2021 Season Review: Melbourne – A Grand new flag

Its a grand new flag: Melbourne ended their 57 year premiership drought in barnstorming fashion. Image: @melbournefc. Twitter

The drought. The curse. The heartache, the pain, the shame, the torture. It’s all over.

The Melbourne Demons have ended one of football’s most arduous and barren runs. Bringing home a grand new flag and rubber-stamping a new era in red and blue.

What worked?

Right from the pre-season, the Demons knew they needed to become a more selfless and cohesive unit. They also knew that while they had stars on every line, they needed to get fitter and work harder as a collective.

Angus Brayshaw shifted out of the centre square, away from his natural position, and took up a new role on the wing where he became one of the Demons most important link players along with Ed Langdon as they moved the ball up the field.

The defensive setup was on display right from the first bounce with key pillars Jake Lever and Steven May proved to be impenetrable forces throughout the year, filled out by the elite kicking skills of Christian Salem and Trent Rivers leaving defensive 50. Harrison Petty also grabbed his opportunity and cemented his place in the team when Adam Tomlinson went down with a season-ending ACL injury midway through the season.

But it was the engine room for the Dees that set them apart from the pack this year. Lead by their Captain, Star ruckman, All-Australian Captain Max Gawn and with the one-two punch Clayton Oliver – who finished third on the Brownlow Medal and at 23 has established himself as one of the top handful players in the game and Norm Smith Medallist Christian Petracca who continues to elevate himself with every passing season, is the source for all thier drive out of the centre along with Jack Viney.

What didnt?

Not much really.

Right from the start, we could see it was a new, dominant Melbourne who burst out of the blocks. But if we’re going to clutch at straws. Melbourne was electric against the competition’s best, only losing twice to sides that eventually finished in the top 8 all season. Their other losses came against sides who finished well below them. The controversial  Round 10 loss at the Adelaide Oval was the first, followed by further slip-ups against Collingwood on Queens Birthday and the draw with Hawthorn at the MCG in Round 18 will be an area the Dees will look to brush up on in the new season.

Who impressed?

In a dominant season, the Demons were well represented in the All-Australian team with 5 representatives across all areas of the ground. Among those Demons unlucky to miss out on All- Australian selection was forward Bayley Fritsch who continued elevating himself with each passing game, culminating in a 6 goal haul on Grand Final Day. Fritsch amassed a career-high 59 goals for the season and led Melbourne’s goalkicking as an undersized key forward along with Ben Brown and Tom McDonald as tall options.

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Season highlight?

Take your pick from any of the three finals, which could well be the highlight of the last 20 years for Demons fans.

But the moment that would have made the Melbourne faithful really believe that this year could be theirs was the night they secured the minor premiership down in Geelong in the final round of the season.

44 points down midway through the 3rd quarter, at the ground which was the scene of one of the most humiliating days in the history of the Melbourne Football Club almost 10 years to the day past, Melbourne came rampaging back into the game. After sea-sawing closing stages in the final minutes, the ball was in the arms of captain Max Gawn as the final siren went. With a chance to secure the win and claim the club’s first-ever minor premiership, Gawn duly slotted the goal.

Cue the pandemonium from the Melbourne players on the ground and the thousands watching at home. It was at that point when they all thought that it could be theirs.

Season lowlight?

The injury to Adam Tomlinson was a bitter blow to a solid Melbourne defence who had started the season with 9 straight victories on their way to 17 wins for the season. When Tomlinson went down against North Melbourne, many wondered how both Steven May and Jake Lever would adjust with the addition of the younger and inexperienced Harrison Petty stepping up. For a brief moment, there was some scrambling.

Chopping block?

The Demons win on Saturday night could be the first of a run of sustained success with plenty of young talent in the Premiership side and much more sitting on the sidelines. It could force some veterans and other mature-age players to seek opportunities elsewhere. Aaron vandenBerg and Neville Jetta fell out of contract this season and have been moved on by the Demons already as they look to pursue a new opportunity elsewhere. Speedster Jayden Hunt and forward Jake Melksham are others that could look elsewhere after falling out of the team towards the end of the season. Kade Chandler is another young player who is out of contract. He’s spent 3 years at the club and only played 5 games this season, and was used as the medical sub on 4 occasions.

Number one off-season priority?

A quiet off-season at the trade table looms for the Dees after an exciting previous few years adding layers to what is now a premiership teaming layers to what is now a premiership team. Attention will turn to securing the future of their long-term stars and, once lockdown restrictions end, celebrating with the Demons faithful who have waited long and hard for this moment.

Final Say:

The final 45 minutes of the Demons season will be recounted and articulated by Demons fans for years to come. It was a 45-minute blitz that ended and buried 57 years of pain and torture for the countries oldest Football club and set them on a new course for greatness.

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