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  1. The moment Bayley Fritsch slotted through his fifth goal after accepting a pass from Charlie Spargo early in the final quarter of the Grand Final, the result was a given. The Demons were six goals in front and the Bulldogs were spent; the drought was over. The game itself managed to roll on with goals coming seemingly on endless rotation and when it was stopped by the final siren (the mercy rule doesn’t apply in the AFL), the scoreboard had Melbourne in front by 74 points. The sun rose on the following morning with the day’s newspaper highlighting the new “immortals”. If not before, we understood then that it wasn’t all a dream and that Norm Smith’s curse finally was dead and buried. The Demons had won a premiership with a group that dominated through the winning of its own ball in the midfield. They were the best at it with a group filled with contested beasts led by Christian Petracca (ironically, the winner of the medal named after the man whose curse had just recently ended), Clayton Oliver, Jack Viney and more. They received silver service from their ruckmen, skipper Max Gawn and a young man who came of age in the sizzling last half of the third term, Luke Jackson. It’s all well and good to claim supremacy in the midfield but foundations for premierships are built on much more than that. If Melbourne had the best ball winners through the midfield, it also had a clinical defence led by impenetrable intercepting key defenders Jake Lever and Steven May aided by Adam Tomlinson early in the season and when he was injured by Harrison Petty and flanked by the elite kicking skills of Christian Salem and Trent Rivers and later Jake Bowey who, in effect, took the place of the unlucky Jayden Hunt. Up forward, the Demons had to make do with only one dominant key forward at a time, firstly Tom McDonald and more lately, Ben Brown but with Fritsch the constant, a strong mark and nimble of foot on the way to a 59-goal season. Their involvement in the forward line with medium to small forwards Kysaiah Pickett, Charlie Spargo and running machine Alex Neal-Bullen strangling opposition defences time and again with their immense forward pressure, the critical component of the club’s on-field success and not more so than in the finals and spectacularly, in the ultimate game of the season. By the time the breakthrough came and Fritsch kicked his rapid fire two goals on end at the 16 minute 34 second and 17:49 marks of the third to bring Melbourne right back in the game the Bulldogs were running on the spot, the Demons in twos and threes and covering more ground than the early settlers. Their superior fitness, the legacy of a long hard preseason and a sustained program put into place by departing fitness guru Darren Burgess, culminated in a 45-minute blitz that was never before seen in the ultimate game of a season. The Immortals 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 There was more … The scene was set in preseason with the list coming up in reasonably good health and opening the scratch match period positively with a narrow win over the Tigers at Casey Fields in late February. This was followed up with a loss to the Bulldogs with a below strength lineup at Marvel Stadium in the AAMI Community Series match but there was no need to panic (although some did). It was, after all, a practice match. Head Coach, Simon Goodwin had been building his team for a number of seasons. They nearly made it in 2018, slipped and fell in 2019 and by virtue of a plague that blunted their edge in fitness, they were ½ a game away from another assault last year. On every line Goodwin had great or at the very least highly competent skilled players but he was after something more. More hard work, greater fitness and a cohesive, selfless unit. There were many examples throughout the year, the most frequently cited being the move of Angus Brayshaw out of his natural position in the the centre to a new role on the wing. Together with Ed Langdon, they were the club’s ying and yang wingmen, important link players who plied their trade to devastating effect along the outside fringe areas of the field. Everyone had a role to play. In times of pandemic and caps on football club expenditure, Melbourne did well to augment its existing coaching support structure for Goodwin, already headed by General Manager of AFL Football Performance Alan Richardson, Backline and Forward coaches Troy Chaplin and Greg Stafford with former premiership coach Mark Williams as Head of Development and Adem Yze, the Midfield coach. Both were revelations. The Demons took the first steps into the 2021 season proper with a solid win over the visiting Dockers in Round 1 after leading all day and continued on their winning way against St Kilda and GWS. While not particularly convincingly, they took the points over an undermanned Geelong and finally shook off Hawthorn in a brilliant last term. Suddenly, they were sitting on a 5 - 0 winning streak (7 - 0 if you counted the last two games of 2020) but they still lacked credibility in the eyes of the football world. Along came a Saturday night contest at the home of football in front of a large crowd against the reigning premiers. After a slow start in drizzly conditions, they took hold of the reins and pressurised and suffocated the Tigers to a standstill. That night also marked Nathan Jones' 300th match and the battle-hardened veteran was able to hold his head high. The evening belonged to the midfield duo of Petracca and Oliver that had supplanted their former skipper in the midfield but the club faithful honoured the man who had led them through the wilderness to a point where they were ready to make the great leap forward into premiership contention. Sadly, the Demons’ captain of 2014–2019 and winner of three Keith 'Bluey' Truscott Medals would only play two more games - this was his swansong. Also on his way out was long serving small defender in Neville Jetta who was to also finish up at the end of the season with 159 great games under his belt. The Melbourne train rolled on and on with another three wins before a surprise 1-point loss to the lowly Crows in Adelaide in controversial circumstances. They responded in the best possible way with consecutive wins over top four contenders in the Western Bulldogs and the Brisbane Lions. Both were emphatic victories that saw the Demons firmly installed as mid season flag favourites. The pandemic robbed the club of a big home ground cash bonanza when its Queens Birthday Blockbuster against Collingwood was shifted to the SCG. It was Nathan Buckley’s last hurrah as Magpie coach. His team was switched on and brought a pressure game with them but the Demons failed to respond in kind to go into the bye round with their tails between their legs. The mid part of the season was to be the club’s low point of the year. They beat a rising Essendon and another top four contender in Port Adelaide away from home but lost games to GWS and the Western Bulldogs and drew against Hawthorn. The defeat at the hands of the Dogs was disappointing and cost Melbourne top spot as winter came to an end but it wasn’t the end of the world. In actual fact, the reversal against the new ladder leaders became the catalyst for a dominant seven match period that covered all of August and September and culminated with the triumph in the year’s Big Dance. With Victoria in lockdown and the Delta strain surging, the AFL switched games here and there to successfully keep the season alive. Melbourne criss-crossed the country and beat Gold Coast, West Coast, Adelaide and Geelong at various venues and under various weather conditions including lightning, thunder and rain. The win at Corio Bay over the Cats saw a famous comeback from 44 points down to a winning goal after the siren from Max Gawn which secured top spot and the McClelland Trophy. They were on their way to becoming immmortals. The Brisbane Lions fell in the Qualifying Final after some early resistance from Charlie Cameron but the Demons were well in control by half time and coasted to a win that looked a lot easier than the eventual 31 point margin. There was no resistance a fortnight later when an aging Geelong was unceremoniously dumped from the finals by 83 points after managing a single final half goal in the face of a Demon tsunami. Max Gawn’s third quarter was sublime and unforgettable. The Western Bulldogs were similarly ruthless on the following evening when they demolished a bedraggled Port Adelaide by 71 points. The Grand Final promised to be a clash of Titans but we know now that this promise lasted until that point in the premiership quarter when the Demons went “bang, bang, bang!” The club made a big bang at AFL All-Australian team selection with five players gaining selection and Max Gawn was named as skipper after earning his fifth All-Australian jacket as the No.1 ruck. He was joined in the 22-man squad by teammates Steven May, Jake Lever, Clayton Oliver and Christian Petracca. In addition, Bailey Fritsch and Christian Salem would have been unlucky to miss out. Emerging ruckman Luke Jackson won the AFL Rising Star Award. Simon Goodwin topped of the premiership year with the AFL Coaches Association Coach of the Year award. Clayton Oliver received accolades from the AFL Coaches Association as its AFL Champion Player. He also finished third in the Brownlow Medal with in excess of 30 votes, an outstanding achievement given the quality of players competing against him for votes each week and capped it off with his third Keith “Bluey” Truscott Memorial Trophy for the club’s best and fairest player. In addition to bidding farewell to two of the club’s champion veterans in Nathan Jones and Neville Jetta, we saw the departures of Aaron Bradtke, Kye Declase, Marty Hore, Jay Lockhart (all delisted) and Aaron vandenBerg (retired). Their places will be taken in 2022 by Luke Dunstan (St Kilda), Jacob Van Rooyen (Claremont, WA), Blake Howes (Sandringham Dragons), Taj Woewodin (East Fremantle, WA) and rookies Judd McVee (East Fremantle, WA) and Andy Moniz-Wakefield (Northern Territory). The expanded VFL competition was doomed by the plague but the Casey Demons started the season in outstanding fashion and were sitting on a 6 - 0 record at the end of June. They kicked themselves out of a win at Casey against the more accurate Giants on a night when Ben Brown was rested for almost the whole game in preparation for a promotion back to the AFL leaving them one player short in a tight finish. They won their next game comfortably but the dice were loaded when they lost to Footscray with half their VFL team leaders flying aimlessly between Tullamarine and the Queensland border. Toby Bedford was runner up the best and fairest and best Melbourne player. Jake Bowey cut his teeth at Casey with 8 excellent games before he made his AFL debut. That 1 point loss to the Giants (in which he had 27 touches) was his only losing game for the year. Veteran Jimmy Munro won his second Gardner Clarke Medal for Best and Fairest. The Melbourne AFLW team under coach Mick Stinear had a solid season and made it to the finals where they beat Fremantle comfortably but reverted to type with poor kicking for goal in their 1.9.15 to 5.3.33 Preliminary Final loss against Adelaide. Earlier, they had a perfect 3 - 0 start to the season before another putrid effort in front of goals against the Bulldogs. Their finals chances were in jeopardy but they regrouped to score some big victories in the tougher half of the draw. At times, they looked premiership material. Two midfielders at opposite ends of their careers in Karen Paxman and Tyla Hanks tied in first place for the Best and Fairest Award. Hanks also won the NAB AFLW Rising Star Award while Paxman was named in the All Australian side for the fifth time in as many seasons – one of only two players to hold that honour – while also placing fifth in the league’s Best and Fairest Award. Paxman was also the Demons’ vice-captain and was skipper in the finals series in the absence of the injured Daisy Pearce. The team was well served by contributions from Eden Zanker, Lily Mithen and Maddi Gay. The club had a number of retirements and other departures at the end of this season but has recruited well for the 2022 season which is due to start in early January. The departures include Niamh McEvoy, Shae Sloane, Tegan Cunningham and Meg Downie (all retired), Chantel Emonson (traded to Geelong) and Mietta Kendall (delisted). The recruits are Tayla Harris (Carlton) and Olivia Purcell (Geelong), draftees Georgia Campbell, Tahlia Gillard and Alison Brown and Eliza West, a rookie from the Casey Demons VFLW team. Stinear has been reappointed as senior coach. The Casey Demons also made the finals in that competition’s uncompleted season. During the season Kate Roffey succeeded Glen Bartlett to take the club presidency and become the first female president in the club’s 163 years long history. She was in the right place at the right time and saw in a premiership and with it a financial windfall from merchandise sales on top of the sale of the Bentleigh Club freehold. A great result for CEO Gary Pert after his last assignment at the Magpies. Roffey’s Her big moment came ten weeks after the event when 35,000 fans came to the MCG to watch the replay and to celebrate their heroes. What of next year? The vagaries of the pandemic with its sheer chaos and its changes in complexion as a result of the emergence of new strains make it difficult to predict the future of the game but otherwise things look rosy. The Demons have a deep list having re-signed a number of its stars to longer contracts during the season and also holding on to many players beyond the 23 grand finalists who might easily have moved elsewhere for greater opportunity - all of that indicates strength and stability and puts them in a handy space in the new era for the Melbourne Football Club.
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