Dees Bury Hoodoos & Become the New Gurus

October 17, 2021 by
Filed under: NSW Demons 

Grand Final – Melbourne V Western Bulldogs

(Even Norm Smith is Smiling)

Liam Chambers

First of all I’d like to thank the Melbourne Football Club for introducing me to a genuinely new experience; writing a report on a Grand Final. It’s a first for me but I’m very confident it won’t be the last. 

When Melbourne won their preliminary final against Geelong by 83 points, Demon fans had every right to be ecstatic. The echo of our defeat at the same stage three years ago faded and we finally dared to allow ourselves to dream the previously impossible dream. The “veil of negativity”, so long the bane of the club, began to slip and reveal a change in culture, a change in belief and a change in what it means to be part of a winning team.

The intervening two weeks saw Melbourne installed as the favourites to win and hold aloft their first Grand Final cup in fifty seven years. We were the sentimental favourites too; just as the Bulldogs were in 2016. Sentiment doesn’t win games though and the Dogs had firmly stamped their credentials as potential champions in the own prelim. They did it by demolishing Port Adelaide to the tune of 71 points, in front of an overwhelming partisan crowd, on the Power’s home turf.

With two such compelling victories, the commentators were predicting a close game on Grand Final day. Not many predicted a margin greater than 20 points for either side and most anticipated a win of two goals or less when the final siren sounded.

I was expecting a close game myself but most definitely a Melbourne victory. Ever since Max kicked the winner after the siren to secure the minor premiership, I’ve been convinced that this would be the Dees’ year. On the Friday before the game, the bookies were offering odds of 1.64 for a Melbourne win (close enough to 1964 for me). In numerology, the dates of the 1964 and 2021 final both add up to 3 (revered by the Greeks). Max Gawn made his debut in 2011 Round 11; this is his eleventh season as a player and he wears number 11. I don’t know much about numerology, but I’m sure Pythagoras would have barracked for the Dees.

Anyway, it was with this sense of destiny that I sat down to watch the final. As expected both sides started at a frenetic pace and both sides had their chances early on, but it was the Dees who looked the more likely to score first. It was fitting that two of the most consistent players all year would be involved in the opening goal. It was a case of one Christian to another with Salem placing the ball beautifully into Petracca’s path; the midfielder then scooped, turned and snapped from the 50m line. 

The second resulted from a impressive build up, starting with another great run by Ed Langdon, before culminating in a kick to Tom Sparrow who ran on and struck out towards goal where Bailey Fritsch was waiting to jump and mark the ball on the line.

Roarke Smith arrested the flow somewhat when he knocked the ball to the ground and collected it before running on and tapping in from the goal square.

The Dogs’ momentum was short lived though and a turnover from Bailey Williams was marked by a surprised Luke Jackson who didn’t hesitate in hand passing the ball to the perfectly placed Charlie Spargo. The small forward turned, coolly dropping the sherrin and casually dribbling it over the line.

The Demons were dominating and owning the game, forcing errors from the Bulldogs typified by James Harmes’ kick towards Bailey Fritsch who was running across to attempt a mark 25m from goal. He was beaten by the seemingly ill-fated Bailey Williams. However, the defender not only fumbled the mark but in doing so ensured that Fritsch caught the falling ball before spinning around to slot in his second goal.

Melbourne could not have asked for a better start but the Bulldogs didn’t get to the Final by shrugging their shoulders and muttering under their breath when their opponents were 20 points ahead. Luke Beveridge would have been rallying his troops to get out and strike quickly to take the wind out of the Dees’ sails.

They needed a great start to second term and they got it when Adam Treloar received a wayward ball from the pack in front of the goal square. Then he was able to execute the perfect snap to the get the Footscray faithful on their feet and cheering. Two minutes later and Treloar basically produced a carbon copy of his first goal to bring his side within 10 points of the Demons.

With less than five minutes gone in the second quarter, the Dogs had not only arrested Melbourne’s dominance but were playing the game on their own terms and the Dees were struggling to resist the turning tide. The subsequent centre bounce saw Marcus Bontempelli and Treloar combine to run the ball out of the middle, straight down the ground and deep inside 50 where Aaron Naughton collected the ground ball and kicked cleanly into the open goal.

It was back to a one goal game and the fans were being treated to a spectacle of the highest level.

The Demons were desperate to take some of the heat out of their opponents game and succeeded in slowing things down before launching their first offensive of the term. Luke Jackson took a superb mark from a Christian Salem kick and then spotted an opportunity from the middle of the ground. He launched a driving kick to inside 50 where the steady hands of Ben Brown plucked the ball out of the air. Brown took his usual measured run up before kicking perfectly from 30m out to restore the margin to 10 points.

When Max Gawn marked the ball in the pocket and kicked high through the posts, it appeared a Melbourne comeback was well and truly on the cards. The captain had every right to feel hard done by when the umpire ruled it a minor score. Not only that but the fact that the next run of play resulted in a Bontempelli goal only added insult to injury.

Suddenly nothing was going right for the Dees and when Lachie Hunter was awarded a free kick for an unfortunately technically correct high tackle, his ensuing set shot seemed to have a feeling of inevitability about it. With the seconds ticking down it appeared the teams would finish the first half only separated by a single point. However Bontempelli had other ideas, and his mark 25m in front of goal was easily converted, giving the Dogs all the momentum going into the break.

There’s a quote by the Irish writer Jonathon Swift. “I’ve always believed no matter how many shots I miss, I’m going to make the next one”

Things looked grim for the Demons at the start of the second half and for the first ten minutes, they didn’t get any less grim. However, at no time did I ever believe that we would not turn it around. I must admit though, to being surprised at the extent of the turnaround.

When Jason Johannisen grabbed the ball right on the line, it seemed that the Dogs had started the third quarter as they had finished the second. Johannisen’s confident conversion had the Melbourne fans feeling a tad edgy. The belief was there but faith was being tested. It was tested further when Marcus Bontempelli launched a high kick from 35m out that sailed above the middle of the uprights and stretched the Bulldogs’ lead to 19 points. Now the expectation was of a Western Bulldogs’ victory and a Norm Smith medal for their captain.

The Dees looked to be on the ropes and it seemed only a matter of time before the Dogs landed the blow that had pretenders out for the count. The symbolism of Caleb Daniel standing over a fallen Max Gawn evoked memories of the iconic Mohammed Ali standing over Sonny Liston. Game, set and match.

Then, seconds later, came the pivotal point of the match when the Demons began their comeback to end all comebacks (that’s been said more than once this season). Luke Jackson tapped the ball down from a throw in. Jack Viney got enough of the ball to push forward and ensure Bailey Smith was unable to connect cleanly as he ran through into the Dogs’ forward 50. James Harmes was able to pluck the loose ball from mid air and run on. Harmes’ kick towards the right of the goal was taken by Bailey Fritsch in a perfectly timed mark. Fritsch remained cool and focused to claim his hat trick for the night.

That was the catalyst and it fired up the Dees. The glimmer twins Oliver and Petracca sprang into action like demented duracell bunnies and the sherrin flew towards Fritsch again. This time he got a hand to it and turned in mid air taking the ball back on the bounce. Giving the Dogs’ defence no time to act, he ran on and tapped in another.

All doubt was extinguished in a frantic sixty seconds and the Dogs’ players were left stunned by the explosion.

Another centre bounce and Petracca again ran from the middle with the ball, leaving the Dogs in his wake. His massive kick seeking the big forward Ben Brown who duly marked the ball and held it aloft like Rafiki atop Pride Rock. His goal puts the Dees within a point of their rivals.

Angus Brayshaw has played his part all year; being solid on the wing. It’s a less glamorous role, as he admits himself, but he’s played it to perfection. When he dived for ball from a Jake Bowey kick, he demonstrated his skill and bravery as well as his love for the club. His subsequent set shot was never going to miss.

When I was watching the game in real time, I was aware that we scored three goals in quick succession. However, I thought it was over two to three minutes. When I watched the replay I was shocked that we were into the last minute of play and still no goal. Those three goals took a total of thirty one seconds of play to execute. Signed, sealed, delivered.

The first by Petracca initially looked lucky but apparently he scores those dribbling kicks in practice on a regular basis. Magnificent!

The second by Tom Sparrow was a mighty effort from 55m. The other Tom (McDonald) assisted by keeping Zaine Cordy busy on the goal line.

Then the trifecta was complete with Clayton Oliver’s streaming kick from 40m giving the Dees a four goal lead at three quarter time.

Melbourne had a 21 point lead at quarter break and the Dogs turned it around to lead by 7 points at half time. Could they do it again? The first minutes would prove crucial but there would be no canine renaissance this time.

Again Ben Brown took a crucial mark in front of goal and converted the set shot to notch up his third. The Dees had a 30 point lead and their momentum would now be very difficult to halt. Next Fritsch slotted number five to cement his place among the top all time Grand Final goal kickers.

After that it was just a goal fest for the Dees. Alex Neal-Bullen took a mark from another great run and kick involving Ed Langdon. It seemed like no Demon could miss. Langdon got one himself after taking a mark from Fritsch. Tom McDonald scored from 30m to add to the tally. The roaring crowd was ecstatic. Goals were coming from every direction.

The Bulldogs got one back when Adam Treloar, so instrumental in the second quarter fightback, snapped one in but it was all very hollow for the runners up.

Christian Salem scored almost as an after thought. He was in a position where it might go in so why not give it a go. Even with a lead of 55 points, the Dees weren’t slowing down. Luke Jackson, so brilliant in the ruck, marked the ball 40m out and kicked it comfortably through the big sticks. Bailey Fritsch got a sixth and Tom McDonald got another after the siren. It was almost surreal as the players began celebrating while T Mac was still lining up for his shot. He probably could have kicked it over his head and it would have still gone in.

Well, the drought is over. The curse is reversed. Every heart is beating true. The cup is coming home and will be staying with the red and the blue for a few more years.

Go the Mighty Dees!!!


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