AFL grand final: Melbourne break drought in amazing style with 74-point win over Western Bulldogs
The oldest club in the land used a dazzling modern stage to pen this most glorious of chapters.
Legendary coach Norm Smith once said it would be a “long, long time” before Melbourne won another premiership after a bitter exit. Fifty-seven years to be exact.
At last the curse is lifted. With a success-starved fan base forced to watch the show of their dreams from the east and a collection of club greats taken before their time watching from the heavens, the Demons powered past the Western Bulldogs at Optus Stadium.
History will remember 23 heroes but two stood out, with midfielder Christian Petracca sublime throughout with 40 disposals, nine clearances and two goals and forward Bayley Fritsch kicking a bag of six goals.
The final scoreline of 21.14 (140) to 10.6 (66) will become legend, but won’t reveal the full tale after a night of twists and turns.
Having led by 21 points at quarter-time, Melbourne trailed by 19 points mid-way through the third quarter before clicking into gear.
Seven consecutive goals to round out the premiership quarter became 12 in a row by the time gallant Bulldog Adam Treloar, no stranger to a broken heart on this stage, broke the drought with his third early in time-on of the final term. The Dees kicked 16 of the last 17 goals.
When Marcus Bontempelli added his third goal 12 minutes into the third term, the Dogs had kicked eight of the past nine themselves and their captain looked likely to have two medals hanging around his neck to make up for the Brownlow he fell short of.
It was now or never for the Dees, desperate but focussed, and they responded in magnificent fashion on the back of their stellar stoppage crew.
The Demons won the centre clearances 6-2 for the premiership quarter as Petracca, Clayton Oliver and Jack Viney took control and the quick entries were a delight for a hungry forward line.
Fritsch got his third and fourth goals, one from a set shot and one after quickly recovering from a marking attempt, in the blink of an eye.
Petracca capped his brilliant quarter with his second goal from deep in the pocket, skidding the yellow Sherrin off the outside of his right boot in the way that has become second nature for modern players.
Earlier, the Bulldogs led by eight points after a see-sawing first half, having clawed their way into the contest on the back of Bontempelli.
A ferocious onslaught of sustained pressure underpinned the Demons’ strong start, as they booted four goals to one in the opening stanza.
The Dees were as assured as the Dogs were panicked in the early going, with Bulldogs defender Bailey Williams the deer in the headlights as he conceded two goals through mistakes in a horror three-minute patch.
Charlie Spargo pounced to punish his turnover that was intercepted by Luke Jackson, before Williams dropped a mark moments later to open the door for Fritsch to get his second goal.
The Bulldogs needed quarter-time like an unsteady boxer needed the bell, but they threw all the punches to begin the second stanza as the game was quickly turned on its head.
Treloar twice found the opening with right foot snaps to generate some belief before Bontempelli, held to just four touches in the first quarter, took over. Bontempelli was a factor in the centre square and twice took big marks inside 50, finishing on each occasion.
Ben Brown’s set shot was Melbourne’s only goal for the quarter, as the Bulldogs added six to take the lead on the back of a 44-32 contested ball edge.
This was a devastating defeat for the Bulldogs, who led by three goals but were running on fumes for the last quarter and a half after already surviving three knockout finals in three different States.
The Dogs, who are still yet to finish in the top four under Luke Beveridge, look to have the list profile to keep contending and won’t lose too many admirers.
Bontempelli was immense with 25 touches and three goals, while Treloar was a great trier with three goals to go with his 28 disposals. Caleb Daniel was energetic with 37 touches which included some kickouts.
MAX’S BEARD SCRATCHER
The introduction of the goal review system was meant to mean the end of grand final controversies but it wasn’t used when Max Gawn took a set shot in the second quarter.
Gawn thought he had sneaked it in, which curled late as it passed just above goal post height, only for the goal umpire to signal a behind without going to the review.
The puzzled ruckman stood with his arms outstretched and plenty of fans were ready to claim he had been robbed, but replays from multiple angles failed to answer the question definitively anyway and the goal umpire looked in good position.
In the end, it mattered little as Gawn wrote his name into club folklore as the first captain to hold the cup aloft since Ron Barassi.
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