Grand Final: Melbourne vs Western Bulldogs

 

Melbourne – JB EDDY & TRENT SHIELDS

 

JB: Be honest Melbourne fans, did any of you not have that “oh shit” moment when the Dogs hit the lead?

For a club that has promised much at times in the past few decades, only to under-deliver, It would be entirely forgivable for the Demon army to feel their faith wavering at that moment.

But each and every fan can rejoice that this Melbourne side rallied to put in a dominant end to the third quarter that broke the dogs badly enough that the final ten minutes of the match was little more than a victory lap. 

Soak it up Dees fans, and I hope to see a packed ground in 2022 when you unfurl the flag.

 

TS: It’s the question asked after almost every premiership; does the list profile and impressive game plan translate to an ongoing era of success? At this point, it’s hard to argue with probably three of the top ten players in the comp in the centre square, five All Australians and ten of the winning side 21 years of age or younger. For Melbourne fans the most pressing question on their mind now has moved from ‘will I ever witness a premiership in my life?’ to ‘is Gawn, Oliver, Petracca and Viney the best on-ball group in the modern era?’, and ain’t that a glorious thing. 

 

[14] Michael Hibberd – 6 (JB)

The stats sheet will show Hibberd only had 7 touches, but that doesn’t tell the full tale of his game. He worked the zone defence pretty well, filling leading lanes and getting some handy intercepts as the Bulldogs sought an avenue to goal.

Not as big a contribution as most, but not a liability, so he gets a 6.

 

[1] Steven May – 7 (TS)

The aftermath has brought about questions on the Western Bulldogs and why they didn’t test out May’s injured hamstring, in this isolated match up May was allowed to cruise around relatively untested and actually lost his two one-on-one contests, the first time this year this had occurred. Able to collect 14 touches at the elite 94% efficiency, and two telling contested pack marks, May was very good, but it’ll nag at Naughton in particular why he didn’t run him around further and wider when he had the chance. 

 

[8] Jake Lever – 8 (JB)

Plenty of people are pointing out Tex Walker’s quote about Lever leaving for money and giving up success this week (and in terms of PR, I think Tex would be grateful if that was the quote of his that people are talking the most about lately), but in the words of that little girl from the Old El Paso adverts: “Porque no los dos?”.

Lever was in and around a lot of the contests in the back line, working off the pack as May took the big body work. He ran hard to put pressure on the ball, but in keeping with the mobility of the Melbourne backline, rarely committed to a tackle that would see him take himself off his feet, preferring instead to corral opponents or pin their arms. It meant that he was able to quickly shift to the next player once the initial opponent disposed of the ball, and coupled with the intensity of a grand final, increased the perceived pressure on the Bulldogs ball movers a lot more than it probably should have.

 

[3] Christian Salem – 9 (TS)

Rewarded with a vote from Geelong champ Harry Taylor in the official Norm Smith Medal voting, Salem began the game in stunning form collecting nine of his 27 possessions in the first term. Easily finding space, and attacking with anticipation and precision he repeatedly set up his teammates in better positions as he scythed the ball inside forward fifty on seven occasions, only behind Petracca on the night. Placed an emphatic exclamation mark on his performance with a snapped goal after yet another terrific ground ball collect in the celebratory final term.     

 

[35] Harrison Petty – 7 (JB)

Backmen have the challenge of needing to contribute for every minute of the game, because if a dangerous player like Aaron Naughton has a dominant five minutes, it can cost you the game, no matter how good you were for the better part of two hours.

Such was Petty’s contribution. Naughton and Weightman had minimal impact on the game, due in no small part to Petty and May teaming up to deny them a free run at the ball. Melbourne’s back six had a brilliant day out with the slight exception of a run of goals for the dogs in the third quarter, but much of that can be put down to the work further up the ground of Treloar and Bontempelli.

 

[24] Trent Rivers – 7 (TS)

One of the youngest Demons in this side, Rivers began strongly and without fear of failure, eight of his eleven possessions coming in the first half as he repelled Bulldogs forward forays with four intercepts in that time. Largely unsighted in the second half as the ball spent considerable time sailing through the Demons goal posts. A second year player who plays like a veteran, fans will look back at the Jackson/Rivers draft haul in years to come and smile. 

 

[10] Angus Brayshaw – 9 (JB)

Melbourne’s strategy of pushing their wings wide and towards the play was a huge part of their win. By sticking to the structure rather than chasing easy handballs in the contest, Brayshaw and Langdon were able to be options when the ball came out of that contest. It meant they had to put a lot of faith in their mids to get the job done, but with the day Petracca and Viney had, surely that wouldn’t test their belief too much?

Brayshaw had a great day for his sort of player. He wasn’t flashy, won’t command the spotlight much, but his sheer effort was a sight to behold. The workrate he showed with and without the ball is a great example of role players having an impact.

Several times he’d run the length of the ground to present an option as a link up player, be overlooked and have to double back into defence, which he did with just as much desperation as he showed running towards goal. 

He had 25 touches and seemed to make a lot of smart decisions for the match.

 

[5] Christian Petracca – 10 (TS)

The outright favourite coming in to the contest to win the coveted Norm Smith Medal, Petracca began somewhat nervously double grabbing the ball on occasion, but the key there was his hands were always first on the ball, and as he grew more accustomed to the pressure exerted in a Grand Final the more he felt at ease. His numbers were the creation of fantasy, equalling Simon Black’s record for most disposals in a Grand Final, exceeding his own personal career-high in the process – 24 of those contested, a whopping 15 score involvements, 11 inside 50s, nine clearances, eight intercepts and 896m gained along with two of the best goals you’d hope to see. Has long been touted as the perfect player for football’s grandest stage, his name now sits very comfortably alongside all-time greats Judd, Martin and Hodge.    

 

[15] Ed Langdon – 9 (JB)

Much like Brayshaw, Langdon’s running and adherence to the structure gave Melbourne loads of flexibility in the transition from defence to offence. Several times he managed to deliver inside 50 with absolute perfection, and doubling back quickly to zone off any rebound attempt, which resulted in six score involvements and four intercepts. 

His game won’t get the attention of the bigger stars on the field, but his execution of the role given to him made life easier for a lot of people on the field.

 

[30] Alex Neal-Bullen – 8 (TS)

Underrated, but quietly efficient, Neal-Bullen would be feted as one of the coaching groups greatest successes as he collected two of his four highest disposals games of the season across the three finals, as well as hitting the scoreboard. The Demon number 30 harassed relentlessly, then was superb with ball in hand recording his team’s second highest score involvements also capping his performance with a long set shot goal in the final term to completely shut the gate on the vanquished Dogs.    

 

[25] Tom McDonald – 7 (JB)

McDonald finished with two goals, but you could make an argument that both came after the game was decided. He tried to present as much as possible, but struggled to get a clean run at it for much of the game. 

For all that though, he managed to run patterns that left the defence spreading and unable to cover both him and Brown. He executed his role well without dominating, but in fairness he did seem to receive a lot of direct attention from a very aggressive Bulldog defence. 

 

[32] Tom Sparrow – 8 (TS)

Perhaps raising an eyebrow with casual observers being preferred to more well known names such as Jones, Jetta and Melksham for the Demons final run, Sparrow was yet another victory for Goodwin as he provided three of his career five goal assists in the biggest game of his fledgling 28 game career. Looking comfortable from the first bounce, Sparrow was influential in the first term as Melbourne forged a lead, then got on the end of a clearance to supply the middle goal of that extraordinary three major sequence to end the third term. 

 

[9] Charlie Spargo – 6 (JB)

Spargo went missing for much of the match, but when he had the ball in his hands, he managed to do OK with it. It’s the sort of game that in a loss would have him fairly nervous, but to win in such dominating fashion as a team, his lack of impact won’t generate much discussion. He didn’t do a lot wrong, just didn’t do a lot in general. One positive was being able to stay in space in the forward line to link up the ball away from the contest on a few occasions. 

He would probably have preferred to be a bit more of a contributor, but he finished the day with a medal and did some things to help make that happen, so I dare say he has few regrets.

 

[50] Ben Brown – 8 (TS)

A missing piece of the puzzle in the development of a Melbourne premiership list, Brown hit peak form in September, claiming 20 marks across three games as he regained his standing as a legitimate aerial threat. His three goals, two behinds in the decider equalled his most scoring shots in a game for the season, in fact the most he’d returned in a game since kicking ten against Port in 2019. Eight score involvements from his ten touches illustrate his efficiency, while two towering contested marks that led to goals confirmed the Dogs worst nightmares with their under siege tall key back conundrum.    

 

[31] Bayley Fritsch – 10 (JB)

Fritsch was the only bloke on the ground who was even remotely in the conversation of who could take the Norm Smith if not Petracca.

Six goals in a Grand Final for a medium forward is a monumental effort, and capped off a great season for Fritsch, especially in the latter half of the year.

His work at the drop of the ball was a textbook example of reading the play and roving the contest, coupled with a goal sense that only the best forwards have. An enormous day from someone who had a breakout year.

 

[11] Max Gawn – 8 (TS)

The now-iconic Demon skipper was challenged by opponent and friend, Stef Martin throughout the match, but while he didn’t have everything go his way like in the Preliminary Final, his workrate never wavered and was able to positively impact the game as the dominant tap ruckman on the field. Delivering his third highest hit-outs to advantage percentage for the season, Gawn repeatedly knocked the ball into the path of Viney (12), Petracca (9) and Oliver (5) whose clearance work ensured that his side would have the best opportunity to convert possession to scores. Unlucky not to add a goal of his own to the fairytale with a shot that appeared on replay to go through the sticks.  

 

[13] Clayton Oliver – 10 (JB)

Oliver was utterly relentless all day. His work at the contest was exemplary, and his run without the ball was everything you could want from a mid. His pressure at the contest was a highlight, and he managed to rack up 33 touches, 10 tackles and five clearances in a very big contribution to the Demons’ premiership. The way Oliver, Viney and Petracca combined in this game—and much of the year—will be talked about long into the offseason, with great envy and perhaps a bit of fear from opposition coaching panels.

His work in keeping the dangerous Bulldogs midfield accountable while also earning his own ball allowed Viney to commit to the hard ball and Petracca to work off a post to shake his man with such regularity that I almost expected Bevo to take the field himself in an effort to hold Oliver down.

Oliver did all that could be expected of him, and did it very, very well. 

 

[7] Jack Viney – 9 (TS)

The former skipper has struggled at times to find a complementary balance between his endeavour and limitations, but this season it has certainly clicked, and like a good racehorse trainer, Goodwin found the perfect centre square combination, with Viney’s hard-nosed grit pairing perfectly with Gawn, Petracca and Oliver. Achieving a season-high clearance number in the heat of a Grand Final of 12 was stunning in and of itself, but coupled with his second best disposals efficiency since round two was a dagger to the Bulldogs hearts as Viney extracted the ball with his trademarked brutality but then handed off to the myriad of Demon runners to propel the ball forward throughout the match.   

 

[4] James Harmes – 9 (JB)

Now, giving Harmes a 9 for what was a reasonably average game may seem overs, but hang with me here. He had 14 touches, three marks and three tackles. Not the sort of showing that puts you in contention for the Norm Smith, but it was his work in the last quarter that earned him this rating in my book.

Late in the game, when the Bulldogs needed 11 goals in five minutes, Harmes went to the bench, asking to be subbed off for “cramp”. The truth of the matter is that he wanted to get his mate and medical sub James Jordan on the field for the last few minutes of the match, so he could feel a part of it.

That sort of selflessness and team-centric approach is the sort of thing that builds club culture. When the players are looking out to each other to this degree, the team is going to do well. The med staff told him to piss off, but the effort earned him gold-level Good Bloke™ status forever.

 

[6] Luke Jackson – 9 (TS)

Typically when the five-time All Australian ruckman takes a well-deserved rest the opposition will lick their lips at the prospect of gaining some control of the stoppages, but this current Melbourne team affords no favours. Luke Jackson, recently crowned the Ron Evans medalist took his game to another level this finals series, belying his age and inexperience while utilising his athleticism and intrinsic decision making to devastating effect. The three goal burst in 35 seconds to effectively end the contest prior to three-quarter time had Jackson’s fingerprints all over them as he won hit outs and then gained possession or blocked to allow his teammates to stroll through the flailing dogs midfield. His handball to Oliver for the third goal in this run was as sublime for its weighted execution as it was his vision to hit the second option outside of an oncoming defender. 

 

[17] Jake Bowey – 8 (JB)

A solid game as a half-back playmaker, Bowey kept to his structure and allowed Brayshaw and Langdon to keep their own space on the transition from defence to offence. When he did find himself up the field, he rarely wasted it, finding teammates in space to reward their work to get there.

 

[36] Kysaiah Pickett – 6 (TS)

While nowhere near as influential as his spectacular Preliminary final contribution, one might be misled by his four disposals (equal lowest in his 39-game career) that he was ineffective on the night. The thing about this 2021 Goodwin/Gawn led Melbourne is that every single player works to their strengths and plays their role in a team effort. The topline four touches doesn’t tell the story of his game-high three tackles inside defensive fifty and twenty-three pressure acts, 20% up on his season average. 

 

Medi-Sub [23] James Jordan – was not used

 

Daisy Pearce – 9 (JB)

Now, I’m a massive fan of Cameron Ling as a bloke. He seems generous, hard-working, and knows a lot more about footy than I likely ever will. But, as a commentator, he makes me want to smack myself in the forehead with a tack hammer.

Daisy took the special comments role and added timely insight, tactical explanation and highlighted many of the finer points of the game. She even corrected BT when he started rabbitting on about players making poor decisions by explaining the benefits of the options they chose at the time.

All this while managing to call the game pretty well considering how much she adores the Melbourne footy club. While the Dogs fans could level criticism at many people on the day, I don’t think many would find any great fault with Pearce’s call.

 

EBOOK: MELBOURNE DEMONS YEAR IN REVIEW 2021

 

Bulldogs – Alex Docherty & Nick ‘Slugger’ Sluggett

 

(TS): Coming into the match the Bulldogs were primed to continue their all-conquering September form of 2016 and add a third premiership cup to the Whitten Oval boardroom. With the lead out to 19 points and eleven minutes on the clock in the third term, Dogs and neutrals alike began to muse about the legacy of their inspirational skipper Bontempelli, and the small group who could become two-time premiership players in a club devoid of success for much of their history. A withering burst from ultimately the best side of the year crushed those dreams as shocked witnesses rubbed their eyes in utter disbelief and the predicted close match up crumbled in the onslaught of a 57-year drought ending. Questions will be asked about the shape of Luke Beveridge’s list, over-indexed in midfielders and tall forwards, but seriously lacking in rucks and tall defenders. It’s the unfortunate postscript to a Grand Final capitulation, but these Dogs are made of stern stuff and should be in contention again in 2022.   

 

[10] Easton Wood – 2 (AD)

It was a dirty night for the 2016 premiership captain, matched up directly on Bayley Fritsch for most of the night. More so through Melbourne’s precision with the ball than anything else, Wood was caught out on the lead against him too many times but it will still say on the stat sheet that Fritsch had kicked six on him. A wrist complaint on the brink of half time only compounded his woes just a little bit more.

[42] Alex Keath – 4 (NS)

Did his job in this game, I felt. Keath didn’t get beaten in the air very often, if at all. Matched-up on Gawn when he rested forward and held him well given the amount of footy coming into their space. Overall was definitely not disgraced on the big stage.

 

[34] Bailey Williams – 5 (AD)

Was probably the worst Bulldog on the ground at quarter time as he was responsible for two direct turnovers that resulted in Melbourne goals. But fair play to him, he dusted himself off, went about his business and regained his usual composure from quarter time onwards, but unfortunately there wasn’t much he could do to stem that Melbourne onslaught.

 

[35] Caleb Daniel – 7 (NS)

Held the Dogs defence together in the first quarter. While other players crumbled under the pressure, Daniel seemed to grow an extra two-foot taller. Was moving the ball a mile in the first half. An inspiring performance that netted a lazy 26 disposals in the first half (Yes, a few kick-ins in there) and over 500 metres gained. Daniel just didn’t panic with the ball in hand as he showed his elite skills by foot to kick start the Bulldogs attacking drives. He also bodied up well against some serious players like Petracca multiple times and held his own. Not bad for a little man. He had a very quiet third quarter, with only three disposals. Once the game turned and the Demons avalanche came, Daniel suffered with his fellow defenders with some exposure on the defensive side of the ball. 

 

[12] Zaine Cordy – 5 (AD)

I had my queries about his selection in his team, but I thought by the game’s end he did enough to justify his inclusion at the expense of an unlucky Gardner. Found himself engaged in a lot of enthralling one-on-ones against Tom McDonald and did a good job to stifle him up until Melbourne’s run of goals in the second half. Also had stints on Ben Brown and Luke Jackson up forward, and there were moments where they proved too tall and too strong, but often Cordy brought it to ground.

 

[31] Bailey Dale – 4 (NS)

He looked a bit nervous in the first quarter. Had some turnovers and was beaten to the ball a few times. He did settle into the game and when he got some space, he looked like the player that made the All-Australian team this year. But, like Daniel, when it came to the crunch and having to defend his direct opponent under the fierce Melbourne attack, he just couldn’t stop the onslaught.

 

[6] Bailey Smith – 5 (AD)

Didn’t kick a goal as per his last three finals appearances, but still had a lot of moments where he was prominent during the opening half. Finished with 26 disposals for the match, kicking it at 66 percent efficiency, and was top five in the Bulldogs for pressure acts with 23 for the match. However, he unquestionably had his colours lowered as the Demons stormed home.

 

[21] Tom Liberatore – 6 (NS)

Libba’ was his usual self in this game. A bull on the inside and one of the few Dogs not being shaken off in the tackle. He battled manfully but was overwhelmed, in the end, by the sheer class of his Demons opponents. That’s not an insult in any way. Those guys were operating in rarefied air. Libba’ finished with 15 contested possessions, seven clearances and eight tackles.

 

[7] Lachie Hunter – 4 (AD)

Against Melbourne’s wingmen in Langdon and Brayshaw, there is evidence to suggest that Lachie Hunter was second best to his counterparts for most of the night. Tried to work hard to get himself involved, kicked a very important goal in the second quarter to get the Dogs in front when they had the game on their terms, but just couldn’t exactly piece it together the way his opposition did. Finished with just 16 disposals, three marks and four score involvements. 

 

[19] Cody Weightman – 1 (NS)

Flew courageously into the post in the first quarter and suffered a very heavy impact. Both from the post and then the ground (I was surprised he wasn’t checked for concussion). That was the only impact of any kind Weightman had in this game. He was barely sighted and couldn’t do enough to get pressure on the Melbourne players coming out of their defence. A disappointing game for Weightman he is going to have to accept and move on from.

 

[33] Aaron Naughton – 3 (AD)

Was matched up on Steven May for most of the night and was kept quiet for most of the game. Kicked a really good goal on the run, which is remarkably only the second time he’s done that this season from his 47 majors (the remainder coming from set shots), and also managed just one contested mark for the game and failed to lay a tackle. Just wasn’t his day.

 

[1] Adam Treloar – 8 (NS)

A quiet start for Treloar in the first quarter, but he rose to prominence early in the second quarter with a couple of fantastic goals to kickstart the Dogs. From that point on Treloar found his form and was in everything for the Bulldogs right up until his third goal in the last quarter. He more than delivered on his value for the Dogs in this game – a worthy sidekick for Bontempelli. Treloar finished with 27 disposals and three goals to be one of the Bulldogs best three players on the ground. A lot was made of Treloar’s move from Collingwood and his return from an extended injury. He went through the ringer again recently when commentators just ignored his form in the first final to try and say he was in poor form after the Dogs semi-final win. We’ll be hearing none of that talk after this match.

 

[13] Josh Schache – 4 (AD)

We got what was expected as Schache looked to have engaged with Jake Lever numerous times throughout the night and to his credit, held him to just one intercept mark and six intercept possessions overall. But needed to help add some form of contribution to the scoreboard as well and despite posing as a legitimate threat at times, Schache only added one behind for his troubles.

 

[44] Tim English –  4 (NS)

Got going in the second quarter and did some good things. He took a couple of really good marks and made good decisions with the ball (*we won’t talk about that kick into the man on the mark though). English competed well, but that was all he could really do as he just couldn’t do enough to lift his team. However, he will want a moment back where he cut across a ball in front of Naughton and spilled the mark in the third quarter. Overall, I thought he battled manfully and kept his opponents honest. There was no real surprise in English’s game as he was ultimately outmatched by both of Melbourne’s ruckmen.

 

[29] Mitch Hannan – 2 (AD)

Just two weeks removed from his best game in Bulldogs colours, Mitch Hannan might have just played his worst game in Bulldogs colours. Tried to engage in his direct opponent every time the ball went forward but looked as if he couldn’t do anything to prevent Melbourne players from rushing the ball out of the forward 50. Had only seven disposals all game, but it’s the three tackles and 13 pressure acts that prevented him from getting a score of one.

 

[8] Stefan Martin – 4 (NS)

Martin did his best to keep the Demons ruckmen honest. But Gawn was just a bit too good for him and Jackson was far too athletic. Martin was a solid body on the ground, but he seemed just a step too slow to be any sort of threat to the far too agile Melbourne midfielders who simply stepped around him with ease when he tried to pressure them. This meant the Dogs lacked a pressure player in the contest for the ground ball and it seemed to take a toll on them. Particularly when you also have to protect a player like Liberatore on the outside as well. Similar to English, he tried hard, but it seems that footy is a younger man’s game.

 

[11] Jack Macrae – 5 (AD)

Worked hard but really struggled to add his usual authority to the game. Only had four score involvements, four clearances and one intercept possession out of his 26 disposals, and despite his kicking efficiency going at 83 percent, his wobbly use of the ball by hand resulted in his overall disposal efficiency dipping to 69 percent. One positive to his game is his tackling pressure though, recording a team-high eight tackles and 27 pressure acts – second to both Bontempelli and Liberatore.

 

[4] Marcus Bontempelli – 8 (NS)

The Bont’ was damn near perfect for two and a half quarters of this game. I came into this game thinking that Melbourne had three of the four best players on the ground (Gawn, Oliver and Petracca V Bont’) and that the Bulldogs skipper would need to play an absolute blinder in order for the Dogs to get up. I felt extremely vindicated after he slotted his third goal to extend the lead for the Bulldogs to 19 points in the third quarter.

If you had have asked Bulldogs fans if they would’ve taken a Bontempelli stat line of 25 disposals, three goals, five clearances and a couple awesome pack marks to lead the way for the Bulldogs, you would not have even made it past the three goals before they shouted “YES”.

I don’t know how much more Bontempelli could have done to inspire his team. When that third goal went through, and the Bulldogs looked on the verge of putting their foot on the throat of the Demons, I thought he just might’ve done it. The Lone Ranger going up against the Holy Trinity of the Demons and somehow managing to lift his team over the line. He could’ve even been a contender for a rare losing Norm Smith medalist, if the Demons managed to rally, such was his influence. I could swear he was wearing a cape at that point. 

The next 50 minutes of football was simply staggering. People can lay blame at players like Bont for not responding, but that is simply lazy. In that situation there is nothing a player like Bont’, or even a mere mortal can do. He needed his teammates to come with him and they couldn’t. Melbourne was simply too good.

 

[39] Jason Johannisen – 5 (AD)

Was not among the Bulldogs’ better players, but he was also far from the worst. There were glimpses of desperation and want to get the ball moving along during the first three quarters that were reminiscent of his 2016 Norm Smith Medal win. Took a great mark over Jake Bowey in the third term and kicked the corresponding goal out of it. Also recorded four score involvements and four marks out of 12 disposals. A good effort considering where he was at mid-year.

 

[5] Josh Dunkley – 4 (NS)

Dunkley had a hot start to the game and looked to be one of the Dogs not overawed by the occasion. He was everywhere and steady which helped to provide the Dogs a platform to launch off in the second quarter. However, that early form was as good as it got for Dunkley as he struggled to have an impact after quarter time. He got a bit of the footy, but I just didn’t think he had a great impact with it. 

 

[15] Taylor Duryea – 6 (AD)

Next to Alex Keath, he has been the Dogs’ best defender this year and I thought by and large continued to hold up strongly in this one. Despite the fact that the Dogs conceded 140 points in a Grand Final and lost by nearly 13 goals, Duryea continued to do what he has always done this year and work his backside off to cut the Dees’ forward 50 entries off at the knees. Had five intercept possessions and four marks from 16 disposals, and went at just a smidge under 94 percent.

 

[37] Roarke Smith – 5 (NS)

Great fly and recovery to score the Bulldogs first goal, however I thought he was fairly quiet after that. He did some good things but like most Dogs players, found the going tough once the Demons turned up the heat in the second half.

 

Medi-Sub [23] Laitham Vandermeer – was not used