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REDEMPTION by Whispering Jack

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Geelong is the ideal opponent for Melbourne to confront in its long-awaited return to finals football. The history of these teams goes back to the game’s very formative years. They were the first two clubs and the rivalry was fierce in the early days; inaugural members of the VFA and then the VFL, they developed rich histories in the last century and together, they took the game overseas in 1963. The Cats won the flag in that year, the Demons prevailed in the next and then it stopped for both of them. 

It was Geelong that recovered the first - they’ve won three flags and enjoyed regular finals appearances over the past dozen seasons. On Friday night, Melbourne will play its first and only final in that time span. 

The teams last met in a final in the 2005 Elimination Final, a spiteful game which Melbourne lost amid suffering a stack of injuries including a career-threatening facial injury to Jeff White sustained in a ruck duel when Geelong’s Steven King’s attempt to kick a ball out of mid-air ended with his errant boot striking the ruckman and breaking his jaw. The Cats went on to win by 55 points. The Demons have beaten them once in the interim - a surprise result in 2015 that heralded the long-awaited advent of another ruckman, Max Gawn, into the ranks of the leading lights of his craft.

The heartbreak of those contests and their closing moments has been well documented. In both encounters, Melbourne was generally superior in most facets of the game but suffered brief lapses that were pounced upon by a more efficient Geelong combination. The Demons were dominant in the inside 50s and in scoring shots but the Cats’ conversion rate was far superior. It’s hard to beat a team that kicks eight straight goals in a quarter to finish with a score of 16.4.100. 

Those results, and indeed almost the entire body of the club’s efforts against Geelong over these past dozen seasons has not only been humiliating but they reached their lowest ebb against this club in July, 2011 when they curled up their toes and lost by 186 points at Kardinia Park. 

To make the recovery complete, it would be fitting for the new Demons and another step towards redemption for the Melbourne Football Club to mark its return to finals football with an emphatic win over the Cats on Friday night. 

THE GAME

Melbourne v Geelong at the MCG on Friday 7 September 2018 at 7.50pm

HEAD TO HEAD

Overall Melbourne 84 wins Geelong 130 wins 2 draws

At the MCG Melbourne 51 wins Geelong 53 wins

The last five meetings Melbourne 1 win Geelong 4 wins 

The Coaches Goodwin 0 wins Scott 3 wins

MEDIA

TV - Channel 7 live at 7:30pm Fox Footy Channel live at 7:30pm

RADIO -  Triple M 3AW SEN ABC ABC Grandstand

LAST TIME THEY MET Geelong 16.4.100 defeated Melbourne 14.14.98 at GMHBA Stadium in Round 18, 2018

It was a game in which the Cats simply couldn’t do wrong in the second half. They didn’t miss a shot at the goals in the final term slotting in eight goals straight, enabling them to win after the siren.

THE TEAMS

MELBOURNE

B: Neville Jetta, Oscar McDonald, Jordan Lewis
HB: Christian Salem, Sam Frost, Michael Hibberd
C : Dom Tyson, Clayton Oliver, James Harmes
HF: Jake Melksham, Tom McDonald, Angus Brayshaw
F: Bayley Fritsch, Sam Weideman, Alex Neal-Bullen
Foll: Max Gawn, Nathan Jones, Jack Viney
I/C: Mitch Hannan, Christian Petracca, Charlie Spargo, Aaron vandenBerg
Emg: Jay Kennedy Harris, Jayden Hunt, Joel Smith, Tim Smith

In: Mitch Hannan, Jack Viney

Out: Jay Kennedy Harris (omitted) Kent (AC joint)

GEELONG

B: Jake Kolodjashnij, Lachie Henderson, Tom Stewart 
HB: Jed Bews, Harry Taylor, Zach Tuohy 
C : Mark Blicavs, Joel Selwood, Cameron Guthrie 
HF: Sam Menegola, Gary Ablett, Tim Kelly 
F: Daniel Menzel, Tom Hawkins, Jordan Murdoch 
Foll: Ryan Abbott, Patrick Dangerfield, Mitch Duncan 
I/C: Jack Henry  Mark O'Connor  Brandan Parfitt  Scott Selwood 
Emg: Lachie Fogarty, Quinton Narkle, Zac Smith, Jackson Thurlow 

No change

The last time the Cats played a “real” game of football rather than a practice match against witches hats was about four weeks ago when they lost to the Hawks at the MCG, the same venue at which they also narrowly went down to the Tigers a week earlier. With no hard match conditioning for more than a month and a poor record at the home of football, the question looms as to whether the club stand up to the pressure of finals football which most participants (and certainly Hawthorn after its qualifying final game v Richmond) will tell you, is more than a notch above that of any home and away game.

On the other hand, the Demons could not have had a better build up to its finals campaign with every game in the past month seeing a build up in pressure cooker football as it contested three vital must-win contests.

In every case, these were promoted as desperate and dangerous struggles against fellow finalists that generally lived up to their billing. The fact that two of those matches were played at the home of football with relatively strong crowd numbers and the other in the hostile environment of a place where the team had never played before, simply added to Melbourne’s cause.

In terms of preparation for the last month in September, the Demons have it all over the Cats and that is why, for their long-suffering players and fans, the team’s first finals appearance since 2006 holds no fears.

To top it all off, the Demons have fared much better than the Cats in team selection with the inclusions of Jack Viney and Mitch Hannan for the injured Dean Kent and omitted small man Jay Kennedy Harris marking a substantial improvement for the team which mauled the Greater Western Sydney Giants in their last start win.

It’s true that Geelong boasts an unchanged line up and has few injury worries - usually a good side for clubs going into a finals campaign - but in this instance, the absence of Rhys Stanley, who was so important in their most recent win over Melbourne in July at GMHBA Stadium, is a major blow to their fortunes. 

That’s because Stanley’s efforts in that match against All-Australian ruckman, Max Gawn when the two matched it blow for blow in the ruck contests and around the ground and even more so in those vital moments in the vital final term when the Demon big man was twice off the ground with the blood rule, were fundamental to Geelong’s dramatic come-from-behind victory. 

The Cats are now left with the inexperienced Ryan Abbot (average 27.3 hit outs per game) and the lightly used in the ruck Mark Blicavs to take on the game’s premier big man who uses such a good proportion of his average of 45.5 hitouts per game to such devastating effect in feeding a damaging midfield that plays strong pressure football and leads the AFL in contested possessions. The result is that I expect the Demon midfield to prevail even against their much vaunted and experienced Geelong counterparts.

This will in turn translate on the scoreboard for the club that has kicked more goals than any other side in the competition this season.

Moreover, their defence is much improved in terms of personnel than was the case at their last meeting when Michael Hibberd was a notable absentee and Sam Frost had yet to hit his current form high. The extra pressure of a stronger defensive unit should ensure that Jack Hawkins won’t embarrass them with anything like a seven goal straight performance and their other forwards will be kept under a tighter rein.

All of which adds up to a Melbourne win by 38 points.

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