The Roar
The Roar



'It takes an entire team': The unsung heroes of Melbourne's premiership

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28th September, 2021
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Every drought-breaking win is historic and joyful.

Melbourne fans are currently experiencing the borderline delirium that follows such a victory. It’s not a stretch to say that food tastes sweeter, the sun shines brighter and there is a bounce in the step.

How many thought it would never happen in their lifetime? How many almost lost faith after so many years of despair? How many never truly recovered from the Mark Neeld years?

It will be the greatest shame if history remembers the 2021 grand final only as a Melbourne thumping. This was a great game of football. In fact, it was on track to be one of the best of all time. If the Dogs had provided resistance and fought back after three-quarter time, it would have been.

The Demons smashed a team that had all momentum and were running on top of the ground. Halfway through the third quarter, the Dogs themselves were on the verge of running away with the game, and Marcus Bontempelli had one hand on the Norm Smith medal.

As we know, Christian Petracca and Clayton Oliver stepped up and dismantled the Dogs midfield. Bang. Over. Their heroics will be remembered by fans and neutrals alike.

Christian Petracca of the Demons celebrates a goal

(Photo by Dylan Burns/AFL Photos via Getty Images)

Max Gawn’s preliminary final will live forever and his named is etched in history as a premiership captain. Bayley Fritsch’s six goals, the first player to kick more than five in the last game this century, will be remembered. Jack Viney, son of a Demon 200-gamer, has been part of the club his entire life and set the tone for his teammates accordingly.

Steven May, Jake Lever and Ed Langdon were poached from other clubs, hand-picked to fill in the gaps between pretender and contender, brought in with big reputations and pay packets to match. Luke Jackson, still a teenager on grand final day, Rising Star winner and outrageously talented, was a cult hero already, and his stock went up even further after he set Perth Stadium alight.


But the beauty of a premiership side is the role players, the unsung, the understated. The ones that the football public will forget, but who will live forever in the minds of supporters.

Ben Brown fits into this category, despite being the only player in the league to kick 60+ goals in each of the 2017-19 seasons. How good was it to see him get rewarded after being cast out like a leper from North Melbourne after one poor season? During a COVID year, mind you.

Brown kicked plenty of bags at the Kangaroos. But that wasn’t his role at Melbourne and he was symbolic of the selflessness the club used to turn their fortunes around.

He battled form and injury for most of the season, but once he broke back into the side from Round 17 onwards, one quality stood out among all others: his sheer competitiveness.

A knock on him at North was that he could be a bit weak, and one-dimensional when things weren’t going his way.


What a credit to the Melbourne coaching staff and Brown himself. He launched at everything, followed up at ground level, scrapped and fought and tackled for every ball when he didn’t win it himself. As these things go, he hit the scoreboard too, and was a key plank of the Dees’ seven-game winning streak culminating in the flag.

There was a lot of talk about how badly Tom McDonald’s form tapered off in the last month or so. Did it though? Football is a team game, not an individual one.

It’s not a coincidence that Brown’s apparent influence grew in the same time that McDonald’s diminished. Every time that Brown took a mark or had space to lead into, if McDonald and his man were nowhere to be seen, that’s not an accident. These are the sacrifices that key forwards make for each other. In fact, all forwards.

Tom McDonald

Tom McDonald (Photo by Michael Dodge/AFL Media/Getty Images)

Does Bayley Fritsch have the finals series he does, and is he able to cut the angles to find space like he does, if McDonald is cutting off his leading lanes or being close enough for his opponent to go third man up? McDonald will have been feted beyond belief internally for putting the team above himself.

Angus Brayshaw was a top-three pick that finished fifth in the Rising Star in his first year and third in the Brownlow in his fourth season. In 2018, he averaged 26 touches a game and kicked 14 goals. This year, he averaged 18 and kicked three.

The wingman role in modern footy is a far cry from the days of Keith Greig, Robbie Flower, Doug Hawkins, Micky Turner and The Big Dipper. They are often required to hold a defensive position, cut off the potential for switches, and to press up and slow down opposition forays. Not a lot of glory in it.

Brayshaw performed the role to perfection, despite it being a far cry from what his talent and pedigree would assume. And what a grand final he played, courageous and skillful. He spoke brilliantly after the game too, encapsulating all of the passion and ecstasy that Melbourne fans all over the country were feeling.


The list goes on. Every Dee fan will have their favourite Tom Sparrow (the kick to Brown for the first goal of the last), Charlie Spargo (first-quarter goal) and Kosi Pickett (the smother that led to it) moment. Jake Bowey and Trent Rivers look to have long futures, both equipped with toughness and poise.

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Aaron Naughton, Tim English and Josh Schache kicked one goal between them for the Dogs, so Harry Petty can sleep soundly having performed his role. Alex Neale-Bullen has been in and out of the side for most of his career, but has finally found a niche. James Harmes has been tried in a variety of roles, and is the classic utility.

Every so often the debate comes up about whether it’s your top six or bottom six players that are the most important when it comes to winning premierships.


The answer is it takes an entire team, entire football department, entire club, all working in harmony. Melbourne finally has it.