Podcasting about MFC since 2017

Different Demons and irrelevance of ’18 prelim

Adrian Houghton

Adrian Houghton

Perth prelim. Sounds familiar.

The 22nd of September 2018 brings back harrowing memories.

As Demons we’ve ridden all of the highs and lows, but mostly lows if we’re being brutally honest.

That day, though? It was a real sucker punch.

And it started off so beautifully. The plane trip was full of brimming optimism with other Dees fans, as we revelled in our dismantling of Geelong and Hawthorn. 

One of my best mates Josh and I were embracing everything the occasion had to offer, as we checked into our hotel and enjoyed a night cap.

Sleep was minimal. Lots of tossing and turning, staring at the ceiling in the middle of the night; dreaming of a Grand Final appearance with old foes Collingwood.

The day had arrived and the weather duly obliged, too. Almost perfect conditions for footy. Warm, but not searing hot, as we decked ourselves out in the red and blue colours, proudly strolling down the Swan River toward the majestic Optus Stadium.

Belief was sky high. There was a sense of destiny about what the club was doing, as they rode a wave of momentum to achieve a somewhat unlikely preliminary final.

We enjoyed beers in the pub next to the ground, catching up with our Melbourne brigade who had make the trek to Perth. The banter with the Eagles fans was top notch. They actually came across as a lovely bunch of people, well, during the pre-game festivities. 

Then out of no where, I could scarcely believe my eyes as we bumped into Allen Jakovich. The mysterious Demon who kicked a whopping 201 goals in just 47 appearances for the club. That had to be a good omen? Surely.

Jakovich getting amongst it pre-game before the debacle

But omens and the Melbourne Football Club have never really gone hand in hand.

The first half flew by. In a blink of an eye, dreams crushed and the roar from the Eagles crowd was unlike anything I have ever experienced before (and I’ve been to English Premier League games and a World Cup in Russia). They were raucous. The ground was almost shaking and their fans morphed from relatively polite, ‘it’s good to have you over here’ types before the first bounce into possessed, unapologetic ferals. It was vicious. 

The very thought of remembering our goalless first half against West Coast makes me feel ill. Poor Charlie Spargo lining up to a chorus of boos in just game 18. He missed, they jeered and rubbed it in our faces. 

The wounds from that day will never disappear. That’s a score for the club to settle with the Eagles; their time will come. 

The ghosts of that preliminary final have been brought to a head by media outlets in the buildup to our clash against Geelong. But I don’t really understand why. Is it purely to get a rise, to create a stir and have another little attack at our bruised supporters? 

Personally, I find that day, that team and that match largely irrelevant to this upcoming Friday. The only relevance sits squarely between Melbourne and West Coast, when a future finals rematch comes around – that’s the extent of it. 

More to the point, this is a different Melbourne to the 2018 version.

A total of 11 players have changed over and you could mount a case that in all of that turnover, nearly every player is an upgrade. 

There’s arguably more upside to every player in that right-hand column, than the left. The only exceptions are the debate between Smith and Hibberd; the jury’s still out on that one.

And let’s not forget the inspired form of lockdown defender and fan-favourite Jetta, who could get the nod over Bowey; if we we were able to wind the clock back on Nev’s career to a few years ago.

Other than that, May and Lever are All-Australian defenders and infinitely better than their replacements Frost and McDonald.

Rivers gives loads more than veteran Lewis, who was at the end of his career.

Fritsch, who was dropped for that Eagles final has gone on to become one of the best forwards in the competition and even Melksham has never hit the heights that his teammate is now.

Throw a blanket over Hannan, vandenBerg, Weideman and Tyson and swap them every day of the week with Pickett, Brown, Jackson and Sparrow.

Agonisingly for Jones, our star recruit Langdon is preferred and rightfully so, while Petty is proving to be another amazing find by Jason Taylor and the recruiters.

The transformation is stark. And in addition to this Melbourne are top of the charts in some of the most important facets of the game. 

In 2018 the Dees were a free-scoring outfit, ranked 1st (104.5 points per game) but conceded the most points of any side in the top eight (ranking 9th with 79.5 points per game).

That discrepancy has always been a problem area for Simon Goodwin; until this season. Melbourne have the sternest defence in the competition, only conceding 65.5 points on average each match and retaining their ability to score, ranked fifth in the competition. If not for their goalkicking woes, averaging the most behinds (12.3 per game), the gap would, and in a lot of respects probably should be smaller.

There’s a better balance and much-improved defensive strategy, which as a result has allowed the side to be more consistent from week to week. You only need to take a quick glance at the extra three games and draw that the side collected over the 2018 outfit in the home and away season. 

And finally, to bin the notion that the 2018 preliminary final matters on Friday, you don’t need to look any further than the games played experience for our A-Grade starting midfield. 

Gawn was a two-time All-Australian at the time, now he has five and has turned into an inspirational skipper. Our ruthless vice captain, Viney hadn’t even cracked the 100 game barrier, while Oliver and Petracca were still pups at 21 and 22 respectively and both in only their third full seasons of AFL footy (taking into account Petracca’s ACL setback in year one of his Demons career).

This is a wiser and far superior Melbourne. A Melbourne with better personnel, more experienced coaches and an inner belief we haven’t witnessed in decades. 

But whether it’s a Melbourne side capable of handling the pressure and going all the way remains to be seen. 

The answer to that question will be delivered late Friday evening. 

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