With around three minutes or so left in the third quarter, I turned to Mrs Mongrel and made the statement – “it would be great if the Dogs snagged a goal here and we went into three-quarter time with the scores tied up.
Yes, it would have been great, and would have provided a tense start to the last quarter.
Of course, that didn’t happen. It didn’t even come close to happening.
After a four-goal to two quarter at that stage, the Dees had pegged back the Dogs’ lead and sat six points ahead. And then it happened. And it happened in the kind of flurry that sees Grand Final dreams fulfilled, and Grand Final nightmares become all-too-real.
Three minutes of powerful Melbourne football tore the game away from the Dogs, and tore the hearts of Bulldogs supporters from their chests. Melbourne sensed the opportunity to go in for the kill, and with three goals in two and a half minutes of game time, they took a close game and built the platform to springboard them to a nine-goal last quarter.
First, it was Christian Petracca, with a dribbling goal that was kicked to perfection from the boundary after roving a marking contest in the pocket. Then came Sparrow on the run as the Dees surged from the centre square. A nice shepherd on the line from Tom McDonald saw the ball sail through the Bulldog heads drop.
And then came the icing on the cake. Another Luke Jackson-inspired clearance saw the breaking Clayton Oliver receive, run inside fifty and slam home the goal to give the Demons a 24-point lead headed into the last change.
That was the game, right there. Two and a half minutes of brilliance. Two and a half minutes of sensing weakness and capitalising. Two and a half minutes in the biggest quarter of the biggest game of the year sealed the Demons’ first premiership in 57 years, and sent the Dogs to the three-quarter time huddle a beaten team.
There is so much more to cover in this review – the courage of Angus Brayshaw, the relentless run of Ed Langdon, the rebound of Christian Salem, the trust in Luke Jackson, the maniacal attack of Jack Viney, and the goal kicking of Bayley Fritsch amongst them.
Let’s jump into The Mongrel’s final good, bad and ugly review of the season – the game that broke the drought and crowned the Demons as the best team in the game in 2021.
From the first goal of the game, the eventual Norm Smith Medallist set the tone for his team. A one-step roost from 50 metres opened the Melbourne account, and from there, Christian Petracca was off to the races, pushing people out of the way, giving “don’t argues” as though he owned the patent and flat out refusing to lose his feet in the contest. Seriously, watch him – he stands up while everyone else over-commits and lunges at people, throwing themselves off-balance.
“Why don’t they just tackle him?”
That’s what I was asked by someone who shall remain nameless (it was Mrs Mongrel). And on reflection, it’s not a bad question – why don’t they?
You hear commentators mention that Petracca is a bull at times, but bulls do not move like Petracca. Sure, it is a great analogy if we’re talking about strength, but the way this bloke lurches one way and then powers back the other is almost otherworldly. It is a ridiculous combination of power, balance and skill that sees him pinball around in close confines and should anyone get too close to him, he just shoves them away like they were yesterday’s garbage.
I know that Dusty made the fend famous again (players had been doing it for years – just not as effectively or as often), but the way Trac does it is almost as though he is the aggressor. It is not a defensive move – it is an offensive weapon. His stiff arms are almost violent in the way he utilises them. They are short and sharp, meant to disrupt and put the opposition player off balance. Meanwhile, Trac steps one way, ducks another, and just like that, he is out of trouble and releasing the footy to a teammate.
Initially, it looked as though he had broken the record for disposals in the grand final, becoming the first player to ever reach 40 touches in a game, but in an act of poopering the party, those poop partiers at Champion Data decided that one of Petracca’s disposals did not meet their criteria, and they bumped him back to 39 for the game.
No sense of occasion, those blokes.
Anyway, Petracca’s 39 disposals, equal all-time with Simon Black, saw him have an incredible 24 contested possessions as he fought to resister nine clearances, 11 inside 50s and a whopping 15 score involvements.
Earlier this week, I wrote about Petracca completing the transformation from being a player with enormous potential to being The Man.
That transformation is now complete. As the Norm Smith Medallist, Christian Petracca is now, The Man.
THE UNSUNG HERO
How many times have you heard people thinking aloud that the Dees should look at moving Angus Brayshaw on?
Have you ever done it, yourself?
I’ll put my hand up, here – I have. After the 2019 season that saw just about every Demon suffer what looked like a Preliminary Final hangover, I was of the opinion that the Dees could extract a healthy price from the Fremantle Dockers for Angus. His brother was there, and the Dockers would have been keen to make sure it stayed that way – what better way than to have his brother there with him?
Anyway, some of you reading this may well have shot me down on that one, and rightfully so.
I took some of your comments on board during 2020 and, given we commenced our weekly wingman of the year rankings, started to pay a little more attention to the way Brayshaw was playing his role on the wing. Gone were the days where he was Max Gawn’s preferred targets at centre bounces – Oliver, Viney and Petracca were holding court in there. Brayshaw was playing the wing, and he was doing something that no other wingman was doing. He was holding his space.
Whilst it did not work to perfection in 2020, the makings of a good tactical move were quickly apparent with Brayshaw in the role. You could see opposition wingmen torn between running to provide an option, and cautiously watching where Brayshaw was, knowing full-well that if they abandoned their responsibility out wide, they were just one switch away from being exposed.
And it happened quite a bit.
It has been a selfless act from Brayshaw, whose praises I have sung long and loud this season. He has sacrificed so much to make this team successful, and never has it been more apparent than in this game, where he not only held his ground, but was forced to stand his ground as physical attention came his way.
Brayshaw copped a rib-tickler from Aaron Naughton at one stage and soldiered on. It was the second hard hit he endured in this game, yet there he was in the third quarter, diving at ground level to take a mark inside 50, with traffic all around him.
I’m not sure whether he will get wrapped up for this game, but he probably deserves it, and to hear how jubilant he was in talking with Luke Hodge after the game, he really strikes me as the type of bloke that would hold a club together.
I don’t like admitting it, and I’ve admitted it before, but after watching him perform in this one, it is abundantly clear that Angus Brayshaw is a Melbourne man, and his efforts and acceptance of his role embody everything you’d want in a player.
BEFORE HIS TIME
The ruck battle was a really interesting contest, but the third quarter was where the game was won, and at that point of the game, it was not Max Gawn, Tim English, or Stef Martin that stamped their authority on the game, but Luke Jackson.
The late run in the third quarter was largely sparked by the athleticism of Jackson, as he took the contest to the Dogs, jumping up and over Stef Martin to get first hands on the footy and drive the Dees forward. When they kicked their three late goals in the third quarter, it was the tap work of Jackson that started it all.
It must be a disappointment for Dogs fans to watch Tim English, who they hope will blossom into a top ruckman one day, now reaching 24 years of age, struggling to have a significant influence on the game, whilst Jackson, at just 19, is demonstrating everything that screams he is going to be a star of the AFL.
Maybe it puts things in perspective for them a little bit. Maybe Tim English is not the great white, brain-haired hope, after all?
Gawn was very good around the ground in the first half, in particular, and though Stef Martin was okay at finding the footy, himself, he appeared as though he needed a map to get the ball to his boot at times. In the end, we’re looking at a 47-30 ruck advantage to the Dees, but given how effective he was when Melbourne commenced their most decisive run of the game, the work of Luke Jackson sways everything so much further in their direction.
SALEM V DANIEL
I asked the question at half time of my fellow writers – whose game did you prefer at that point?
Christian Salem had a blindingly good first quarter, picking up nine touches at 100% efficiency. He did this whilst picking up just under 250 metres gained, so this was no pissy little sideways kicking demonstration from him. He was integral in driving the Dees into attack, and actually led all players with five inside 50 deliveries in the opening stanza.
And then there was Caleb Daniel.
After 12 touches of his own in the first, Daniel went on a rampage in the second, notching 14 touches. His efficiency wasn’t anything like Salem’s (Daniel ran at around 65% in the first half).
My jury was out. Daniel’s continued involvement in the play meant it looked as though he couldn’t avoid the footy, whereas Salem was running off his opponent with freedom in the first quarter, to the point he was one of the catalysts for their early lead.
Daniel would remain in the numbers for the rest of the game, finishing with 37 touches – second only to Petracca, BUT… and this is a big but – he went missing in the third quarter. When the Dees came flying back into the game, Daniel was nowhere to be seen, touching the footy three times, after it appeared as though he either started the quarter on the bench, or had a decent rest early in the quarter – either way, I don’t understand this move at all.
Salem was quiet in the second and third before exploding for ten last quarter touches as he joined the party and slammed a goal home.
Both players were integral to their teams’ runs, and both were conspicuous by their almost-silence when the other team was making a run. I’d normally call that a draw, BUT… Daniel made some uncharacteristic errors with the ball in this one, so I am swayed to the side of Salem as the most effective half back in the game.
I remember watching this Melbourne team through 2019 and 2020. They looked like a bunch of chickens with their heads cut off when it came to working the footy inside their attacking 50. There were so many occasions of kicking it long to the top of the square and just hoping someone could do something.
And what they ended up with was everyone trying to do something, but the net result being nothing. They were playing a combination of Tom McDonald before he became a carnivore again, Sam Weideman, who was clearly unable to do what they asked of him at that stage, and Bayley Fritsch, who showed signs, but never really looked like the type of player that would dominate a game.
And so, they tweaked things.
In came Ben Brown, and though he had a bit of a road to travel before cementing his place in the team, he gave them a genuine deep forward target. McDonald started working up the ground more, which left a lot of space for Bayley Fritsch to capitalise on his excellent timing and wonderful hands in marking contests.
It saw the Dees go from eighth in average score per game in 2020 to second in 2021. Couple that with the most effective defence in the league at putting the clamps on the opposition, and you have a lethal combination.
The addition of Ben Brown is an interesting one and a story we’ve already delved into on this site. His departure from North Melbourne was messy, and his early days with the Demons invited questions, but the way he has been able to come back into the side, rediscover his overhead marking, and continue to give genuine contests whenever the ball is in his area, has made a huge difference to this outfit.
Between Brown, McDonald and Fritsch, we saw a combination of 11 goals in the Grand Final. Sure, TMac had some very quiet patches, but he also had a few moments that won’t show up on the stats sheet, either.
Overall, Simon Goodwin, Mark Williams, and the recruiters at Melbourne Football Club have done a wonderful job at filling holes to make this team a weapon. Langdon, Lever, May and now Ben Brown… someone knows what they’re doing with this team.
ON HIS BACK
Most reading this will be Dees supporters, and that’s great. You guys deserve every positive word you get in this, and every other article you read, but I have to give Marcus Bontempelli a bit of credit here, as well.
When the Dogs made their move in the second, it showed a heap of character. They were being flogged in the first quarter, and you kind of got the feeling that the Dees could have run away with this game had they kicked a little straighter. The Dogs were doing everything wrong, wilting under the continued pressure of the Demons, but after quarter time, things shifted, and the Dogs came barking back into the game.
Many will point to the work of Adam Treloar in dragging the Bulldogs into the contest, and they wouldn’t be wrong, but for me, the work of Marcus Bontempelli to lift his team was brilliant. Whether winning the footy in the guts, or drifting forward to take big marks and kick goals, Bont showed everyone why so many regard him as one of the best players in the game, and why he’ll go down as one of the best Bulldogs to pull the jumper on.
No, it was not enough, and yes, he did find it difficult to maintain that level of play for the remainder of the game, but watching him work hard to make his teammates walk taller in the second term, you got the feeling that Bont could have been THE difference in the game.
As it turns out, there were plenty of other differences, and they all wore red and blue, but you won’t find me talking down Bont’s effort. He threw some big punches in this one. The Dees just had the firepower to throw plenty of them back.
THE RECORD TUMBLES
Clayton Oliver now holds the record for the most contested touches in a season.
His 13 contested possessions in this game moved him five clear of the record previously held by Patrick Dangerfield and in my humble opinion, continues to elevate Oliver into the upper echelon of Melbourne stars over the years.
Yes, there are some famous names that have worn the red and blue, but when all is said and done, injury permitting, people will look back at the career of Clayton Oliver and marvel at what he has been able to accomplish.
Also, I am a bit of a fan of Clayton – he plays the type of footy I like to watch, wins the hard ball, but can go flat-chat out of the guts when he needs to to. He was incredibly important in the big Melbourne run late in the third, and his link work was once again second to none.
At 435 contested touches in 2021, Clayton Oliver has topped 400 contested possessions for the second time, and is only the third man to ever pull it off.
STILL A LEADER
Jack Viney may no longer be the captain of the Melbourne Football Club, but he sure as hell played like one in this game. Watching Viney at stoppages was like seeing a pit bull being let off the leash at a dog park – it was carnage.
12 of his 25 touches were clearances as he was continually first to get his hands to the footy, and when he wasn’t in and under winning the footy, he was laying tackles. He was hard at it, relentless in his pursuit of the ball and opponent, and backed down at no stage of the game.
It’s been a rough few years for Viney and some may consider his position as a bit of a fall from grace. Not me – this was a Jack Viney kind of game, and when you have a player who is as courageous as him he is leading from the front where there is a ball to be won, the others cannot help but fall in line.
BOYS TO MEN
How fitting, that at the end of the road in 2021, we’ve witnessed a team grow up.
At the same venue they faltered and fell three seasons ago, the young stars of the Demons stood head and shoulders above the rest. Viney, Oliver, Brayshaw and yes, Petracca, were the best mids on the ground, whilst the astute recruiting of the Demons saw both May and Lever underpin their defence, and a Sideshow Bob-looking character playing out of the goal square.
A lot has to go right to win a premiership. Little things have to fall into place and experiments have to work in order for the club to thrive. The Dees put it all together in 2021. This is a club that has seen their precociously talented young stars blossom into some of the coolest heads under pressure in the game. They have fostered a sense of team and in some cases, complete selflessness, to obtain the ultimate glory. In short, they discovered the secret to winning, and they discovered that in trusting one another.
Whether this team goes onto reach greater heights will be debated and discussed, but whatever happens next, this Melbourne unit did close to everything right in 2021. They sacrificed personal gain for that of the team. Some accepted lesser roles to the benefit of others, and when challenged, they responded not like a bunch of panicked kids who had someone stand up to them, but with a quiet confidence and belief in their game plan, their footy, and their teammates, that they would work through it.
Never has a team shown the maturity to take a punch, as the Dees did in the second quarter in this one, and compose themself to respond like that. Hearts were in mouths in the second quarter, as the Dogs started to find their rhythm, but there was no knee-jerk reaction from Simon Goodwin, no hack kicks and putting teammates under the pump from the Dees… they stuck to their guns and went with what got them to the dance in the first place. And y’all seen what happened next…
THE MOMENTUM CHANGER?
This will probably be unpopular, but it warrants mentioning.
Josh Schache dropped into the hole at half forward late in the third quarter and looked a chance to take a mark. The Dees players came from everywhere, as you’d expect, and the ensuing collision left three players in a heap on the Optus Stadium turf.
A quick straw poll of the other Mongrel writers returned a unanimous decision that they’d been paying free kicks for that type of contact in marking contests all season, with Jake Lever contesting the footy and Angus Brayshaw making heavy, and what looked to be high contact to Schache.
There was no call, which, I suppose is fine, given it is a Grand Final. Personally, in a game of this magnitude, I prefer for these moments to be let go, so no complaints from me, but when decisions like that are paid all season and then let go in the biggest game of the year, it begs the question… why the hell are we paying them in all the other games if you’re just going to pretend they don’t matter in the Grand Final?
I know this section could come across as me having a whinge about the umps – I have no dog in this fight. No dog, and no Dogs – I just want consistency. Gimme this sort of contact all season long and I’ll be happy. Don’t just reserve good, hard footy for the Grand Final – it belongs in every round of the season.
Did Brayshaw collect Schache high?
Yep, it appears he did.
Did Brayshaw make contact with the footy?
Nope, it appears he didn’t.
Should there have been a free kick paid?
Probably, but in 2021, the Dogs have been pretty fortunate at times with the umps. If you live by the free kick, you die by the free kick. The thing is, this was just a five-point game at the time of this incident. It happened about 30 metres out from the Dogs goal. A successful shot and 30 seconds off the clock… who knows what could have happened.
It likely doesn’t change the result, but… you just never know.
It’s hard to look at that last quarter as a Dogs fan, I’m sure. It is almost up there with the 1984 Hawthorn capitulation to Essendon, that saw the Bombers run riot and overrun a tired Hawthorn team.
The Dogs gave it their all in the second quarter and looked as though they may have had the firepower to match it with the Dees. Bont kicked two, Treloar was in everything and Caleb Daniel was having the type of second quarter that Christian Salem had in the first.
And then the brakes went on.
Bont was held to five touches in the third quarter and Daniel was restricted to just three, all but destroying what was looking like a record-breaking night at the office in a Grand Final.
As the Dees took control early in the last, the body language spoke volumes. Heads dropped, players started jogging and in some cased, walking to position. It was a concession that became a procession.
Momentum is a funny thing in sport. Some will argue that it is a non-factor, and the string of mind can easily overcome it – much as Melbourne did when the Dogs got three goals up, but in some cases, it stops looking like a hill to climb and starts to look like scaling Everest.
The task became too great for the Dogs, and the three late goals to the Dees in the third quarter all but slammed the gate shut on their premiership aspirations. As with all games, there will be a lot of “what ifs…” asked about the game. I even outlined one of them above, but when you look at this game in the rear-view mirror, seeing 16 of the last 17 goals go one way… there is no defending that.
The Dees just belted the Dogs in the second half – pulled their pants down and gave them a hiding, proving that they were the best team of the season. And the Dogs had no choice but to take it.
DO KYSAIAH PICKETT’S FOUR TOUCHES TELL THE STORY OF HIS GAME?
No, no, no… not by a long shot.
You see, there was this other guy who used to play small forward around seven or eight years ago. Turns out he was pretty good at it. Played for Hawthorn… name was Rolly or something? Ever heard of him?
Apparently, some people used to think he didn’t do enough because they were used to looking at the stats sheet and assessing players by numbers. Players like Pickett, and yes, players like Cyril Rioli, make those numbers seem redundant.
Put it this way – Charlie Spargo has Kysaiah Pickett to thank for his goal in the first quarter. It was all about Pickett’s pressure, firstly to not give up the ghost in a two-on-one disadvantage. Secondly, his lunge at the Dogs’ defender caused an error, leading to a turnover and the Spargo goal.
There was another aspect to his game I found interesting, as well. Pickett has made a name for himself with his blistering closing speed, but if you watch the game again, as I am sure you will, watch the way he refuses to commit to the elusive Caleb Daniel. Instead of charging at him, and opening himself up to the sidestep, which Daniel does so well, Pickett stays off him and corrals him, forcing him to kick over or around him. It’s bloody smart!
Daniel has made a fool of a heap of players over the past couple of years, walking around them like they were traffic cones – not Pickett. He was well-drilled in the way he played Daniel, and the further the game progressed, the less efficient Daniel become.
DOES BONT GET LOOKED AT FOR GOING HIGH ON OLIVER?
Oliver started like a train.
Actually, no… that’s dumb. Trains move pretty slowly. He started like a bullet – six touches in the very early going set him up for a 13-disposal first term, and it looked like the Clayton show might be well and truly on in the Grand Final.
But a head knock around half way through the second quarter seemed to slow Oliver significantly. A free kick was paid and the advantage saw Max Gawn miss an opportunity (though he thought it was a goal). Oliver looked a little shaken up by it, and was less effective for the remainder of the quarter, finishing with just five touches.
Oliver is tough – I would not expect him to stay down after something like that, and whilst I think it could have been much worse, Bont didn’t exactly try to miss him. Given it’s Bont, it might be a small fine. If it were Toby Greene… firing squad at the ready!
DID THE DEES’ DEFENCE DO THE JOB?
Well, yeah… obviously, but we should look a little deeper.
The Dogs seemed determined to prevent Jake Lever from exploiting a matchup on someone like Cody Weightman, so they worked hard to get either Josh Schache or Tim English to engage him.
Steven May and Harry ‘Tom’ Petty were content tag teaming Aaron Naughton like in that video I mistakenly watched that one time… and the next time.
Lever had six intercepts, which is well below his season average, but Schache failed to have the impact he had on Aliir Aliir in the Prelim. For the record, Aliir’s turnovers made Schache look a hell of a lot better than he was in that game.
Anyway… Naughton was restricted to the point he had zero influence and with Schache looking at defence before offence, it allowed the Dees to clear a little too easily at times.
The Dogs got bugger all from Cody Weightman or Mitch Hannan, which once again allowed players like Michael Hibberd and Trent Rivers scope to help their teammates out.
Did they do the job? The Dogs scored 66 points – hell yes, they did, but for the life of me, I cannot understand how the Bulldogs did not test out Steven May’s hamstrings with some long, hard leads from Naughton when the opportunity presented.
REMEMBER WHEN SIMON GOODWIN WAS UNDER EXTREME PRESSURE?
Pepperidge Farm remembers…
It was only about seven months ago, prior to the start of the 2021 season, that people were speculating how long he had left. Those consecutive years missing the finals were failures. Big ones, at that.
It must make this year all the sweeter for the Demon coach. To see his smile following the game, tears in his eyes and a sense of accomplishment and relief… I felt happy for him. I would not be discounting the impact of Mark Williams on this group as well – a club would do well to pick him up as a senior coach very, very soon.
How many players did Ed Langdon run past to get on the end of that kick inside 50 in the last? One moment, he had the footy in the back half and the next, he is bobbing up as a forward 50 target – the bloke runs like a racehorse.
He also has a nice mane. Yay, or neigh? Sorry… it’s getting late.
Nice to see Tom McDonald finish off well with a couple of goals. Really struggled to get into the contest, but did a few things you just don’t get lauded for.
Keep an eye out for the Mongrel Midfield Championship Belt Update this coming week. Jack Macrae was the champ going in. It’s safe to say he will not be the champ to end the season. 26 touches was his lowest output for the season!
And there we have it – 57 years of waiting. 57 years of heartache and pain. 57 years of wondering if the team will ever get it right. They did, and you all got to see it.
To all the people locked down in Melbourne, I hope this game gave you some light in a pretty dark time. To those lucky enough to watch live in Western Australia… wow, people really can sit together without masks, have a great time and watch the footy! Everything was great.
Congrats Demons – 2021 AFL premiers.