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ROUND 19 (-186) X TWO = THE HOLY GRAIL by Whispering Jack


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This is the story of two losses suffered by the Melbourne Football Club that were separated in time by a full decade. The first was a defeat that hung heavily over the club for years and saw careers and friendships ended, harsh words uttered, tears shed and the unfolding of tragedy. The coach was sacked and not long after, he died. A player became enmeshed in tribal affairs that led to violence and his imprisonment. Another’s life later ended in a devastating car crash. 

The wreckage from the club’s Round 19, 2011 trip to take on Geelong at Corio Bay became known simply as “186” in recognition of the magnitude of the loss in points. But it was far more extensive in terms of the scars it left on the club. Only a very few involved in that game managed to keep their careers intact after the train wreck. A number found refuge elsewhere but in most instances, the remainders of their careers were short-lived. 

Only a few managed to revive their careers. James Frawley played in a premiership at Hawthorn and after a brief retirement reappeared even more briefly at St Kilda, the club where his troubled uncle Danny made his name as one of football’s all-time great defenders. Two others played in grand finals and are still on AFL club lists. High flying Jeremy Howe who took flight for a better life at Collingwood was a matter of minutes away from the holy grail in 2018 and is still today the Magpies’ vice-captain. Stefan Martin was traded in 2012 to the Lions before moving to the Western Bulldogs at the end of last year. Ironically, he was the only 186 participant who took part in this year’s Grand Final at Optus Stadium in Perth. His ruck opponent that evening, Max Gawn, and Demons forward Tom McDonald were both youngsters in 2011 and missed out on making the senior team for Round 19 that year.

Gawn and McDonald made it to the Big Dance of 2021 but time ran out for two other members of the 2011 side who remained at the club through the lean years and the slow rise to glory that followed. So strong was the Demon team on the day/night that club legends in Nathan Jones and Neville Jetta who were instrumental in holding the team together over the years were denied the opportunity to cross over to the Promised Land. Both retired at the end of the season.

It’s ten years after 186 and now on to Round 19, 2021. There’s a game on at the MCG against the Western Bulldogs but it wasn’t originally supposed to happen that way - the pandemic caused a late change to the fixture and there was no long trip away from home as there had been in 2011.

The years in between saw rebuilding, development and renewal under new leadership. Peter Jackson, Paul Roos, Simon Goodwin and more lately Gary Pert and Kate Roffey led a revival built upon a change in the club’s culture and values. Vast empty stands and the evening’s drizzly skies awaited them that night. They weren’t quite in the right space yet and they kicked poorly to succumb to the Bulldogs and their skipper Marcus Bontempelli but there were lessons learned and the team never lost a game from that time on. In the following week, they traveled north but the game against the Gold Coast Suns was moved back to Melbourne. They flew back and forth across the country, avenged 186 on Corio Bay and eventually landed in Perth where they crushed the Cats again for good measure before fulfilling their quest for the Holy Grail.

 

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