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THE ICING ON THE QUAKE by Whispering Jack


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It’s not Christmas yet but if the Melbourne wins its last game of the 2021 season, then many of its fans will be celebrating early. There already are some parts of our town where the pending festivity is preordained. Houses are decked out with red and blue banners and streamers, some of which appeared as early as last Saturday week, on the morning after the Demons’ magnificent 83-point crushing of Geelong in their preliminary final at Optus Stadium.

While it’s great to see the numbers of loyal fans preparing for the long-awaited day of rejoicing, let’s please not get ahead of ourselves.

I was actually relieved when the Western Bulldogs slaughtered Port Adelaide on the night after the Demons’ victory over the Cats. That outcome was exactly what was needed to prevent complacency from setting in during the two week hiatus before the grand final.

Those who were around in 1964 in the lead up to Melbourne’s last flag would remember the Demons handing out an 89-point thrashing to the Magpies a fortnight before the big dance. However, two weeks later they were staring defeat in the face against the same opponents with minutes to go in the decider. Thankfully, they managed to prevail enabling us to live for 57 years on the memory of a back pocket player following his opponent down the ground to score the deciding goal in the premiership match. So much for being overconfident in the last half of September. But we also lived with the Norm Smith Curse.

Some experts are saying that the Bulldogs are better prepared for the task this weekend because they’ve had a strong grounding under weekly finals pressure, doing it the hard way having to win three games around a heavy schedule of cross country travel. The Demons, on the other hand, disposed of the Lions early, had a week’s break followed by an easy game against the Cats. They come into the most important game of the season with only one game in four weeks under their belt. True, but that’s no different to the scenario in 1964 when they last held the premiership cup aloft and not too dissimilar with the situation of many past premiership teams.

There’s a lot more history to unpack there, going back a decade earlier when the Bulldogs won their first premiership over the Demons in 1954. Back then, the Doggies made it into the grand final the easy way with just the one win in a month but that didn’t stop them from tasting premiership glory with a runaway victory over Melbourne.

I labour over this point because much as I look at this game, I see two competing teams that are reasonably evenly matched and well coached with arguments in favour of either one of them to win the game. But if one factor makes me lean towards the Demons, despite their lack of actual recent match play, it’s their fitness both physically and mentally that ranks it ahead of all comers in 2021, including the Bulldogs.

The Demons have managed to go through the season relatively unscathed on the injury front and generally has run out their games without difficulty or stress. This is a tribute to high performance coach, fitness guru Darren Burgess. Melbourne wingman Angus Brayshaw explained it well recently when he said, “We trained harder than any other team in the pre-season. I have never run as far in any pre-season as I did this year”. Burgess has the team perfectly primed for this week. He’s left no stone unturned to have them prepared, even allowing for the fact that there’s been a hiatus between games. The team is right to go.

The edge in fitness has been evident on numerous occasions this year, particularly in big games when the chips were down. And when you know that you have the edge in fitness, then with it comes the all-important mental edge.

The Doggies might claim the upper hand because they prevailed when the teams last met on a soggy evening at the MCG but at Optus Stadium on Saturday night, things will be much different. The last game was played as a result of a late rescheduling and the Demons were just coming to the end of a flat point in their season. This time they’re primed and the weather report says conditions should be clear with an expected maximum temperature during the day of 24C. Perfect.

The Demons have something else going for them which can’t be underestimated and that is their defence. They are the toughest team to score against having conceded an average of just nine goals a game. Their defence is not simply comprised of the seven or eight in the team who take up positions in the back line but also of others from the midfield and forward line going back from time to time to lend a hand when needed. The team plays selfless football and its edge in fitness not only allows this to occur but also when its defensive pressure is applied throughout a game, the opponent will inevitably wilt.

It’s true that the Bulldogs have a great midfield led by Bontempelli, Macrae and Liberatore with added depth from Treloar, Dunkley and their new ”superman” in Bailey Smith but I believe that Melbourne is equal to the task with Clayton Oliver, Christian Petracca and Jack Viney backed up by the mobility of their giant ruckmen in Max Gawn and Luke Jackson who add an extra dimension to the midfield combination.

When the sides met in 2020, the Doggies had the edge in this part of the ground and had the ability to take control with their outside run. The result probably cost the Demons a finals berth. This time around, that advantage has been nullified by the mobile rucks, the form of Ed Langdon and Brayshaw on the wings, the running play of defensive flankers in Christian Salem, the young legs of Trent Rivers and Jake Bowey and the mosquito fleet of Kysaiah Pickett, Charlie Spargo and Alex Neal-Bullen.

The Demons must pay respect to the Bulldogs’ danger forward in Naughton and their even more dangerous small defensive dynamo in Caleb Daniel but overall, I expect Melbourne with it’s edge in fitness to, at long last, bring the premiership cup home to the MCG for their long-suffering faithful fans.

If the logic of what’s been written here isn’t enough to convince you, then consider the strange events that have been taking place back in the home of the Melbourne Football Club with a plague, an earthquake (epicentre in the snow country) and rioting in the streets — some are saying that the upheaval taking place bears proof to the fact that Norm Smith’s Curse is about to go up in flames and that come Saturday night it will have finally been lifted off our shoulders.

Melbourne to win by 19 points.

THE GAME

2021 AFL Grand Final: Melbourne v Western Bulldogs at Optus Stadium, Saturday, September 25, 2021 at 7.15 pm (AEST)

HEAD TO HEAD

Overall Melbourne 89 wins 1 draw Western Bulldogs 78 wins

At Optus Stadium Melbourne 0 wins Western Bulldogs 0 wins

Last Five Meetings Melbourne 2 wins Western Bulldogs 3 wins

The Coaches Goodwin 4 wins Beveridge 3wins

MEDIA

TV live and on demand on Kayo and live on the Seven Network and Foxtel. Check your local guides.

Radio - check your local guides.

THE LAST TIME THEY MET

Western Bulldogs 13.7.85 defeated Melbourne 9.11.65 at The MCG in Round 19, 2021

Leaving aside their preseason match, this was the second encounter for the season and this one was close for most of the game although, in the wet conditions, the Bulldogs held the upper hand for most of the game. In the end, the Demons came close but the Doggie’s accuracy in kicking for goal counted late in the game.

THE TEAMS

MELBOURNE

B: M. Hibberd 14 S. May 1 J. Lever 8
HB: T. Rivers 24 H. Petty 35 C. Salem 3
C:  A. Brayshaw 10 C. Petracca  5 E. Langdon 15
HF: A. Neal-Bullen 30 T. McDonald 25 T. Sparrow 32 
F: C. Spargo 9 B. Brown 50 B. Fritsch 31
Foll: M. Gawn 11 C. Oliver 13 J. Viney 7 
I/C: J. Bowey 17  J. Harmes 4 L. Jackson 6 K. Pickett 36 
Sub: J. Jordon 23 Emerg: K. Chandler 37 J. Hunt 29 J. Melksham 18

WESTERN BULLDOGS

B: E. Wood 10 A. Keath 42 B. Williams 34
HB: C. Daniel 35 Z. Cordy 12 B. Dale 31
C: B. Smith 6 T. Liberatore 21 L. Hunter 7
HF: C. Weightman 19 A. Naughton 33 A. Treloar 1
F: J. Schache 13 T. English 44 M. Hannan 29
Foll: S. Martin 8 J. Macrae 11 M. Bontempelli 4
IC: J.  Dunkley 5 T. Duryea 15 J. Johannisen 39 R. Smith 37
Sub: L. Vandermeer 23 Emerg: R. Gardner 43 E. Richards 20 A. Scott 28 

N: A. Keath C. Weightman

OUT: R. Gardner (omitted) L. Vandermeer (omitted)

Injury List: Grand Final

Jayden Hunt (ankle) — Test
Steven May (hamstring) — Test
Joel Smith (hamstring) — Test
Charlie Spargo (ankle) — Test
Marty Hore (knee) — Season
Aaron Nietschke (knee) — Season
Adam Tomlinson (knee) — Season

PreviewGF2021.png

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