Matthew Boyd and Dale Morris were as thick as thieves during their AFL careers. Drafted only two years apart, the pair fought their way from the rookie to the Bulldogs’ senior list before finally enjoying some premiership success in 2016. In an exclusive column, Boyd pays tribute to his mate Moz, ahead of his 250th game this weekend.
Genuine, honest, tough and dour – they’re all words I would use to describe Dale Morris.
He’s hardworking and resilient. That comes across in his ability to play 250 AFL games after coming through the non-traditional pathway and facing some adversity through injury along the way.
He plays like an animal on the field but off it, he’s one of the nicer guys you’ll meet.
Moz is a reserved person but in my last couple of years at the Bulldogs, he actually became reasonably funny. He became a bit of a class clown and was behind many of the practical jokes around the club.
He ended up doing a segment in our team meetings called ‘Dale’s Desk’, which would highlight the funny things that come across “his desk” to improve the mood of the playing group.
I’m not sure where that came from – all of the sudden he was the funny guy instead of the dour defender we’d all come to know. It was a great revelation to all of us to see another side of Dale.
We found out he has a great sense of humour, which (unfortunately) just added to his already impeccable character and his down-to-earth, nice guy persona that everyone will attest to.
Our careers go back a long way. I’m sure we would’ve crossed paths in the VFL but, being a young person trying to forge my own AFL career, I had my head firmly up my own backside and didn’t realise the quality of the players I was playing against or with at the time.
As it turned out, we played a bit of footy together at VFL level. When he came down for a pre-season at the Bulldogs, he told me that he sent his own tape to the footy club, and to a few other clubs as well, because he just wanted to have a crack at it.
It didn’t take us long to realise he was a good guy to have around the place and it didn’t take him long to press his case for senior selection, either. Dale made his debut in Round 5, 2005 against Adelaide.
He played on Andrew McLeod that day, which was a huge ask for a debutant, and kept him to only eight touches! It set a precedent that he’s maintained throughout his entire career. One week, he’d play on Nick Riewoldt and the next week on Eddie Betts such is his versatility and value to the team. His teammates quickly dubbed him “The Glove” due to his ability to wrap himself around his opponent week-in, week-out.
On a personal level, Dale and I clicked straight away because we had common ground – we both came off the rookie list and had to fight for our spots so there was mutual respect immediately.
We grew up together, really. We were a little older by the time we started our careers but we became men together through the shared experiences of our 20s and 30s.
We both have young families now and began trading dad stories when we had kids.
That bond and respect grew through good times and the bad. Unfortunately for us (and Bulldog supporters), there were far more bad times early in our careers, which probably brought us even closer together. Luckily though, we got to taste the ultimate success in 2016 which has forged an even tighter bond.
Over the years, we’ve been mistaken for each other more and more. Dale never really minded but I started to get grumpy about it. I guess there are some similarities there, albeit my biceps are probably half the size of his!
It was baffling early, but over time I grew to appreciate the confusion. I suppose the fact we spent so much time together at the club over the years meant that he started to rub off on me in more ways than one and, through osmosis, he helped me to become a better person, leader and teammate.
When asked if there was anything strange or controversial about Moz, I was left scratching my head. He’s a bit of a clean-skin – just a down-to-earth, good guy who does just about everything right. The only weird thing about Moz is the fact he puts a knob of butter in his coffee and he doesn’t eat carbs, which is a bit odd! But if that’s as bad as it gets then he’s going alright, I reckon.
I’m sure if you asked him about me, he could tell you 1,000 things I did that were peculiar, particularly when it came to game day and my routine, but Moz had none of these. He was so calm and laid back that it was almost surprising how competitive he was when the game started. He would turn himself into a different person on the field because that’s what the team and his teammates needed from him.
He would become an impenetrable wall in defence and I’d almost feel sorry for the player he was playing on because, regardless of how the game panned out, it was going to be a long 120 minutes for whoever Dale stood next to.
I mentioned the injuries Moz has had to overcome and they’ve been significant. A broken leg in 2011 that kept him out of the game for the best part of 18 months, he ruptured a pec in 2015, played the entire 2016 finals series with a fractured vertebrae and he recently partially tore his ACL – and they’re only the ones we know about!
These aren’t small injuries. They could’ve easily derailed the career of someone less determined and resilient.
He’ll go down as one of the best defenders the Bulldogs have ever had and that’s purely based on his competitiveness and desire to do things for the team. His playing journey continues today not for his own career aspirations or to further his own reputation, but to help his young teammates and ensure they have success as a team.
That’s why I love him so much and that’s why his teammates do too.
With Dale, it’s the little things he does that not many on the sidelines or those outside the club would know. They’re things he does that makes his teammates better.
He protects them and that’s what has built his reputation among his teammates. A standout feature is his willingness to compete every single time he steps out onto the field.
It’s not the high marks or the spectacular goals – mainly because he hasn’t had many of those – it’s the constant collection of moments he puts together every week. He’s done that for 249 games now.
He might be a clean-skin off the field and play a somewhat dour role on it but I loved playing with him, and now watch on in awe as he continues his amazing, inspiring career. It’ll be a pleasure to watch him be the ultimate teammate for the 250th time on Sunday.