The Melbourne Demons are playing finals for the first time in more than a decade, after overcoming the West Coast Eagles to win by 17 points.
It was a tight contest all day, with Melbourne holding the advantage for much of it on the back of a strong four-goals-to-none start.
Melbourne had the game on its terms, pressuring the home side and stopping its rebound game with some smart defensive zoning.
When West Coast found space they were able to take full toll, but those opportunities were few and far between in the first half.
Max Gawn and the Melbourne midfield dominated the middle of the ground. Jack Darling went down at the ten-minute mark in a heavy (but fair) tackle from Melbourne’s Oscar McDonald, and was ruled out of the game at quarter time with concussion.
The Eagles turned to Jeremy McGovern in the second quarter to maintain their two tall forward set up. However other than a few marks to help his side exit the defensive half he was largely ineffectual and ended the game in the defensive half.
West Coast had a much better time of it in the second quarter, and were able to capitalise early to bring the margin back to seven points.
But Melbourne held firm, as they did throughout the day when challenged, and built their margin to 14 points at half time.
Melbourne’s midfield was well on top, holding a +23 contested possession differential at the main change.
Max Gawn was stellar out of the centre all day, and won 20 disposals himself. By contrast, Scott Lycett and Nathan Vardy were mostly ineffectual around the ground.
For the first ten or so minutes of the third quarter the Eagles once again looked as though they’d challenge for the lead, getting far more of the game on their terms as the teams traded possessions on the wide expanses of Perth Stadium.
Melbourne’s half-forward line stood up, helping to limit the damage by keeping the Dees efficient when they did break the West Coast lines.
It was delicately poised at the final change, with players on both sides looking fatigued in the warm afternoon sun.
The teams traded blows, but it was West Coast who took the lead on the back of a Mark LeCras goal with 18 minutes gone.
It was the first time the home side had been in front all day, and the most engaged the crowd, who was otherwise distracted by some questionable umpiring calls and no-calls, was all afternoon.
Melbourne found the answer through their half forwards a few minutes later, and never looked back, kicking the last three goals of the game to run out winners.
West Coast had a chance to go back up with a clean entry on the back of a strong Elliot Yeo contested mark, but couldn’t find an open player inside forward 50.
The Dees can thank their core midfield group and their flexible half forward line for the win. When Melbourne needed a goal it was the likes of Gawn, Christian Petracca and Angus Brayshaw who managed the ball out of the centre, and it was the deft kicking of James Harmes, Christian Salem, Charlie Sparso and Mitch Hannan that gave the Dees the lion’s share of their opportunities.
Melbourne will be playing finals for the first time since 2006, while West Coast – locked in to the final eight last week – will need a victory or a relatively small win by Collingwood to lock in their top two finish.
All told this is an enormous result for the Dees, and one which could set them up for a strong run come September time.