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  • Podcast: 2021 Season Review  

  • Podcast: 2021 Season Review  

TAMING THE LIONS by George On The Outer


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With nine finals debutants in the side, the Melbourne Football Club had a daunting assignment ahead of it in the First Qualifying Final — to overcome the competition’s highest scoring side, the Brisbane Lions. In the end, the Demons accomplished the task by putting the bite on their opponents on their way to taming the Lions and recording a 33 point win that propelled them into one the two Preliminary Finals of 2021.
 
It was one of those debutants, Luke Jackson, who put the bite in more than most, losing a tooth but still showing why he took out the AFL’s Rising Star Award for the year.
 
Once again, this being a 1 v 4 game in finals, it was expected to be a tight contest with skilled players showing their wares on both sides. The first quarter was a classic shoot out, which probably suited Brisbane’s style of play with nine goals recorded between the two teams. At the end of the term, Melbourne led by just over a goal, but even at this early stage it was obvious it was going to be a “knock them down, drag them out” type of affair.
 
Early on, the backs had their hands full with Charlie Cameron, who posted three majors in that first quarter, and shuffling of defenders was needed, but it failed to stop his early influence. They were helped when Daniel McStay left the field early with concussion after collision with a team mate. Through Jake Lever and Harry Petty they started to gain the upper hand late, while Steven May held Joe Daniher out of the game, and in the end limited him to a single paltry behind for the night, the first time this year that he failed to score a major.
 
The forwards were kicking goals themselves but they also had the dual job of trying to limit Daniel Rich and his lethal kicking and make adjustments to quell his influence. Around the ground the Demons were starting to find their mojo as their ever-reliable systems fell into place.  The small snippets of control evident in the first quarter, bloomed in the second when the Demons piled on four goals to one. The only downside was that the set shot kicking continued to fall below par with Jackson, Tom McDonald and Ed Langdon missing shots at goal. Christian Petracca likewise, but from snaps that he also would have normally made. Six of the Demons ten scores were behinds, and the game could have been all over if just a few of them hit their mark.
 
Still despite that five goal lead at half-time, the problem areas remained with Cameron still elusive, lucky to not score a major and Rich still roaming freely. Would it cost the team come the final stanza? But with Max Gawn starting to grind McInerney down in the ruck, Jackson also providing drive from the contests and the Lions missing an effective second string in the ruck, the Lions had a struggle ahead of them.
 
The third quarter turned into a typical finals slog that saw only two goals scored, both to the Lions. Once again, Cameron got free to record another major, while Brisbane adopted the chip and kick game method to try to break down the Melbourne defensive systems. This was their style in those high scoring games and it certainly denied the Demons the ball, but would it work to win the game?
 
With the lead whittled down to 19 points at the last break, Melbourne of all teams knew that a deficit of that magnitude could be overcome easily in 30 minutes of football. Had the stage been set for another nail biting finish?
 
Bayley Fritsch starting proceedings by putting the Demons further ahead early on, but the Lions manufactured a reply from McCarthy. Fritsch chimed In again with a contested mark that he had no right to take, from which he duly converted but Brisbane wasn’t done and Cameron was paid a free to score his fifth. In the heat of the battle, there were some important contributions at the right time. Trent Rivers had two critical intercepts on the half-back line which denied Brisbane further chances, and then to shut down the Lions’ momentum, Petracca finished it off with a couple of majors to put Melbourne five goals up with only minutes to play. In the game’s dying minutes, the Demons had the luxury of an all-star bench comprising Gawn, Oliver, Petracca and May.
 
It was a game of the Melbourne Brand working at its ruthless best. There was not a single player all around the ground who didn’t put in a play his role when required. This is what finals football is all about, the weak links get found out and the margins for error are small.  
 
The backs were challenged again and again, and held up. Jake Bowey and Rivers looked like they had played in 10 finals series not their first.  Importantly, the defence only allowed the Lions 5 goals after ¼ time.  The Lever and May combination once again took the oppositions forward thrusts apart, Lever with 15 intercepts, while Rivers had 11 to his name.  May just kept Daniher away from the ball the whole game, and allowed the others to do their thing.  
 
The forwards while adopting different methods during the game, put sufficient score on the board when needed, but the set-shot kicking will leave the door open for the opposition at the big dance.  
 
The mids were enormous, none more so than Oliver who has changed his attacking mode in recent weeks, and is kicking goals and delivering more into the forward line than has been seen before. Petracca similarly, is taking his chances in front of goal, and it provides another avenue for the side to score.  
 
The wingers in Angus Brayshaw and Langdon also took their opponents apart. McCluggage and Robinson got plenty of touches, but simply weren’t effective.  It isn’t all about offensive statistics, but for this important position, it is equally the defensive. How many times did we see this pair taking the ball away from deep in the opposition’s forward line, or simply being there as an outlet option? Langdon’s incredible running ability is even more remarkable, in that he didn’t come off the ground for the whole game, something usually reserved for deep defenders.
 
Well the Demons have now progressed to the Preliminary Final stage.  With a well deserved rest, it will enable the bodies to recover, but as we have seen with Darren Burgess in control, they will not be any less ready for the challenge.  The coaching and selection committee have an unenviable task with the likes of Nathan Jones, James Jordon, Jake Melksham, Jayden Hunt others all fit and ready to play a role.  
 
In what promises to be an exciting game for long suffering Melbourne supporters, especially for those locked down on the other side of the country, they are expecting a far better outcome than the most recent Preliminary Final result in WA in 2018.
 
This is a different Melbourne to every side that has represented the club since its last Premiership.  It plays a different game, it is prepared and executes in a different way.  It is coached to perform and produce a style of football which is finals successful.  
 
This is no tame side. It has real bite.
 
MELBOURNE 5.4.34 9.10.64 9.12.66 13.15.93
 
BRISBANE LIONS 4.2.26 5.4.34 7.5.47 9.6.60
 
GOALS
 
Melbourne Fritsch 4 Petracca Pickett 2 Brown Langdon Oliver Spargo Sparrow
 
Brisbane Lions Cameron 5 Bailey Berry McCarthy McCluggage
 
BEST
 
Melbourne Oliver Petracca Lever Viney Fritsch Neal-Bullen Gawn
 
Brisbane Lions Neale Cameron Rich McCluggage Coleman Bailey
 
INJURIES
 
Melbourne Nil
 
Brisbane Lions D. McStay (concussion)
 
REPORTS
 
Melbourne Nil
 
Brisbane Lions Nil
 
SUBSTITUTES
 
Melbourne J. Jordon (unused)
 
Brisbane Lions R. Mathieson (replaced D. McStay)
 
UMPIRES Chris Donlon Ray Chamberlain Craig Fleer
 
OFFICIAL CROWD 13,784 lucky people at the Adelaide Oval
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