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AND IT STARTS AGAIN ... by The Oracle

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Melbourne goes into the 2018 season full of the usual hope that fills up an coming teams that are starting to show maturity and it comes up against the perfect opponent to show its wares against in Sunday afternoon’s blockbuster at the MCG.

Aside from Richmond which by far exceeded everyone’s expectations in 2017 including its own, Geelong is a club that certainly surprised many with its third placed finish and a home and away record of 16 wins and 6 defeats that paved the way for a Preliminary Final appearance after beating the Swans in a Semi Final. They weren’t supposed to go that far but the Cats ended up a mere whisker away from a grand final and their fans are adamant that they could have gone all the way had they been given a chance.

But the Demons were the real coulda, woulda, shoulda team of the competition as they failed to put away some of the competition’s lowly sides and stumbled late when the opportunity was there to build on percentage lost in the last-round to Collingwood who had nothing to gain while Melbourne had everything to lose. The result was that they not only missed September action by a record 0.5 percentage but had to wait an agonising 24 hours to brood over their fate.

The team had a bad year with injury losing Jack Viney and others at the end and Max Gawn  and Jesse Hogan for half a season soon after the start but they had a place in the finals all but wrapped up halfway through the last quarter of the penultimate game of the season only to permit 45 minutes of game time to destroy the dream.

Along the way, there were a few missteps apart from the injury problems. The Demons were in the wars from day one with Bernie Vince reported in round 1 and Jordan Lewis copping three weeks and Jesse Hogan two in round 2 against Carlton. Clayton Oliver was involved in some uncomfortable on field incidents and then there was Tomas Bugg ...

In light of the above, the controversial cancellation of the pre season training camp and the PR fiasco that followed has the football world wondering whether the Demons are made of the right stuff to step into what is for them, the unfamiliar territory of finals football.

THE GAME

Melbourne v Geelong at the MCG on Sunday 26 March 2018 at 3.20pm

HEAD TO HEAD

Overall Melbourne 84 wins   Geelong 128 wins 2 draws
At MCG   Melbourne 51 wins Geelong 52 wins
The last five meetings   Melbourne 1 win Geelong 4 wins
The Coaches Goodwin 0 wins Scott 1 win    

MEDIA

TV -   Channel 7 and Fox Sports Live

RADIO - TBA

LAST TIME THEY MET Geelong 20.6.126 defeated Melbourne 13.19.97 at Etihad Stadium in Round 3, 2017

In what was a disastrous game for the Demons’ 2017 aspirations, Max Gawn tore his hamstring, the team dominated for much of the middle part of the game but bad kicking is bad football.

THE TEAMS

MELBOURNE  

B: Michael Hibberd, Jake Lever, Neville Jetta
HB: Jayden Hunt, Oscar McDonald, Nathan Jones
C: Bernie Vince, Jordan Lewis, Christian Salem
HF: Christian Petracca, Cam Pedersen, James Harmes
F: Bayley Fritsch, Jesse Hogan, Jeff Garlett
Foll: Max Gawn, Clayton Oliver, Alex Neal-Bullen
I/C: Jake Melksham, Mitch Hannan, Corey Maynard, Josh Wagner
Emg: Angus Brayshaw, Tom Bugg, Sam Frost, Dom Tyson

NEW: Bayley Fritsch (Casey Demons), Jake Lever (Adelaide)

GEELONG

B: Jake Kolodjashnij, Harry Taylor, Zach Tuohy
HB: Mark Blicavs, Tom Stewart, Jed Bus
C: Cam Guthrie, Joel Selwood, Mitch Duncan
HF: Cory Gregson, Esava Ratugolea, James Parsons
F: Daniel Menzel, Tom Hawkins, Brendan Parfitt
R: Zac Smith, Gary Ablett, Sam Menegola
I/C:  Lachie Fogarty, Zac Guthrie, Tim Kelly, Mark O’Connor
Emg: Charlie Constable, Jordan Cunico, Jordan Murdoch, Rhys Stanley

NEW: Lachie Fogarty (Western Jets), Tim Kelly (South Fremantle), Esava Ratugolea (Murray Bushrangers)

OUT OF THE SHADOWS by Whispering Jack 

The shadow of injuries to key players looms heavily over this game with the Cats missing one of the jewels of their midfield triumvirate in Paddy Dangerfield and coming in with underdone veteran Gary Ablett back for the first time since leaving the Suns while the Demons have been rocked by the news that Jack Viney and Tom McDonald will miss six-to-eight weeks and the surprise omission from the final team of Andrew Brayshaw and Dom Tyson.

This is however, not the time to dwell on injuries. We are on the cusp of a new season and this is the exact time of year for clubs not only to make statements about the year ahead but to stake their early claims for finals places. As Melbourne learned to their pain in 2017, every game and every quarter of football counts. The shortfall of two goals that cost it a place last year could just as easily have been made up in the opening quarter of its first game against St Kilda as it could in the last quarter against Collingwood in Round 23. And with that in mind, I’m tipping the Demons who have lived and breathed with this thought for the past six months. 

Even though pre season form is not necessarily a guide to anything much in particular, it was the way they impressed in their unbeaten two game JLT Community Series that sways my thinking. They outclassed North Melbourne and dominated St Kilda for all but a quarter but it was the way they did it, without relying on dominant individuals in any part of the ground that resonated with me. 

The fact that they had multiple goal kickers in both games and generally dominated the opposition midfields in a total team effort that is thematic of today’s game. It’s how the Tigers came out of the pack in the latter part of last year with their high pressure game that made the difference in the end. That is why losing a Viney or a T McDonald might be inconvenient in the short term but it won’t make a difference against Geelong.

The Cats are now heavily dependent on their midfield which was below par in the JLT series and without Dangerfield they look to be highly exposed. It would take a superhuman effort from G Ablett (the “G” standing for “Grandfather”) or a substantial amount of successful head ducking from Joel Selwood to get them across the line this week.

Sunday’s game is the first MCG clash between these teams since 2014. I can’t remember the last time Melbourne beat Geelong on their home ground but the time has come. It will happen in game one with Demons coming out of the shadows to win by 10 points.

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