The longest active premiership drought in the AFL is over, as Melbourne ended 57 years of frustration with a 74-point win over the Western Bulldogs in a pulsating grand final at Perth Stadium.
- The Melbourne Demons have beaten the Western Bulldogs in the AFL grand final in front of 61,118 fans at Perth Stadium
- The Demons kicked seven consecutive goals in the third quarter to take a stranglehold on the game
- Melbourne’s Christian Petracca kicked two goals and had a record-equalling 39 disposals on his way to the Norm Smith Medal for best on ground
The Demons did not have things all their own way, despite kicking out to an early 21-point lead — the Bulldogs turned things around to hit the front by half-time before Melbourne overwhelmed their opponents with 16 goals to three after the long break to win 21.14 (140) to 10.6 (66).
AFL senior coach of the year Simon Goodwin became the first man in charge of a Melbourne premiership side since the great Norm Smith in 1964.
Demons captain Max Gawn told a full house of 61,118 fans he had been nervous in the second quarter before his team had been able to get going.
“For this group of special people to my left, the staff, coaches, support staff, the players and everyone we left back home, families, friends, everyone in the eastern states that support the Melbourne Demons, this is for you,” he said.
In Melbourne’s first grand final since 2000, the Demons faced a Bulldogs side that had travelled nearly 10,000km in a gruelling finals campaign that took them to Launceston, Brisbane and Adelaide before ending up in Perth for the first-ever decider in Western Australia.
There was a ferocious start to the game, with hard tackles flying in everywhere.
The Demons missed a couple of early chances, but eventually they came forward and Kysaiah Pickett found Christian Petracca, who whirled and kicked the opener from 50.
Three minutes later the Dees were through again, a brilliant move down the right wing and the ball was delivered long to Bayley Fritsch in the goalsquare, who marked and goaled.
Clayton Oliver was everywhere, earning 10 possessions inside three-quarters of a quarter, while Christian Salem was getting the ball repeatedly off half-back.
The Bulldogs were under huge pressure, but they managed to get a goal through Roarke Smith midway through the term — it took a huge individual effort to do it, and it proved only a temporary blip in proceedings.
The Bulldogs were soon penned in their back 50 and a desperate kick was picked off by Luke Jackson, who fed Charlie Spargo to dribble through another. Another error from the Dogs soon followed and Fritsch had his second.
The Demons led by 21 points at the first change and the siren came none too soon for the sons of the West.
Dogs hit back hard as Bontempelli leads the way
The Western Bulldogs had to find a way past the duo of Jake Lever and Steven May inside Melbourne’s defensive 50.
They made the best possible start when a ball to the hotspot caromed around until it fell to Adam Treloar, who snapped one for his side after just 40 seconds.
The Dogs had to keep the momentum going, and they did just that with another brilliant snap in traffic from Treloar before Aaron Naughton made it three in a row less than a minute later.
It looked like a different game, with the Dogs winning the ball out of the middle and threatening at every turn.
Melbourne steadied the ship with a goal to Ben Brown from straight in front, and then there was a moment of controversy as Max Gawn’s set shot from the right forward pocket looked like it went through but was called a behind.
But the warning signs were there for the Demons as Marcus Bontempelli was lifting. The Dogs’ skipper snapped his team’s fifth and was suddenly getting his hands on the ball and looking dangerous.
When Lachie Hunter kicked a goal near time on, the Bulldogs had turned it all around to hit the front. The pressure was well and truly on the Demons and a pair of behinds levelled the match but didn’t give them the boost they needed.
They were made to pay late in the quarter as the Dogs found Bontempelli again, and the skipper kicked truly.
The Bulldogs led by eight at the main break and the onus was on Melbourne coach Simon Goodwin to change things up for the second half.
Demons deliver in unbelievable third quarter
The Demons had their chance in the opening seconds, but Bayley Fritsch’s kick went wide. They were on the attack again when a kick was smothered in midfield.
The Dogs went the other way and the ball was sent long to a contest, where Jason Johannisen produced a brilliant mark, then snapped around the corner to deliver a blow to the Demons.
The lead was three goals and things were quickly getting to a desperate point for Melbourne, but the game was about to turn again in a heartbeat.
A break through the middle led to a mark to Fritsch close in — he booted his third and straight from the bounce, the Demons got the clearance and went deep inside 50. The ball went over the back and Fritsch kept his cool to bang home another.
The goals were flying in, and 90 seconds later Ben Brown had another. Now it was the Bulldogs who needed a circuit-breaker, but poor defence let the Demons in again, as Angus Brayshaw slotted a set shot at the 25-minute mark.
There was scarcely time to take a breath.
At the half-hour mark, the Dees were in again as Christian Petracca channelled Dustin Martin with an inch-perfect dribble from the left forward pocket. The Demons were ruling the centre clearances and two more goals followed from Tom Sparrow and Clayton Oliver.
Melbourne rolls on to big victory
Last-quarter comebacks are rare in grand finals, and the Bulldogs needed everything to go right.
Unfortunately, the Demons and their midfield had other ideas. Their ball movement was proving irresistible — Fritsch got his fifth at the three-minute mark, and there was no end to the carnage.
Alex Neal-Bullen got on the end of another attack to kick the Demons’ 15th of the night, and Ed Langdon added another as the lead headed towards the 50-point mark.
It was party time for Melbourne and when the pressure produced another turnover in the Bulldogs’ back 50, Tom McDonald finished off the move to make it 12 straight goals.
Treloar finally ended the run with his third in time on, but it was only a footnote in a glorious night for the red and the blue.
The celebrations kicked off well before the end. Fritsch had a last kick after the siren, and he nailed it for his sixth of the night to make the final margin 74 points.
Christian Petracca was a clear winner of the Norm Smith Medal for best on ground, with a record-equalling 39 touches, four tackles, nine clearances, eight intercepts and a massive 896 metres gained.
For the Bulldogs, Caleb Daniel tried valiantly with 37 disposals, Treloar and Bontempelli finished with three goals each — but it was a tough result for Luke Beveridge’s men.