Not even the most one-eyed of Melbourne supporters could have predicted how their preliminary final against Geelong would go.
A truly unfathomable 83-point demolition of their age old rivals has put them through to a grand final – and as warm favourites – while the Cats are left to lick their wounds after once again falling badly short when it counts.
Here are my talking points from tonight’s bloodbath.
Geelong’s list of finals failures since Chris Scott took the Cats to a premiership in his first year is unfathomably long.
As reigning premiers in 2012, they conceded the first seven goals of their elimination final against Fremantle to see their flag defence go up in smoke.
The Dockers got them again in their 2013 qualifying final – at Kardinia Park no less – although they were, in fairness, unlucky to go down to Hawthorn in a classic preliminary final.
In 2014, they were no match for the Hawks in their qualifying final and then went out in straight sets against North Melbourne the next week.
After missing in 2015, their return to finals in 2016 saw them break their qualifying final curse against the Hawks – thanks to Isaac Smith’s post-siren miss – only to get belted by Sydney in the preliminary final.
In 2017, it was another qualifying final belting, this time to Richmond, before getting belted again in the preliminary final against Adelaide.
They gave Melbourne a five-goal headstart in a 2018 elimination final on route to a resounding loss.
Their finals defeats over the last two seasons may have been a lot more competitive, but all that goodwill was undone by the absolutely diabolical effort they showed tonight.
It’s been said in The Roar’s comments section plenty of times, but Geelong’s conservative, high-possession game just doesn’t stand up in the pressure of finals.
They’ve consistently been ripped apart by sides with more pressure, more pace and more x-factor. Dustin Martin made his name off tormenting Geelong in finals and Christian Petracca gave his legacy and almighty boost tonight doing the same.
As enviable as Geelong’s home-and-away record has been for an extended period of time, they’ve been fumbling in the dark in September for ten years. Richmond were at the bottom of the scrapheap when the Cats last won a flag and have created a genuine dynasty while Geelong still figure it out.
Melbourne haven’t won the flag, but they look a heck of a lot more capable than the Cats can dream of being.
How long can this go on?
Geelong pushed all their chips to the middle of the table at the start of this season, but their performance tonight was more akin to a pair of fours.
You can say they got within a game of a grand final but, given they lost that game by 14 goals and their qualifying final by seven goals, the truth is they were nowhere near it.
As explained in painstaking detail above, Chris Scott’s game plan categorically does not stand up in finals. It has been proven year after year after year.
Geelong’s response has repeatedly been to add more veterans and push harder, but the cliff-edge is fast approaching and it looks a near-certainty now that their chance will come and go with nothing to show for it.
Shaun Higgins, who the Cats paid North Melbourne a second-round draft pick for, is 33 years old and was only named as the medical sub this evening. He’ll be 34 when next year rolls around.
The other 33-year-old in Joel Selwood is clearly past his days as a matchwinning midfielder.
Isaac Smith, Zach Tuohy, Patrick Dangerfield, Rhys Stanley, Mark Blicavs, Gary Rohan and Mitch Duncan all round out the club’s bulging over-30 club. Sam Menegola joins it before next season. The best football of their careers is clearly not ahead of them, but they still remain so crucial to the Cats staying competitive – let alone playing for a premiership.
Lachie Henderson and Josh Jenkins are also on the wrong side of 30 – but do they get new deals for 2022?
Recent history has not been kind to heavy losers in preliminary finals. The last three have failed to win a final the following season.
Should that fate befall Geelong next season, surely it’s time for wholesale change.
Comparisons have been made between Petracca and Dustin Martin for a number of years and, I’ll freely admit, I scoffed at the idea for a long time.
Not after this year and certainly not after tonight.
He conducted Melbourne’s midfield like an orchestra. The ball, his teammates, even opposition players all moved where he willed them to be. He was the definitive factor when the match was there to be won and he was the runaway train as the Demons ground Geelong into dust in the third quarter.
He racked up 32 disposals – 20 in the first half – eight clearances, 14 contested possessions, ten score involvements, four goal assists and a goal.
His work at the stoppages was utter poetry. Early in the second quarter, as highlighted by Nick Riewoldt in Fox Footy’s commentary, he cleverly outfoxed Selwood – of all midfielders – at a midfield stoppage. With the umpire preparing to throw the ball up, Petracca instructed Clayton Oliver (Selwood’s man) to go over to Sam Menegola.
Selwood, briefly confused, followed Oliver over, creating a two-on-one on the wrong side of the stoppage and leaving himself free to take the tap and send a kick inside 50 that became a goal.
Max Gawn grabbed the headlines with his highlight-reel five-goal haul – and fair enough. The player I couldn’t take my eyes off, however, was the 2014 no.2 draft pick – who announced himself on the big stage in a very big way.
The only thing that could dull the evening for Melbourne fans was a potential hamstring injury to key defender Steven May.
He came off the ground grabbing at his hamstring after a push in the back from Tom Hawkins in the first quarter and, according to Seven’s Abbey Holmes, was quite emotional on the sidelines.
He was able to return and play out the match, albeit with little impact, but an underdone key defender in a grand final can be a massive, massive problem – just ask Phil Davis and the Giants.
Coming up against the likes of Charlie Dixon or Aaron Naughton in the decider, not having May at his best (or at all) would swing the pendulum slightly away from them.