VCFL Medal, while Cox used his footy smarts to zone off Sexton and constantly deny the Dragons when they went inside forward 50.Cox’s influence on the game in the tense final quarter was particularly significant.“Ben (Sexton) played really well, but most of his marks were up on the wing, so he wasn’t hurting us on the scoreboard,” Walsh said.“Coxy took mark after mark in the last quarter. He was brilliant.”Midfielder Christian Carter did a sterling tagging job on Sandhurst rover Chris Giri.Eight years later Carter captained Golden Square to the 2009 premiership and he remains the only player from the 2001 side that still plays for the Bulldogs. Forward Andrew Reid kicked four goals in the grand final.Reid hurt his hamstring at work on the Tuesday before the grand final and had to pass a fitness test on match day before being cleared to play.Square skipper Paul Frew raised the Bendigo Advertiser Cup just six days after polling the most votes in the Michelsen Medal.Frew polled 22 votes, but was ineligible to win the medal because he had been suspended.It would have been Frew’s second Michelsen Medal victory.Maryborough’s Jamie Bond polled 16 votes, but he was also ineligible because of suspension.Castlemaine’s Paul Eyles and Eaglehawk’s Lucas Matthews were declared joint winners with 14 votes.