In a 57 year stretch of premiership drought, the 2000 AFL grand final remains one of the few high-points for the Melbourne Football Club.
From murmurings of debt and merger talks, to abysmal seasons spent languishing at the bottom of the ladder, there has been little to cheer about for those that wear red and blue.
The outlier runner-up season under the beloved Neale Daniher has loomed large in the minds of supporters so devoid of success.
Despite only playing 23 games for the club, Tasmanian Ben Beams has fond memories of taking the field for the Demons last grand final appearance.
Even if he was thrust into the game at the drop of a hat, so to speak.
‘Get off me boy and pull yourself together’ – Into the fire
After kicking two goals in Sandringham’s VFL premiership win, Beams had essentially signed off on his own ticket for entry to the off season.
In a year where he had suffered a nasty injury, an element of gratitude to have even made a return was present. Beams was just happy to be playing footy.
“I broke my arm in round 14 and I come back in the finals for Sandringham, played two finals and then the Grand Final for Sandringham,” he told The Inner Sanctum.
“So I’d only really had three games back and didn’t think I was much of a chance.”
As seems to be the case in every AFL grand final however, a race against the injury clock reared its head. For Melbourne, Cameron Bruce had injured his quadricep in the preliminary final thrashing of North Melbourne.
Though he remained hopeful of playing, the odds were heavily stacked against Bruce from a medical stand point.
This was made clear in no uncertain terms to Beams, who was told by a great mentor to put any idea of celebrating on hold.
A glimmer of a chance to play in a grand final was transformed into reality when the vacancy in the side officially popped up.
“I remember Chris Fagan after the game scruffed hold of me. He knew I liked to have a beer and celebrate. He said, ‘get to training tomorrow morning, you’re emergency for next week,'” he recalled.
“Cam Bruce did his quad pretty bad and I remember he was in the hyperbaric chamber. He ended up training on the main session and got through.
“I didn’t actually find out I was playing until the Friday afternoon after the grand final parade and everything.
“I remember the grand final parade, snippets of it, but the main thing was Mark Johnson – who I sort of knew a little bit – mouthing ‘are you in, you in?’ The Essendon boys were trying to get that out of me.
“At that stage I shook my head and said ‘I’m not in’ but when I found out, it was all a bit of a blur from about 4:30, 5 o’clock when I went into the team meeting.”
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To this end, the rollercoaster of emotions associated with the week were virtually non existent. No time to embrace the excitement or drown in nerves. Nor to look back at the hard work the players had put in to get to football’s pinnacle.
Those within the Melbourne inner circle kept a laser focus. Bruce was out and needed replacing. The goal simply stayed the same, an attitude that was demonstrated by the demeanour of coach Neale Daniher.
“Neale got me in a little corridor in the doorway at the Junction Oval before the boys went in for the team meeting and said, ‘you’re in,’” Beams said.
“I remember hugging Neale and he was sort of, ‘get off me boy and pull yourself together.’
“I wouldn’t have listened to a word he said I don’t reckon, I was on cloud nine.
“I didn’t get a chance to tell my parents or anything that week. and had to keep it hush-hush that it was a late change.”
With those words from Daniher, the intensity of the week increased ten-fold. Beams, with less than 24 hours to prepare, was thrown straight into the deep end.
‘It was a bit of a blur, actually’ – A whirlwind 24 hours
Awaiting the Demons was an Essendon side at their height of their powers. With champions on every line, the Bombers dominated the competition throughout the season.
Their lone blemish, an 11 point loss to the Western Bulldogs in round 21.
Matthew Lloyd booted 109 goals for the year to not only win the Coleman medal, but also join Damien Hardwick, Dustin Fletcher and James Hird in the All-Australian team.
If hindsight is applied, the 2000 AFL grand final was more or less a foregone conclusion. The 10 goal final margin was indicative of the might of Kevin Sheedy’s side.
“Essendon during that era, they were bordering on unbeatable that year,” Beams said.
“They were still dirty on missing out on ’99 I think and going out in a prelim. Those boys, they were hard, fit. They were just awesome, an awesome team.”
Events of the day are certainly not a fair reflection of the Melbourne team, however.
While it was probably their career high point, the side boasted a number of players who would go on to make their mark on the competition.
The likes of Russell Robertson, Adem Yze and Jeff White would all go on to form the basis of Melbourne’s on field brigade for the next decade.
Skipper David Neitz on the other hand, was at the halfway point of a legendary career of 631 goals from 306 games.
The same can be said of Ben Beams.
A stat line that shows zero disposals recorded from a handful of minutes on the ground should not dominate the way he is remembered as a player.
After being delisted by Melbourne at the end of the 2001 season, he returned home and became a driving force in the VFL finals campaigns of the Tasmanian Devils in the mid 2000s.
Dwelling on the loss is certainly not a part of his agenda. Partly from the passing of time, also due to a positive attitude, Beams does not focus on misfortune.
Rather, he looks back proudly on his determination to put himself into consideration for selection and can even see the lighter side of his performance.
“It was a bit of a blur actually. I’ve never sat down and watched the game. I’ve seen snippets of it that they show on TV and stuff like that,” Beams said.
“I got a good seat. I sat on the bench for all but 12, 13 minutes of it so I suppose I was part of an AFL grand final.
“I’m more proud of the fact that I did all the rehab, I got fit and showed some good form to get looked at. It was sort of a testament to my resilience, if you like.
“It’s obviously bittersweet, but more that I’m proud of the fact that I stuck to my guns when I broke my arm and done all the right things. Got back to a level that got me selected I suppose.
“I did get a handball, I want that on record. I handballed a point through for Essendon and the bloody Herald Sun missed it and had me down for duck eggs.
“I’ve always copped it for that.”
Then of course, there is a passion for the ‘Grand Old Flag’ that still burns on today.
‘My heart’s definitely with those boys’ – Still beating true over 20 years on
In 2016, the football journey of Ben Beams saw him at the helm of the University Rainbows in Hobart’s Old Scholars Football Association.
Over a decade after the defeat to Essendon, he would taste premiership success with an old teammate and fellow Tasmanian.
In this sense, a strong connection to a special period in Melbourne history remains prominent.
“Brad Green, he played in a premiership with University down here in a side I coached. That’s always kept that there,” Beams told.
“Brad was a little bit younger than me. He actually got drafted at the end of ’99. I’d been there since ’98 and ‘Greeny’ came in. We’d lived pretty close, he was a Georgetown boy, I was a Beacy boy (Beaconsfield) over the river.”
There have also been football lessons that have stuck with Beams since his time in the AFL.
Conceding that he was never the biggest star in the team, or the closest to Daniher, there has still been an undeniable influence from the era.
“I was always on egg-shells with Neale a bit, trying to prove that I was good enough,” he recalls.
“One thing with Neale, he was probably ahead of his time in the way he coached and his planning for opposition. That was something I took into my own coaching at local level down here in Tassie.
“You pick up snippets of what he’d do and how he’d motivate guys.
“He could certainly tell a story and knew how he wanted the game to be played. He was fearsome and competitive. A lot of that would have come from being coached by Kevin Sheedy too I imagine.”
From these experiences, it is with little wonder that Beams is proud of the club and their achievements in 2021. More than simply putting together a great season, there has been a complete transformation in his eyes.
With this has come an immense joy, brought on by watching the Dees each week.
“I’ve watched them closely through the hard times with Nathan Jones and ‘Greeny’ went through. Then they got Paul Roos in, they got ‘Goody’ (Simon Goodwin) in and you can just see the stability of the place,” he told.
“Even when I was there, there was murmurings in the background – ‘the club’s in debt, the salary cap.’
“It’s sort of fallen into place, but it’s taken a long time.
“Me and my son love watching them. To see the guys and Max Gawn lead the group, then Oliver and Petracca.
“Week in, week out we make sure we watch the Melbourne game, whether they’re playing the Gold Coast or one of the top teams. We do follow them pretty hard.”
As the 2021 grand final approaches, the game will become harder to predict. Every analyst will come equipped with a multitude of arguments, stating their case for either side.
What is less debatable is where Beams’ allegiance will lie.
Carrying a spirit that harks back to the memories of 2000, his heart will beat true again.
“Bulldogs like doing it tough, Bevo’s a good coach. I reckon it’ll be a good game, but I think Melbourne will have the edge over them hopefully,” he concluded.
“My heart’s definitely with those boys.”
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