Welcome ladies, gentlemen and all others inclusive to the Grand Final Mongrel Preview. That one day in September is finally upon us as we’ve now seen 18 teams whittled down to two, with the Melbourne Demons and the Western Bulldogs set to do battle in our game’s ultimate pursuit of glory.
The two teams that occupied the top two rungs of the ladder for longer than any other teams this season have taken very different pathways to qualify for this year’s Grand Final. Melbourne appeared to get stronger as the season went on and continued to flex as the finals weighed down on them. The Bulldogs did things in a little less of a traditional fashion. Some might say that they went the hard way about it, losing their last three games of the home and away season leading into the finals to find themselves outside of the top four, then having to claw their way back through three gritty wins with weekly travelling and other obstacles. Then others might say that they paid off every single umpire in the league, and that Luke Beveridge is the Godfather of CEO of the AFL Umpires Association, Peter Howe. I’ll leave that to the open-minded.
But let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves. Before we party on with Wayne and Garth whilst headbanging to Bohemian Rhapsody, let’s rewind this mixtape and let our brains coagulate to the sweet tunes of what was a couple of Preliminary Final thrashings.
My Western Australian sources tell me that as of today the search and rescue teams are still in full swing at Optus Stadium. Apparently, Gary Rohan’s impersonation of a David Copperfield disappearing act has sent alarm bells ringing throughout the missing persons reporting systems. Unfortunately for the Cats, he wasn’t the only one whose performance on the night was hideously subpar. They kicked the first goal of the game then surrendered the next five. They kicked two of the first three goals in the second and then two more before halftime to reduce the Demons margin to 29 points. Max Gawn then flicked his berserker switch and kicked four of his five goals for the game in a run of 10 straight goals for the Demons which buried the Cats and salted the earth around them to prevent their return. Geelong going goalless for over an hour of football as the Demons took them to the shops and racked up a hefty bill on their credit card. Cementing their place in their first Grand Final since they took on Essendon in 2000.
Highs- Maximus Gawnius. The Melbourne skipper put on one of the most dominant displays you’ll ever see from a ruckman. In fact, Jason Dunstall went as far as to award it the greatest performance by a ruckman that he’s seen in his lifetime. Kicking five goals each one somewhat more unique and eyebrow-raising than the last, winning his own clearances and tackling like a bloke well below his lofty size. The Demons engine room in Oliver, Viney and Petracca proved to be unstoppable. Combining for 93 disposals, 25 score involvements, 24 clearances, 15 tackles, 5 goal assists and a bucketful of Cats tears. Joel Selwood and Isaac Smith were the pick of the Cats players, but there want much to write home about for anyone in the hoops.
Lows- Geelong being unable to kick a goal for over an hour of game time became just one part of what was a largely tumultuous game for the Cats. They were soundly beaten in the ruck, in the midfield and around the ground. The Demons were a step better in every department and showed a real gap in where these two teams are at. Gary Rohan continued his unfortunate trend of going missing in finals but he wasn’t the only one. A viral infection worked its way through the Cats camp during the week and it sure showed with more than one player looking slow and tired after the halftime break.
It was a largely similar script over at Adelaide Oval. The team that had the extra week off came into it full of confidence and left whipped like a government mule. The Bulldogs were unrelenting from the second the ball was bounced to commence the first quarter until the final siren sounded. Things went from bad to worse for the Power as they barely managed three goals to the Dogs twelve in the first half, appearing completely stunned by the level of intensity that their opponents were hitting them with. The blistering first half set the Dogs up for a dominant win, finishing the game as 71 point victors in what was one of their biggest ever finals wins as a club.
Highs- Ollie Wines and Riley Bonner’s efforts were two very sparse highlights in a dismal evening for the Port Adelaide Football Club. Jack Macrae and Marcus Bontempelli were both strong in their unique ways for the Bulldogs with Bailey Smith again showing just how dangerous of a player he is. Kicking four goals and spending plenty of time in the middle and up forward. Mitch Hannan and Josh Schache were lively up forward, despite the latter wasting a few opportunities in front of goal. Aaron Norton was a force as he clunked six contested marks and kicked a couple of goals.
Lows- Far too many to start a comprehensive list in regards to the Power – their small forwards in Fantasia and Motlop were completely ineffective. However, the delivery inside their forward 50 left a lot to be desired. Conceding 12 goals in the first half whilst only managing three of your own was disastrous. Port had all the momentum behind them, but unfortunately, they suffered an almighty choke when it mattered most for them.
Right. Now that those games are firmly behind us, it’s about time we got this party started.
Well you put a lot in and you worked real hard, there were days when you tried, there were days when you stopped trying to please the crowd, when they’re unforgiving there are easier ways to make a living. Well, you’ve come a long way since the start of things when you’ve seen the joy that hard work brings. You’ve made us cry, you’ve made us smile, you’re in the front now so it’s all worthwhile.
I’m sure you all know where I’m going with this..
‘Cause there’s one day in September we want to remember, there isn’t any doubting we’ll be in there shouting. Football’s suck a part of this whole town and we know that you won’t let us down.
Thanks for the words Mike Brady, that’s right ladies, gentlemen and all others inclusive, that one day in September is finally upon us. It’s time for the big dance! No, I don’t mean the final round in season five of Dancing with the Stars when Carlton legend Anthony Koutoufides shocked the dancing world, scoring a unanimous ten from each of the judges to win the series with a perfect score of 40 in his Freestyle dance to Delta Goodrum’s #2 ranked ARIA hit, Together We Are One, no. I mean it’s time for the 2021 AFL Grand Final. Coming to us live from Perth in Western Australia, the Grand Final will be staged at Optus Oval this year.
So without any further ado or further references to poor tv game shows, grab your favourite K-Mart plate because I’m about to rack up a feast for your eyes with some high quality, in-depth game coverage.
Melbourne Demons vs Western Bulldogs
I’m using my wide-angle lens for this snapshot. Let’s be honest, the term ‘snapshot’ doesn’t really apply to what I’m writing here. This is more of a history lesson and a glimpse at current-day form all rolled and formed into one sizeable portion of Pâté, ready to be served with a hearty 2007 Morgon Beaujolais to our higher class readers.
Footscray 15-12-102 – Melbourne 7-9-51In what would be the Bulldogs’ first taste of premiership glory since crossing over to the VFL from the VFA at the conclusion of the 1924 season, Melbourne would go on to play in the ensuing six Grand Finals, still holding the record for making seven consecutive Grand Finals.A smaller than usual crowd for such a big game was recorded at 80,897, the reason being that the MCG was under reconstruction in preparation for the 1956 Olympics. With the entire Northern Stand out of action, the ground’s capacity was severely reduced. From all reports, a wet and torrid weather forecast was predicted, but the teams awoke to nothing but sunshine over Melbourne that morning and not a drop of rain in sight.
At the Melbourne Cricket Ground, the staff were forced to open the gates at 9:00am, an hour earlier than usual due to the masses of fans that had been lining up since before 6:00am to try and get a seat.
With Footscray widely named as favourites going into the game, they were presided over by captain-coach Charlie Sutton and vice-captain Wally Donald with AFL icon Ted Whitten lining up for his 67th career game. For Melbourne, it was legendary coach Norm Smith and captain Geoff Collins that lead them onto the ground, including a young Ron Barassi in just his 21st senior game of football.
Melbourne won the toss and elected to kick with the breeze. It was a somewhat slow start to the game with both sides struggling to hit up their key forwards. It wasn’t until 11 minutes in that Noel Clarke kicked the first of the game for the Demons and got the scores ticking, it would however be their only goal for the quarter as Footscray went on to register six consecutive goals with Jack Collins kicking three of his seven for the day in that late first quarter domination.
Jack Collins and Charlie Sutton were the only goal scorers for the Bulldogs in the second, kicking the first and final goals of that quarter as the Demons managed to kick three goals through Ron Barassi, Stuart Spencer and Laurie Mithen to reduce their trailing margin at the main break.
The Bulldogs kicked the first two goals in the third quarter thanks again to Charlie Sutton and this time Ron Sutton who played what the papers called “a memorable quarter of football” to take their lead out to just shy of six goals before Melbourne mounted a reply through Ian McLean and Bob Johnson, each kicking a goal as the Demons got on a run. Not to be outdone, Jack Collins and Charlie Sutton combined for a pair of goals once again to stretch the Bulldogs lead out to 38 points at the final break.
Melbourne sensed that the end was nigh as they threw caution into the wind and played chess with the magnets, moving defenders and forwards around like pawns to try and break the game open. It appeared to work as they got past the dogs defenders to score the first goal of the final term and repelled numerous attacks from the Dogs. It was all in vain however as Doug Reynolds eventually goaled for Footscray, followed by Jack Collins’s sixth and seventh goals to extend the Bulldogs lead and run away 51 point victors in their first Grand Final.
The week after the game, umpire Jack McMurray Jnr. publicly lauded the efforts of Footscray forward Jack Collins for his seven goals and rover John Kerr for his 32 possessions. Given that the Norm Smith Medal for best on ground in a Grand Final wasn’t introduced until 1979, there were no official provisions in 1954 for a player to be awarded best afield. However, thanks to McMurray’s comments and the loose stats that were kept back then, the general consensus is that the two aforementioned players were the best players on the day.
Ted Whitten would go on to win the Con Weickhardt trophy as Footscray’s best and fairest for the season, his first of five for his career. Interestingly, he was the last person to win the award under that title, as it was renamed to its current name; the Charles Sutton Medal the following season.
Denis Cordner was awarded the Keith ‘Bluey’ Truscott Memorial Trophy as Melbourne’s best and fairest player for the season.
Footscray 9.11.65 – Melbourne 21.18.144In a season that finished close for both teams, the Demons finished seventh on the ladder with 12 wins whilst the Bulldogs finished fifth on 13 wins. They would play off twice throughout the home and away season, both teams winning one encounter each.In Round 8 it was a three-point thriller as Melbourne entered the game on top of the ladder and kicked away to a 22 point lead at halftime. The Bulldogs came out breathing fire in the third quarter, kicking six goals on the run with Illija Grgic having a burst of form, kicking four of his own six for the afternoon. It was a tight battle in the final quarter as the Bulldogs managed to get out to a 14 point lead as the Demons mounted their comeback. Jason Norrish had a shot to put Melbourne back in front in the dying minutes, but grazed the inside of the post as the Bulldogs held on to win. Garry Lyon kicked five goals for the Demons and Illija Grgic kicked six for the Bulldogs. Leon Cameron and Mark Hunter were also dominant for the Bulldogs.In the penultimate round of the season, the Bulldogs would again beat the Demons, this time emphatically to the tune of 40 points. It was all Melbourne early as the Demons kicked five goals to three in the first quarter, but Footscray slowly began to paw their way back into the game. They flipped the tables and scored five goals of their own in the third whilst almost keeping the Demons scoreless except for a solitary behind, taking a 27 point lead into the final quarter. The Bulldogs continued their late domination and wound up winning by 40 points to see them primed to make the finals.
Garry Lyon again kicked five goals for the Demons and according to the papers, twin brothers Steven and Matthew Febey were Melbourne’s best.
Chris Grant kicked 4.4 for the Bulldogs and current coach Luke Beveridge kicked 2.1 along with his 25 disposals.
It all came down to this. The winner had a date booked with West Coast in the Preliminary Final.
The Demons came into the game breathing a sigh of relief, having frantically come from behind to beat Carlton the week before. The Bulldogs too had a stressful match only a week prior, being beaten by a Billy Brownless goal after the siren.
Inaccuracy killed the Bulldogs early. Inaccuracy and Garry Lyon that is. The Demons captain kicked three goals in the dying stages of the first quarter, backed up by another three in the second quarter. It took only 12 minutes into the third quarter for Lyon to hit double figures, notching up 10.4 before being taken off the ground with a ‘bruised thigh’. Melbourne’s 17 point halftime lead blew out in the third as Lyon’s four goals lead to a 10 goal surge and a 68 point lead at the final change. Injuries impacted both teams as scoring dried up in the final term. Melbourne storming home by 79 points after losing both games to the Dogs during the home and away season.
Garry Lyon kicked 20 goals across their three encounters and fell one goal short of equalling the record for most goals kicked in a final when he was taken off the field in the third quarter.
Melbourne went on to face West Coast in Perth the following week, being the first Victorian side to play an interstate Preliminary Final. The Demons recorded the biggest loss and lowest score at the WACA, and to make matters worse someone had turned the hot water service to their change rooms off during the game, meaning they had to suffer through cold showers after a 65 point collapse at the hands of the Eagles.
Now if we cast our eyes back to the present day, these two had two pretty even battles throughout season 2021. In Round 11 Jack Macrae and Marcus Bontempelli fought long and hard but it wasn’t enough to counter the dominance of Max Gawn, Clayton Oliver and Steven May as the Demons won this contest by 28 points. Skip ahead to Round 19 and this time it would be the Bulldogs that came up victorious by 20 points. Once again Jack Macrae was at his inspirational, ball-winning best and Caleb Daniel found himself up the ground more and making his presence known. Clayton Oliver and Christian Petracca both held their own in a game that wasn’t an overly high scoring affair.
This finally brings us to the 2021 AFL Grand Final. Who would’ve thought after the Bulldogs lost their third game in a row before the finals, effectively losing their spot inside the top four in the process, after losing star forward Josh Bruce to a season-ending knee injury, that they would replicate their heroics of season 2016 and make it through to the last day of the footy year in straight sets.
Likewise, who would’ve thought that the same Demons that finished ninth last year and seventeenth the year before after a sadly halted finals campaign in 2018, would catapult to the forefront of our game. Spending the majority of their season inside the top two and playing a brand of football that was the envy of most teams this season. In recent years gone by it’s all been about the ‘Richmond Blueprint’ and how teams can adapt their own style to be more like that of the Tigers. Maybe after season 2021 we’ll see more teams looking to base their structures around those of the Demons.
All eyes on:
My name is Gladiator- Slave! You will remove your helmet and tell me your name.
My name is Maximus Decimus Gawn, commander of the men in the midfield, Captain of the Melbourne Football Legions, loyal servant to the true fallen emperor, Norman Walter Smith. Harbourer of neglected Brownlow votes, advocate for the benefits of Nicorette. And I will have my vengeance, in this season or the next.
Ok, ok.. maybe the idea of likening Max Gawn’s heroic efforts to those of Russell Crowe’s in his Academy Award winning motion picture from 2000; Gladiator, sounded a lot cooler in my mind than it reads on here. But nonetheless, where does his Preliminary Final output rank in your mind? Many in the AFL world over the past week have awarded it with such plaudits as the greatest ever game by a ruckman, or the most dominant game by a captain in a final. I don’t know exactly how far I would run with it personally, however, I don’t think they were far from the mark. Can you imagine if Max is able to replicate his form even half as good as that of which he played against Geelong, but in the Grand Final? He wouldn’t just be awarded the Norm Smith, but the Melbourne faithful would almost certainly name him the Mayor of Mount Buller.
After stacking up with great success against Peter Ladhams and Scott Lycett of Port Adelaide last week, Stefan Martin is likely to find himself retaining his place in the team to try and tackle the arduous task, alongside Tim English, of trying to curb the influence that Max Gawn stamps on a game of football. Just don’t ask Luke Beveridge any questions pre-game about his ruck division or the form of Adam Treloar – he gets a little sensitive.
You’re making Macrae-zy – At the 2012 National Draft, the Bulldogs called Jake Stringer with their first selection at pick number five. It was only the second player to be taken by a team other than GWS at that point, with Melbourne having selected Jimmy Toumpas at pick four. Thanks to Callan Ward departing the club for Greater Western Sydney, the Bulldogs were awarded a compensation pick in the first round which came directly after their first selection. With pick six they called the name of Jack Macrae. In the ensuing years, Macrae has become the beating heart inside the Bulldogs engine room. His stats this season are a clear indication of exactly where he’s at with his game: averaging 35 disposals, 14 contested possessions, seven clearances and five tackles this season, it feels strange to even think that someone of this calibre could be considered underrated – but that’s exactly what Jack Macrae is. If you watched the Brownlow Medal count on the weekend then you would’ve seen how many times his in-and-under work went undervalued or was overshadowed by someone of the Marcus Bontempelli Ilk. Given that he’s as good as a certainty to take out the Gary Ayres Medal for the best player in the finals this year, it’s just a small indication of the consistency that he brings to the table and exactly why he’s the Bulldogs Mr. Consistency.
Steven, May the force be with you- Without being labelled the Kyle Sandilands to his Magda Szubanski (you bet your ass I had to Google the spelling of that last name), it’s not a great insult to say that when Steven May walked in the doors at Melbourne after requesting a trade from the Gold Coast Suns of which he captained, he was out of shape. Which in itself is an ironic term, because I guess round is still a shape, isn’t it? But all jokes aside, after barely jogging through his first season at the club, managing only eight games through injury and poor form, in 2019, Steven May emerged from the cocoon of the offseason and stormed his way through 2020. Finishing second in the best and fairest to Christian Petracca and ahead of blokes like Clayton Oliver and Max Gawn, May didn’t just rediscover his form, he transcended to a new level. Alongside Jake Lever, the two have formed the strongest backline in the competition this season. if he managed to get up, he’ll be undoubtedly tasked with one of the most dangerous tasks in football at some point, going one-on-one with Aaron Naughton. Demons hearts were in their throats whilst watching their side dismantle the Cats a fortnight ago. No, it wasn’t a bad case of heartburn from all of those cured meats on the charcuterie board, it was the horror and nervous wait after seeing May clutch at his hamstring in a contest. He did return to the field and play but was ultimately left on the bench for the majority of the second half. If Melbourne want to walk into this one feeling a few inches higher, then they need their All Australian backman to make it through training this week and be fit as the devil’s golden fiddle.
Slam Dunkley- What a turnaround the past 12 months has been for Josh Dunkley. Sick of plugging holes in the team and playing an undersize role in the ruck when he craved more midfield time, the lure of changing allegiances and attempting a move to Essendon during the trade period was at the forefront of his mind. Being contracted to the Bulldogs still was his biggest hurdle, and one that proved too mighty for the Bombers to jump as Dunkley’s ambitions were soon halted. With a deal unable to be brokered, he was forced to play out his contract at the Bulldogs, and what a turn of events that has become. After suffering a shoulder injury in Round 6, Dunkley missed months of football, not returning until Round 18. With a decent run of games under his belt leading up to and including the finals, Josh Dunkley has gone from a fan-favourite on the outer, not liking the way his talent was being utilised, to preparing for his second Grand Final for this club. His story is just one of many to surface around this Grand Final that make it one of the more intriguing spectacles in recent years.
Things to note:
– Former captain Garry Lyon will present the premiership cup to the Demons if they are to be victorious. Likewise, Bulldogs stalwart Chris Grant will hand the cup over if his side is successful.
– The last All Australian ruckmen to win a premiership was Dean Cox back in 2006. Max Gawn has the opportunity to cement his name amongst the greats of the Melbourne Football Club and the AFL.
– Since 2003 the Allan Jeans Senior Coach of the Year Award is presented to the coach judged to have performed the best over that season. Only seven coaches have won the award in the year that their team won the premiership. Damien Hardwick was the last to do so in 2017, prior to him was Luke Beveridge in 2016. This year’s winner was Melbourne’s Simon Goodwin.
– Clearance Kings Tom Liberatore and Clayton Oliver are set to go head to head once more. Oliver is currently sitting on 181 clearances for the season and Libba one greater on 182. Oliver has come out on top in this department both times these teams have played this season, recording 8 and 5 to Liberatore’s 6 and 4.
– Since 2000 only two players have played a Grand Final in their first year at a new club, and faced off against their old club – Luke Ball (2010) and Lance Franklin (2012). Mitch Hannan is in the running to become the third after making his way to the Demons from the Bulldogs at the end of 2020.
– Of the 36 players to poll 10+ Brownlow votes this season, only one of them wasn’t a midfielder – Max Gawn.
– Cody Weightman up one end, Kysaiah Pickett down the other. Two of the most exciting young, small forwards in the game are set to play off this weekend. Weightman will play his first game since being subbed out with concussion in the Bulldogs thrilling one point Semi-Final win over Brisbane. Pickett, along with his 21 other teammates, will have only played one game in the past 28 days by the time he lines up at Optus Stadium on Saturday.
– Only ten players from the Bulldogs drought breaking 2016 Grand Final victory are still on their playing list. Of the 44 players on their list, 41 have played a game at some point this season, the most of any team in the competition. In comparison, Melbourne only had 33 players get games this season.
– Steven May could make it three of the Gold Coast Suns’ former captains that have gone on to play in premierships at their new clubs – Gary Ablett and Tom Lynch being the other two.
– In their Preliminary Final manhandling of the Cats, the Demons scored 101 points from clearances – this is the fourth most points scored from clearances ever recorded.
– 24 of the past 28 premiership-winning sides have had at least one All Australian defender playing. Regardless of the game’s result, this stat will add another this season.
– Many are saying that the Bulldogs peaked too early when they won the flag in 2016, but with players like Bailey Smith, Aaron Naughton, Cody Weightman and Jamarra Ugle-Hagan all being 21 or younger, and a midfield core of Bontempelli, Macrae, Dunkley and Treloar all being in their mid-late 20s, they have continued to build their lost perfectly. With players fitting each of the key age brackets for the Dogs to continue building and playing good football for seasons to come.
– Despite only managing 14 games this season, Jack Viney still laid 100 tackles at an average of 7.1 per game. The only two players to register a higher average we’re tackling machines Hugh Greenwood and Jack Steele.
– From scrap pile to Grand Final, Ben Brown was on the outer at North Melbourne and found his way to Melbourne. He didn’t get a game until Round 7 and was dropped after Round 9. Not making it back into the side until Round 17, Brown has grasped his second chance with both hands and made himself a mainstay in the Demons forward line. He’s now kicked 22 goals from his 10 games and shown in bursts that he is more than capable of holding down a spot inside Melbourne’s forward line – one of their only slight weaknesses this season.