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MATHEMATICAL POSSIBILITY by Whispering Jack

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For well over a decade, Melbourne fans have been sitting back at various times during the football season (more often than not in the early parts), contemplating the AFL ladder and pondering on the mathematical possibilities available to their team of making the finals or winning the premiership. Rarely have they been equally or better placed than the others except when this particular event was taking place at the very beginning of the year or possibly after a the opening round of the season. 

This week, at long last, things are different. 

When Preliminary Finals week comes around, there are four teams left in the contest for the premiership flag. All four of them face a task which only one of them can successfully achieve and that is to win both remaining games. The mathematics are simple - each club has a 25% chance of making it to the Holy Grail. Nothing could be more simple than that, could it?

Except that in Melbourne’s case, it has to win its first contest outside of its home territory. That being the case, while Richmond, Collingwood and West Coast players will be waking up in their own beds on the morning of their game (well, hopefully), the Melbourne team will be waking in some hotel room after having flown a distance of approximately 2,722.36 kilometres from their home town to play in front of a crowd made up of mainly rabidly hostile natives.

The prospect would be a daunting one but for another interesting mathematical equation. In past years, an out-of-town trip to anywhere else in the country spelled doom and gloom for Melbourne and the loyal fans who traveled with the side. Interstate wins were as rare as hen’s teeth. In real terms, the mathematical possibility was as close to zero as you could possibly get.

But not this team and not this year. 

The Demons have played seven home and away games - almost a third of the season - outside of their home State and won all but one of those contests (and you could mount a strong argument to say that even the Port Adelaide game was a victory of sorts in every aspect except on the Adelaide Oval scoreboard) which gives you a very healthy 85.7% win/loss ratio. In those games, it was Melbourne that dominated most of the statistical data such as clearances, contested football, inside 50 entries and shots at goal*. 

To emphasize the point, you only have to look back a little over a month to Round 22 when the Eagles and Demons clashed at Optus Stadium in which the visitors prevailed by 17 points to understand that the idea of traveling across the continent holds little fear for the Melbourne of 2018 which has an away record that is the envy of all others in the competition.

Not even the Tigers who are everybody’s favourite at very strong mathematical odds to win this year’s flag, can boast a victory against this team at this venue this year. Indeed, they had to wait until Round 21 against the ailing Suns at Metricon Stadium to record their only interstate win of the season.  

The fight for the flag is an even money proposition and Melbourne’s mathematical odds are as good as those of anybody else left in the race.

THE GAME

West Coast v Melbourne at Optus Stadium Saturday 22 September 2018 at 3.20pm.

HEAD TO HEAD

Overall West Coast 33 wins Melbourne 17 wins

At Optus Stadium West Coast 0 wins Melbourne 1 win

Past five meetings West Coast 3 wins Melbourne 2 wins

The Coaches Simpson 0 wins Goodwin 2 wins

MEDIA

TV - Channel 7, Fox Footy Channel, Live at 2.30pm

RADIO - Triple M SEN 3AW ABC ABC Grandstand

THE LAST TIME THEY MET

Melbourne 16.12.108 defeated West Coast 14.7.91 in Round 22, 2018 at Optus Stadium

The Eagles were reeling at the time, having recently lost Nick Naitanui and the Andrew Gaff incident was still very fresh in the mind. They were also without Josh Kennedy and their other tall marking forward, Jack Darling, was out off the game with concussion after only ten minutes. As a consequence of the Demons taking full advantage of the situation, they were four goals in front in the blink of an eye. With the home crowd behind it but not as much noise of affirmation as usual, West Coast gradually fought its way back into the contest and momentarily took the lead by a point in the final term before Melbourne showed its mettle and kicked the game’s last three goals. 

THE TEAMS  

WEST COAST EAGLES 

B: Shannon Hurn, Tom Barrass, Will Schofield 
HB: Thomas Cole, Jeremy McGovern, Lewis Jetta 
😄 Dom Sheed, Luke Shuey, Chris Masten 
HF: Mark LeCras, Jack Darling, Mark Hutchings 
F: Willie Rioli, Josh J. Kennedy, Jamie Cripps 
Foll: Scott Lycett, Elliot Yeo, Jack Redden 
I/C: Liam Duggan, Liam Ryan, Nathan Vardy, Daniel Venables  
Emg: Brayden Ainsworth, Brendon Ah Chee, Oscar Allen, Jackson Nelson  

In: Will Schofield

Out: Brad Sheppard (hamstring)

MELBOURNE 

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

In: Joel Smith 

Out: Bayley Fritsch (omitted)

Melbourne dropped a bombshell at selection when it omitted first year player Bayley Fritsch who has surprised all and sundry with an excellent debut season in which he filled a number of roles for the team. One has to feel sorry for the kid but he will have lots of opportunities in the future and, of course, can’t be ruled out of a place if the Demons make it to this year’s Grand Final. 

However, the fact that the selectors have taken the ballsy option of making a decision that is considered controversial and risky is the very thing that sets the Melbourne of 2018 apart from the Melbourne of past days. 

These days, the Demons stand tall; they are prepared to take the game and any opponent on with their high risk, boisterous, crisis style of play. It’s a feature that was evident earlier in the season and has only solidified in later days. When they last traveled across the Nullarbor, they did so knowing that their place in the finals was not yet booked and that in order to make it, they needed to achieve something they hadn’t done all season - beat a top eight side. 

In the case of the Eagles that meant winning in unfamiliar territory in a noisy cauldron with 50,000 hostile fans willing them on to their doom. That they came out of the game with a stirring victory achieved after fighting back when the Eagles took the lead for the first time in the last ten minutes of the game and then have backed that effort up against top eight sides another three times speaks volumes. 

In physical and mental terms the achievements that have led them here is already far in excess of the mathematical distance of approximately 2,722.36 kilometres that the players have traveled to get to Saturday night’s game. In terms of development of the team over the past five years, its more akin to traveling in space at the speed of light and a foreign ground, the noise of affirmation, the return to the opposition of their twin towers are all powerless to stop this team’s forward surge.

Melbourne by 27 points.

* the Adelaide game was an exception by one inside 50 and a few shots at goal due to a late flurry in the wet but the Demons were the stronger side on the night.

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