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ON THE ROAD AGAIN by Whispering Jack

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The highway to Geelong has long been a well travelled road for Victorians, used for a variety of purposes ranging from trade, commerce and industry, education, leisure and entertainment. One could include sport as part of the last category but, for fans of the Melbourne Football Club, trips down that road have rarely reached any definition of the word "entertainment". Rather, they have often been equated with horror stories ending in long, silent and forlorn wintertime trips back to the city and home.

Those days are over now with the Demons on the cusp of their first finals appearance in a dozen seasons. That's not to say the flakey up and down Cats will be easy meat on their home turf this week at GMHBA Stadium but they are now better rounded, more experienced and are traveling the road to Sleepy Hollow on a mission.

Melbourne has been bruised many times at this venue in the past. Even as its teams were on the improve and coming out of their dark times, they would sometimes get ahead of themselves and falter. When they last ventured down that highway, in Round 23, 2016, they were massacred by 111 points only weeks after beating the then reigning premiers Hawthorn. 

The Demons are therefore well aware as they journey on the road again that they will definitely  have to leave at home the accolades and adulation they have been receiving as a result of that blistering third quarter against the Western Bulldogs with its highlights reel  on constant rotation of big Max slapping the ball down to his young midfielders toying with Doggie on ballers and spearing the ball forward at will. Such moments are rare in football.

They have fallen for the hype on one or two occasions already this year but this time they know they have to focus on Geelong, its strong midfield and defence, the narrow ground and on overcoming the advantage a feral home crowd gives to the Cats and to be able to play their game on their terms.

I'm confident Melbourne can do this. The players are demonstrating a strong belief in each other and trust in themselves. These are elements that make a team capable of taking on the big challenges ahead of them, the first of which they face on Saturday night at the end of the highway.

THE GAME
 
Geelong v Melbourne at GMHBA Stadium on Saturday 21 March 2018 at 7.25pm
 
HEAD TO HEAD
 
Overall Geelong 129 wins Melbourne 84 wins 2 draws

At  GMHBA Stadium Geelong 38 wins Melbourne 18 wins 1 draw

The last five meetings Geelong 4 wins Melbourne 1 win

The Coaches Scott 2 wins Goodwin 0 wins
 
MEDIA
 
TV - Channel 7 live at 7:00pm Fox Footy Channel live at 7:20pm

RADIO -  Triple M 3AW ABC ABC Grandstand
 
LAST TIME THEY MET Geelong 14.13.97 defeated Melbourne 13.16.94 at the MCG in Round 1, 2018

The game will best be remembered for that missed shot at goal by Max Gawn in its last minute but the Demons lost it in the last ten minutes of the second quarter when they let four goals slip past to give the Cats a stranglehold on the game.
 
THE TEAMS

GEELONG
 

B: Tom Stewart, Jake Kolodjashnij, Zach Tuohy 
HB: Cameron Guthrie, Lachie Henderson, Jack Henry 
😄 Mark Blicavs, Joel Selwood, Scott Selwood 
HF: Sam Menegola, Gary Ablett, Brandan Parfitt 
F: Quinton Narkle, Tom Hawkins, Daniel Menzel 
Foll: Rhys Stanley, Patrick Dangerfield, Mitch Duncan 
I/C: Jed Bews, Jordan Cunico, Jamaine Jones, Tim Kelly 
Emg: Ryan Abbott, Jordan Murdoch, Sam Simpson, Jackson Thurlow 

In: Jordan Cunico, Lachie Henderson

Out: Wylie Buzza (omitted), Sam Simpson (omitted)

MELBOURNE

B: James Harmes, Sam Frost, Neville Jetta 
HB: Christian Salem, Oscar McDonald, Jordan Lewis 
😄 Dom Tyson, Clayton Oliver, Nathan Jones 
HF: Jake Melksham, Jesse Hogan, Bayley Fritsch 
F: Jeff Garlett, Tom McDonald, Charlie Spargo 
Foll: Max Gawn, Angus Brayshaw, Bernie Vince 
I/C: Jay Kennedy Harris, Alex Neal-Bullen, Christian Petracca, Joel Smith 
Emg: Oskar Baker Cameron Pedersen Josh Wagner Sam Weideman

In: Joel Smith, Dom Tyson 

Out: Mitch Hannan (jarred knee), Michael Hibberd (quad) 

There’s been a lot written and spoken about the inconsistency of the Cats in recent times but the reality is that they have recorded just one victory since their last game at GMHBA Stadium when they beat North there in Round 12. That one win was against the Swans in Sydney and might appear to have been impressive but given the question marks about that club, one wonders. Geelong has dropped games in the past couple of months to clubs out of the top eight in Essendon, the Western Bulldogs and Adelaide and it wasn’t all that long ago (Round 10) that a late surge saved them them from football’s ultimate humiliation in 2018 - a home defeat at the hands of a woefully inaccurate Carlton.

By comparison, it could be said that the Demons seem to have shed their three game mid season slump after recording consecutive wins in impressive style against albeit weaker opponents (noting that two of the losses during that “slump” were by less than two goals in games that were controversial for some of the umpiring decisions that went against them). All that said, the questions confronting Melbourne are whether it is capable of claiming a big “scalp” and whether its recent uptick in injuries will hurt the club in the tough lead up to the finals.

In assessing this game, the midfield battles will - as they always are these days - be crucial. The Demons have the competition’s outstanding ruckman and a young emerging midfield while the Cats have those seasoned campaigners in their engine room. Clearly, the winner in that contest is the one most likely to take the spoils.

And then there is also the battle between Melbourne’s attack which averages 105 points per game and is ranked first in the competition and the Cats’ defence which has conceded just 56 points on average from five matches at GMHBA Stadium although that figure includes games against the Blues, the Saints and GWS when the Giants were decimated by injury. 

For this game, much will depend on the key forwards. If one of Jesse Hogan, Tom McDonald or Tom Hawkins have a big night out, that could be decisive.

I think the Demon ship has been steadier and this, plus the team’s greater depth will get it home in the end for a narrow win on the road.

Melbourne by 8 points.

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