The long night is over. Melbourne are finally AFL premiers once again – 57 years after they last tasted the ultimate glory.
It looked very dicey at times – especially in the third quarter when they trailed by 19 points – but an unfathomable run of 12 straight goals turned the match on its head and saw them ultimately cruise to a romping win.
Here are my talking points from the grand final.
Remember when he wasn’t living up to the type and was destined to never make good on the comparisons to Dustin Martin?
A distant memory now.
Christian Petracca was outrageously good tonight; 40 disposals, 24 contested possessions, nine clearances, 15 score involvements, 11 inside 50s, eight intercept possessions and two of the classiest grand final goals – especially given their respective contexts – that you will ever see. It was an effort more than worthy of the Norm Smith.
The match ebbed and flowed as Petracca willed it. He saw the opportunity to step up and become a genuine matchwinner and took it with both hands. As the stats make plainly obvious, he could do anything. Attack, defend, win the ball, set up goals, kick goals. It all comes naturally to him and he excels in all areas.
The Dogs simply had no answers for his dominance and, with his 26th birthday still a few months away, you’d expect the rest of the competition will be scrambling for some years to come.
Teams have bad patches in just about game they play. Sometimes they recover, sometimes they don’t.
I can’t remember the last time I’ve seen a lopsided one-minute patch of a football prove so definitive to the result.
Melbourne had managed to get their noses in front after chipping away at a 19-point deficit just before three-quarter time. As impressed as I was with their efforts, I still felt like the wind was at the back of the Bulldogs and they’d hit the final break, get the reset in and take the momentum away again.
The Demons ensured that wouldn’t happen.
Petracca’s second goal, a classy checkside snap from the deep in the pocket, extended Melbourne’s lead to 12 points. ‘Good goal, makes things interesting’ was my internal monologue at the time.
With 47 seconds left in the quarter, that should’ve been it.
But the Bulldogs got ripped apart at the next two centre bounces to concede two more rapid-fire goals on the run. Now, with 15 seconds left in the quarter, it was a 24-point Melbourne lead.
Forget the wind leaving the sails, that was the mast being broken and the hull breached. The looks on the faces of the Bulldogs players said it all. They were shellshocked and, unsurprisingly, were still reeling in the last quarter as they conceded two more quick ones to let the chance slip.
As for the Dees? It was one minute that ended 57 years of pain.
Both teams had their turns with the ascendancy, but what stood out hugely was Melbourne’s vastly superior pressure when it was their turn.
The first quarter was probably the best example. The pressure from the Demons in every area of the ground was relentless and the Dogs barely had a clean disposal. It allowed the minor premiers to take 12 of the first 14 marks of the game and take four intercept marks from Bulldog kicks inside the first ten minutes.
Even when it wasn’t working for them up forward – they should’ve been up by more at quarter time – their manic pressure around the ball ensured it at least stayed at their end.
You can’t say the same for the Bulldogs. They were up and about when they were on top, but they didn’t respect the momentum when the game was getting away from them.
Sometimes you just need to cop it on the chin, tackle and defend until the opponent makes a mistake. The Bulldogs midfielders didn’t want to do that and were still solely focused on winning their own ball and streaking forward. It meant Demons midfielders broke from centre stoppages far too easily and far too often.
I’ve spoken about this particular start a number of times when analysing the Bulldogs over the last two years and it unfortunately reared its ugly head again tonight; running speed in attack versus defence.
The Bulldogs’ average running speed was a full 1.2km/h slower in defence than it was in attack. Teams simply don’t win games of football with discrepancies that large.
You have to be prepared to roll with the punches and make life as difficult for your opponent as you can when they’ve got the momentum and, as deeply talented as the Bulldogs midfield is, that part of their game is still a glaring weakness.
Coming into the match, it was accepted that the Bulldogs had the deeper midfield, but the Demons had the advantage in the key positions.
I’ll admit I was skeptical as to how much a key position group can influence a match once it’s getting away from you – but the Demons sure gave me a big lesson and I suspect Luke Beveridge learned it too.
Bayley Fritsch kicked six goals in a masterful performance, but it was his two quick goals in succession that completely shifted the momentum of the match. Ben Brown was more commanding than his three-goal haul suggests, while Alex Neal-Bullen made rebounding the ball from defensive 50 incredibly hard for his opposition.
The Bulldogs got absolutely nothing out of their forward line all evening. In fact, the only players listed on their team sheet as forwards who kicked goals were Adam Treloar and Jason Johannisen. They’re not forwards.
Outside of Aaron Naughton, were any of their forwards tonight ever going to be capable of grabbing the game by the scruff of the neck like Fritsch did?
Josh Bruce would’ve been capable, but his absence with a knee injury – that may rule him out for much of 2022 as well – was glaring tonight and may need to be addressed in the trade period.