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RoCo’s Wrap: Demons there, now can they do some damage?

Delighted Demons Clayton Oliver and Tom McDonald get around Jake Melksham after his fourth goal sealed victory over West Coast. Photo: AFL MEDIA

RoCo’s Wrap: Demons there, now can they do some damage?

Rohan Connolly    

It’s been a good few years for the breaking of droughts in AFL football. Last year’s premier had waited 37 years for another flag, and in 2016, we saw a 62-year dry spell ended.

By comparison, Melbourne’s booking of a spot in this year’s finals series is small beans. But in a modern context of equalisation and a finals system which takes in nearly half the competition, the Demons’ ending of a 12-year exile from September action is significant nonetheless.

There are few, if any tougher road trips in football right now than a journey to Perth to take on West Coast, particularly with a finals chance on the line. In fact, before last season, Melbourne had lost 17 games in a row in Perth against both the Eagles and their crosstown rival Fremantle.

But now the Demons have won a couple in a row, and with Sunday’s 17-point triumph, have potentially something more lucrative then a mere token finals appearance in store as a result.

While Melbourne could lose next Sunday’s MCG clash with Greater Western Sydney and still be assured of staying in the eight, should Fremantle (as unlikely as it seems) upset Collingwood in Perth the night before, the Demons will go into the game with a double chance on the line, leap-frogging the Giants, Magpies and the loser of Saturday night’s big Sydney-Hawthorn clash if they win.

That’s just one of many possibilities, of course, Geelong the only team in the top eight without any prospect of a top four finish, but still needing only to defeat Gold Coast at home to at least get a September guernsey, given its massive percentage gap on Port Adelaide.

It’s been a miserable finish to the season for the Power, which sat fourth after round 16 but has since lost five of six games, including two it led by the best part of two goals with only a couple of minutes to play. To rub more salt into the wound, should they beat Essendon on Friday night (and Geelong wins) they will become the first side to miss the eight having won 13 games.

West Coast now must defeat Brisbane at the Gabba to make sure it earns a top-two finish and chance for two home finals. Sydney and Hawthorn, meanwhile, clash at the SCG on Saturday in what is effectively a pre-finals final, the winner savouring a double chance, the loser sentenced to doing September the hard way.

Melbourne, however, remains potentially the joker in the finals pack. While much had been made in the lead-up to Sunday’s game of the Demons’ 0-7 record this season against top nine teams, three of those defeats were by nine points or less. They did also beat North Melbourne and Adelaide earlier in the season when both those sides were in the eight.

Any doubts about Melbourne’s credentials, though, have had arguably as much to with their capacity to beat themselves as any specific opponents via the struggle for balance between their offensive and defensive selves.

Easily the highest-scoring team in the competition, Melbourne averages 104.6 points per game, the only side going at over 100, the Demons’ 16.12 (108) against West Coast the 13th time this season they’ve topped the ton. They’re handy at the hard ball get, too, leading the differential rankings for contested possession.

Yet they’ve also been a little too “one-way”. While Melbourne doesn’t allow opponents that many forward 50 entries, it has routinely leaked scores from what entries there were, at a higher rate than all bar three of the bottom six teams in the competition.

Against the Eagles, though, the Demons got the balance spot on. They won the contested possession and clearance counts handsomely, and beat West Coast on the outside to boot.

And while the loss of spearhead Jesse Hogan for the rest of the season is obviously an inconvenience Melbourne would rather not deal with, Sunday’s win underlined that his absence needn’t be a fatal blow, the Demons’ array of goalkicking options serving them well, Jake Melksham, Tom McDonald and Mitch Hannan combining for 10, Melbourne with nine individual goalkickers.

There is something irresistible about the way Melbourne plays when it is firing, a potency that perhaps just might provide some think music for the likes even of Richmond, which has the minor premiership stitched up already after its 20th straight win on the MCG last Friday night.

Sneak into fourth spot, and at least the Demons, like the Tigers, would be playing on home turf. But even should Melbourne remain in the bottom half of the eight, it could either by right or default end up with a home final, potentially against GWS, having had a round 23 sighter, or against Geelong, to whom it has lost twice, yet only right on and indeed after the final siren.

That win over West Coast was obviously critical in practical terms for the Demons. But having now both ended their finals absence and broken through against quality opposition, who is to say it won’t prove equally as pivotal psychologically, Melbourne not just a finalist again, but suddenly a serious September player.

  1. Hmm, interesting article Rohan and analysis. But I think you might be now overstating the Demon’s potency and their abilities. Yes they are a good team but I don’t think they’re the ‘joker in the pack’. Let’s be realistic, they just managed to scrape into the 8 and have never looked as strong all season as Richmond, Collingwood, etc. Yes some of their defeats to top 9 sides have only been by small margins, but so has Port Adelaide, as you also point out. In fact Port has done it far tougher, had to play a lot more of the top sides and just missed out on the 8. Melbourne has had one of the most favourable draws all year (for instance Syidney has had to play 4 of the top 8 twice) yet were never a shoo in for the finals.
    So I know this is a media thing of writing one story one week about how bad a team is then suddenly reassessing them after a win, but let’s be realistic here, Melbourne are a decent team who probably won’t get past week one of the finals.
    Well done to them on making if of course, I don’t think anyone would begrudge them that!

  2. Agree Zanzibar, great win for the Dees and desperately required for them as a football club, but any other week and mention would be made of the Eagles playing down a rotation with Darling out early. Accompanied in the absentees by Kennedy, Gaff and Nic Nat. So great work Dees and yes it feels they could knock someone off. They have taken a small step, which really is all you can do. A lot of hype though.

  3. I agree with Tim. Melbourne put in a good performance and cudos for standing up when they had to.

    However they only just (despite the late goals) beat a seriously depleted and sore team without a single tall key forward, down a rotation for the majority of the game.

    Still it seems everyone is playing for second. The competition has been decimated. Sydney and Geelong have reasonably healthy lists, but just aren’t that good.

  4. I’m not sold on Melbourne’s chances at the pointy end either but would like to see them kick on and thwart any other team thats won a flag in the last 10 years….come on Dees, Giants and Coasters.
    One thing i noticed during the West Coast game was the huge amount of easy over the top goals West Coast conceded.
    Why? Because of being down a rotation? Or just lazy defenders/mids who push too far forward and get caught out?
    Zone defence?
    whatever the reason, finals footy will be way more accountable and Melbourne will be made to work much harder to score over 100 points.

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