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'A real shame': Max Gawn reveals heartbreaking hidden cost to Basil Zempilas' GF speech snub

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10th December, 2021
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Melbourne captain Max Gawn’s newly released book documenting the Demons’ fairytale run to the 2021 AFL premiership has added an extra layer of emotion to a major oversight in the post-match festivities on that fateful day in Perth.

Master of ceremonies Basil Zempilas infamously broke tradition twice during the medal presentations – first announcing Norm Smith Medallist Christian Petracca instead of allowing former winner Andrew Embley to do the honours, then forgetting to allow coach Simon Goodwin to give a speech.

In Max Gawn: Captain’s Diary, available to purchase now, Gawn reveals that Goodwin planned to use the speech to pay tribute to club legend Nathan Jones, who was left out of the team for the big day in one of the great grand final heartbreak stories.

“Goody was supposed to make a speech but that didn’t happen, and that was a real shame, because we had divided up who to thank or speak about, and one of us was going to mention Nathan Jones,” Gawn writes.

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“We thought Goody was probably the best one to do it. He never got that chance, so we missed a pretty key moment to thank a pretty key pillar – one of our greatest heroes in the changing of the guard.

“But I’m sure he knows how much he means to us.”

Gawn’s predecessor as Melbourne captain, Jones played 302 games for the Demons through one of the club’s darkest eras in the late 2000s and early 2010s. Only four players in VFL/AFL history have played in more losses than his 198.

A three-time best and fairest winner in 2012, 2013 and 2014, Jones was unable to break into a powerful line-up throughout the finals series, named as an emergency for the preliminary final.

Nathan Jones

(Michael Willson/AFL Media/Getty Images)

He would then opt to leave the Perth hub and return to Melbourne to be with wife Gerri for the birth of their twin children.

Gawn’s book also addresses the mooted ill will between the Demons and grand final opponents the Western Bulldogs, stemming from the Dees’ use of the song ‘Freed From Desire’ as part of their post-premiership celebrations.

The Bulldogs’ use of the song following their preliminary final win over Port Adelaide had been widely shared, including on the AFL’s own social media accounts; leading to accusations the Demons were mocking their beaten opponents by playing it as well.

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However, Gawn denies this, saying the reason for their choice of song was simple: “It’s just a cracker of a song.”

“I heard later that the Bulldogs had sung that song in their changerooms after their preliminary final win, and it had made it onto the AFL Instagram account,” Gawn writes.

“There was this idea that we co-opted their song and might have been taunting or trolling them, but that’s not it at all.”

Max Gawn

Max Gawn shares the premiership trophy with Dees fans. (Photo by Paul Kane/Getty Images)

Strangely, Gawn’s main claim to fame from the grand final could well be the time he spent off the field during the third quarter: a period in which the Demons, led by Gawn’s young backup ruckman Luke Jackson, stunned the Bulldogs with a seven-goal burst to turn a 19-point deficit into a 24-point three quarter time lead.

The captain has given his insights into the tactics behind shifting Jackson into the ruck, in what proved one of the match’s most crucial moves: and how Jackson’s mobility was too much for the Dogs to handle.

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“Me and Goody had a long chat while watching Luke Jackson and [Bulldogs ruckman] Stef Martin rucking against each other. I said to Goody, ‘I think Jacko is jumping over Stef here’,” Gawn writes.

“We decided then that I would come back on, take a ruck contest and then push forward, leaving Jacko to ruck out the quarter. He was the perfect match-up.

“To be fair, I’ve watched the clips from that quarter, and Stef’s ruck work is great – I think he wins most of the hit-outs.

“But Jacko’s follow-up at ground level was so good. The last one was the most amazing. He just sprints out of the centre like a wingman, gathers low and gives a perfectly weighted handball to Clayton, and I think that’s Jacko’s only disposal in that whole period, but his presence in there – jumping and bouncing and moving – just felt so important.

“It created this confusion, and then bang – goals for Bayley [Fritsch], Trac [Christian Petracca], Ben Brown, [Tom] Sparrow, Clarry [Clayton Oliver].”

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Max Gawn: Captain’s Diary is published by Hardie Grant Books.

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