Most teams of recent years that have been defensively sound have also found it hard to score. Most attacking teams have done so by leaving themselves vulnerable to counter attack and conceding scores. Melbourne did neither. They scored heavily and gave away nothing. It was a complete performance.
The Bulldogs seemed powerless to stop the onslaught and impotent in counter-attacking. Melbourne’s belief going into the game was that the Dogs were better offensively than defensively, so if they could hold them up when they attacked the Demons would score too heavily for the Dogs. And so it proved.
Against the Demons you cannot just be good at one thing. You have to be able to attack and defend in equal measure.
The moment that began the shift in momentum came from a boundary throw-in. Luke Jackson, who had moved into the ruck, led Tim English to the falling ball and palmed it to Jack Viney, who bullocked through bodies and forced the ball forward. Bailey Smith double-handled and fumbled the ball into (James) Harmes’ way. He then kicked it long to Bayley Fritsch, who marked and goaled.
But it began with Jackson’s soft touch decisive ruckwork. His rucking in that third quarter in halving contests at the centre bounces, and using his body to protect space and clear paths before following up as an extra runner himself, was instrumental in the win. His tap work at the boundary throw-ins was creatively damaging.
The Gawn-Jackson double team was the most decisive victory by a premiership winning team that possessed even one dominant ruck, let alone two, since Brad Ottens at Geelong. Melbourne had two strong rucks and dominant inside-outside power running midfielders.
The victory had about it a feeling not so much of an end to a drought, but the beginning of a flood. This team feels like it has the players, the style, and the belief to be a multiple flag-winning team.
DEFEND THE SQUARE
Melbourne’s romp, which began in the third term after Fritsch’s goal from Harmes’ pass, really started once they could re-set at the centre bounce. Here was the decisive moment of the game: Repeatedly, Jackson brought the ball to a contest and created space. Clayton Oliver lifted the ball from the pack and squeezed it out to Petracca. Goal.
At the next bounce, again the Demons go through the front of the square – this time with Petracca spinning balletically from bodies into open space. It was just Petracca and Oliver alternating. Waxing, driving the ball forwards.
No Bulldog had been sitting behind their ruck, guarding ground to halt the onslaught. No half-back ran in from the back of the square to close space and force the Demons to look wide to the wings and slow them up. It was all happening so quickly they looked powerless to stop it.
Melbourne kicked seven goals from centre bounce clearances. On a good day a team will normally hope to kick four.
REWARD FOR BRAVERY
This was a victory for bravery for Melbourne.
They were brave building this team. They were brave handling their freefall down the ladder two years ago to 17th, and they were brave dumping their president a month into the season when the team hadn’t lost a game.
When they selected Luke Jackson and Kozzy Pickett it was a special type of bravery that said we already have a ruckman, but we will go and get Jackson anyway because he is just an elite player and he will find a place. It was brave to say we will use an early pick (12) on a small forward.
It was then brave to say we will bring in Ben Brown because we think we can win it now and resist the argument that he might stand in the way of the development of Sam Weideman.
It was brave to get CEO Gary Pert to do a review and not outsource to others, to then back the coach and move others. It was brave to bring in Alan Richardson as footy manager without a background specific to the role.
They have been vindicated for their bravery.
NIGHT AND DAY
One problem of a night grand final is that it reaches tomorrow before you have had time to appreciate today.
Football, for all fans but the winning team’s, moves on quickly after a grand final. For the winners, they just want time to stop.
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