Melbourne’s quest to go back-to-back begins against Sydney on Friday night in the second qualifying final. (Photo: @melbournefc Twitter)

The Melbourne Football Club will be looking to book themselves a spot in the preliminary finals on Friday night as they prepare to face the Sydney Swans at the MCG.

The Demons enter the clash having won three out of their last four encounters, including a resounding 58-point-win over the Brisbane Lions a fortnight ago. Meanwhile, the Swans are currently on a seven-game winning streak, picking up wins over fellow top 8 sides Collingwood, Fremantle, and the Western Bulldogs in that stretch. 

The match will also mark the first time since the 2019 AFL Grand Final that the city of Melbourne will play host to a final. 

Melbourne vice-captain Jack Viney says that the opportunity to play at the MCG is one he and the playing group are really excited about. 

“Yeah, can’t wait. We did some pretty special things last year, but we weren’t able to do it in front of our fans. We weren’t able to do it in front of our families as well,” Viney told reporters. 

“I’m really looking forward to a big crowd. I’m hearing some reports of some good numbers for a final against Sydney, so really looking forward to hearing the Demons fans cheering hard and also getting our families along to experience finals football.”

“This is my 10th year in the AFL and my family has only been to watch me play one [finals] series, so everyone’s really excited, including families.”

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The last time the two teams met was in Round 12, with the Swans overcoming a 20-point deficit at quarter-time to ultimately triumph by 12 points. 

The Demons have surrendered leads on several occasions across the course of the season, however, Viney believes that these issues have been rectified on the training ground throughout the back half of the year. 

“We’ve found ourselves in close games all season, particularly the back end of the season, so I feel like [at] three-quarter time if we’re up or down and the game’s really in the balance, we’ve got to stay pretty calm and collected,” Viney said. 

“We understand what we need to do to get us over the line, so I think that’s been one of the I suppose pleasing things over the last month is we’ve found ourselves in positions where we’ve played really well, but also been in close games that we’ve had to dig deep and find ways of securing a win.”

Sydney got the better of Melbourne in Round 12 of the home-and-away season. (Photo: melbournefc.com.au)

As the reigning premiers, Melbourne knows what it takes come September and will be searching to emulate that success this time around. 

“We’re attacking it really much the same. We feel like we’ve put ourselves in a terrific position. Securing that top-four position gives us a great opportunity in finals. We did that last year,” Viney said. 

“In terms of energy and the vibe around the group, it feels very similar.”

“We understand that there needs to be a heap of hard work in finals. These are the toughest games to win, so we’re all geared up, ready to roll, full of enthusiasm, and looking to put our best game style on show on Friday against Sydney.”

The potential return of key forward Tom McDonald could also offer an added boost for the Demons. McDonald made a successful return to the field during Casey’s qualifying-final win in the VFL on the weekend, having not featured at AFL level since Round 10 due to a Lisfranc injury. 

Yet with the Demons’ forward-line working productively in recent times, the 29-year-old’s potential availability could provide the Melbourne coaching staff with a few headaches come selection.

“Tommy’s done a great job getting back and playing his first game since hurting his foot. [It was] a pretty severe injury, but he’s worked hard in the rehab program and put himself in the mix,” Viney said. 

“We’ve been functioning pretty well the last few weeks to finish off the season, but him coming back, playing footy again, he’s in the mix.”

Individually, Viney has produced his most consistent season to date, averaging 26.1 disposals, 12.6 contested possessions, and 5.3 score involvements per game in 2022. 

The 28-year-old midfielder believes his quality performances can be attributed to the continuity he’s been able to enjoy this season. 

“I definitely think it’s been my most consistent year and I’m really lucky that I got most of the pre-season done.”

“I’ve really enjoyed the consistency of training, the consistency of working at my game, on my craft, and following guys around like Petracca and Oliver and competing against them week in week out and trying to improve.”

“So, I feel like it’s led to some strong performances and I’m looking to continue that into the finals series.”

On Friday night, Viney and his fellow midfield brigade will be going head-to-head with the likes of Callum Mills, Luke Parker, Chad Warner, and James Rowbottom.

Viney is fully aware of the threat posed by the Swans in the middle of the ground and is expecting a hot contest. 

“It’s going to be a terrific battle in the midfield. They’ve got some experience with some youth, so we’re going to have our hands full.”

Reflecting on the team’s lead-up to finals, Viney believes the Demons have rediscovered their “ruthless edge” in recent weeks, an ominous warning to other contenders. 

“I can only go off our last performance, but I thought we brought that kind of physical and ruthless edge to our game last week and we did that for the month leading up to finals.”

“You don’t need to find too much more motivation or dig too deep to find that ruthless edge in finals. At our best, we play that way and finals is going to bring the best out of us.”

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