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OUR GRAND OLD FLAG by George On The Outer


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When an AFL Grand Final approaches, supporters look for omens to help them foresee how their team will fare in the contest.
 
Melbourne supporters were, until just before Saturday’s opening bounce, the best in the business at looking for positives to give them hope and direction - a natural feeling after 57 years in the wilderness. So when the Bulldogs’ streamers kept slipping from the handle of the Premiership Cup as Glen Jackovich delivered it to Optus Stadium, they wondered whether it would it prove to be something of a portent?
 
This was a Melbourne side that had steamrolled through the 2021 season. Like the Western Bulldogs, they were constantly in the top 4 or 5 teams, so this promised to be a match of two equals. This was to be a match up between the two best sides of the season, especially given that both had comprehensively demolished their opposition in the Preliminary Finals.  
 
The opening quarter proved to be everything that was promised. The Demons came out firing, having settled early and concentrated on winning the football and using it well. Heavy hits from Steven May and Christian Salem sent the message to the team and the opposition that Melbourne was serious and not suffering any stage fright. With 60,000 screaming spectators in a vast Colosseum the atmosphere was electric, and for a side with 8 or 9 players under 21 years of age (a couple had played only a handful of games) this message sent by the leaders of the club was critical.  
 
The Bulldogs faltered against the early Melbourne onslaught, and found themselves three goals down at the first change. The Demon fans were feeling a little less anxious but with four goals from nine shots at goal, they were aware from experience how costly such inaccuracy could prove to be at the end of the day.  
 
The second quarter saw a complete change in momentum over the game. The Bulldogs responded with a few positional changes and, led by Treloar and Bontempelli, they started to get their hands on the ball. Suddenly, things weren’t going the way of the Demons and even the goal umpire adjudged a Max Gawn major to have gone to the other side of the post. The Bulldogs piled on six goals and, at the major break they led the game by eight points.  
 
The Doggies’ momentum continued after a miss from Bayley Fritsch, with the first two majors of the second half coming courtesy of Johannisen and Bontempelli. With a lead of 19 points mid-way through the “Premiership Quarter”, the Bulldogs appeared headed for a second flag in five years. But anyone who thought that way hadn’t taken into account the resilience of this Melbourne side and its capacity to overcome adversity as it has in similar situations through the year.
 
Angus Brayshaw was throwing himself at contests to firstly deny almost certain Bulldogs’ goals. In the middle, Luke Jackson suddenly blew away his opposition ruck division, already softened up by Max Gawn. When Christian Petracca, Clayton Oliver and Jack Viney started to get the ball forward, Bayley Fritsch made full use of the opportunity and put through two majors in the space of 30 seconds. Ben Brown duly followed with Brayshaw again throwing everything he had to mark the ball and then goal to put the Demons in front. Petracca then followed up with an audacious dribbling kick from the boundary and the Demons had stamped their authority on the game with a seven goal quarter. Suddenly, they were ahead by four goals with a quarter of football left for the year.
 
The game was by no means over. After all, the Demons held a similar lead at the first break but what many didn’t know was the extent to which this 17 minute patch of excellence had demoralized the Bulldogs. A fair measure of the credit needs to go to the Melbourne fitness staff. The Demons remained full of run, while Bulldogs players who had dominated in the first half, simply were unsighted in the second.
 
What followed was a rout of the opposition with the previously inaccurate Demons putting through and incredible 9 goals 3 behinds in the final quarter. They must have been thinking about their fans back home and also helping to cure the fear of failure they had developed over the years, by taking away any hint of anxiety about the result long before the final bell.
 
And so, the 2021 Season culminated in the end of the drought and a long sought-after Melbourne Premiership.  Christian Petracca was awarded the Norm Smith Medal as best on ground, and Simon Goodwin and Max Gawn lifted the Premiership Cup to the accolades of the crowd. By this time, the Bulldogs streamers had truly fallen away leaving only the red and navy blue colours draped over its handles.
 
There are and will be many stories to tell, and much more to tell of the credits due to individual players. Not for this space since it could lead to a War and Peace type production, and in any case I need to head back to the replay to enjoy this again and again. For the first time ever, Melbourne supporters have full colour video vision of their side winning a Premiership to be enjoyed forever. The grand old flag is flying again.
 
MELBOURNE 4.5.29 5.9.39 12.11.83 21.14.140
 
WESTERN BULLDOGS 1.2.8 7.5.47 9.5.59 10.6.66
 
GOALS
 
Melbourne Fritsch 6 Brown 3 McDonald Petracca 2 Brayshaw Jackson Langdon Neal-Bullen Oliver Salem Spargo Sparrow
 
Western Bulldogs Bontempelli Treloar 3 Hunter Johannisen Naughton R Smith
 
BEST
 
Melbourne Petracca Fritsch Oliver Brayshaw Salem Gawn Jackson
 
Western Bulldogs Bontempelli Daniel B Smith Treloar Macrae, Liberatore Dale
 
INJURIES
 
Melbourne Nil
 
Western Bulldogs Nil
 
REPORTS
 
Melbourne Nil
 
Western Bulldogs Nil
 
SUBSTITUTES
 
Melbourne J Jordon (unused)
 
Western Bulldogs L. Vandermeer (unused)
 
UMPIRES Jacob Mollison Matt Stevic Brett Rosebury
 
Official Crowd 61,118 at Optus Stadium
 
NORM SMITH MEDAL VOTING
 
15. Christian Petracca (Melbourne) - 33333
10. Bayley Fritsch (Melbourne) - 22222
3. Clayton Oliver (Melbourne) - 111 1. Christian Salem (Melbourne) - 1
1. Caleb Daniel (Western Bulldogs) - 1
 
Voting
 
Luke Hodge (Chair) – C Petracca, B Fritsch, C Oliver
Harry Taylor – C Petracca, B Fritsch, C Salem
Tania Armstrong – C Petracca, B Fritsch, C Oliver
Andrew Krakouer – C Petracca, B Fritsch, C Daniel
Callum Twomey – C Petracca, B Fritsch, C Oliver
 
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