If I had a dollar for every time one of my friends or colleagues told me that I should ‘keep a lid on it’ via text, email or in person, I’d be very rich.As a Melbourne supporter, the lid was well and truly still ‘on’ going into the semi against the Hawks. Doubts flickered through my mind about the capacity of the Dees to overcome the Hawks, yet I was optimistic that we could hold up against them. After all, this was a very different Melbourne side to the one that lost to them in Round 4 to the tune of 67 points.
As we found our seats, comments floated between us about the strengths of this Melbourne side, and the way that they dismantled Geelong the previous week. Viney had proved that his time on the sidelines had done nothing to stop his innate game sense and brutality around the ball, Frosty and Jetts in the backline were working a treat and then there was the power of the midfield to deliver time after time to the forwards.
Play starts, and the Hawks get the first of the night quickly; the Dees look nervous. A few missed handballs and kicks in the centre and a couple of frees go the Hawks way. There is no room around the ball, with both teams putting enormous pressure on the ball carrier. Lots of little niggles between players start appearing, with Oliver right in the middle of things. A great tackle by Salem results in a behind, with the ball ending up down the other end in what seemed like a flash.
One of the most impressive elements of the Demons’ game in the last month has been the ability to get a quick goal back after the opposition scores. The next passage of play demonstrates this to a tee, complete with a barrel from the kick in by Frost that lands in the centre square, a couple of lightning quick handballs, and then Hannan’s kick to McDonald. McDonald goals and the Dees settle.
While the first term is dominated by turnovers to both teams, a result of the intensity of finals football, the Dees next goal is a result of them slowing down and looking for options, as well as making the most of the pressure they applied. After McDonald gets his second, the pressure builds again and we’re all calling for the players to not rush things. Both sides are making errors – out of bounds on the full, free kicks and more turnovers. The second goal to the Hawks is a result of quick movement and direct kicks, but the Dees are able to answer straight away - again. Petracca goals after a boundary throw in and advantage paid after a free kick to Brayshaw. That’s more like it, Dees! Not long before the break, Jetta is penalised controversially for holding the ball, the Demon Army hold their heads in dismay and the Hawks goal. Scores are level heading in to the break.
The second is the quarter of near-misses to the Hawks. The Dees are able to kick three goals while the Hawks only manage 6 behinds. Google’s own Max Gawn marks from a Viney kick within the first minute and puts it through. Lewis lands a huge bump on Worpel that epitomises the Dees’ pressure. The defence is holding; Weideman gets his first for the night and shows he is really picking the right time to come into form. Vandenberg can’t capitalise after a free kick, but luckily both Henderson and Gunston miss down the other end. Hibberd proves that the media’s reporting of him doing laps at training was nothing with a brilliant chase to stop Gunston from scoring. The end of the quarter sees composure from Melbourne with some pinpoint kicking leading to a Brayshaw goal, and a turnover that wasn’t used well down the other end. C’mon Dees!
A quick Jones family catch up at half time is equal parts ‘can’t believe we’re here’ and ‘let’s hope the boys slow their game down to put more pressure on’. We Joneses have had many many times sitting at the MCG, or in one of our lounge rooms, commiserating with each other after a Dees or Roys loss. Standing in the MCG with smiles on our faces, discussing the finer points of the game so far, when our team is in the finals wipes some of those bad memories away. (But that’s a longer tale for another time.)
Onto the third. A quick centre clearance sees Oliver pass to Weideman and he gets his second. Both teams seems quicker after the break, and the pressure continues to build. Neal-Bullen snaps and his kick tumbles for a point, a Jones kick down the other end ends up straight in the arms of the Hawks. Viney shows his composure and kicks directly to Petracca who then passes the ball to Melksham. Miss. Luckily, it doesn't hurt much on the scoreboard, until Puopolo manages to dribble a goal. The attack on the ball is still ferocious and good use of handballs finds Vandenberg line up for a goal. He hits the post. Little niggling doubts start entering my mind; please don't let this be the quarter that we go ‘missing’.
I needn’t have worried, as the rest of the quarter really belonged to the Dees. Gunston and Schoenmakers were keeping the Hawks in it through their goals, but the Demons had certainly lifted. McDonald marks and converts for his third, Spargo kicks one through a long bomb and the quickest score review I think I’ve ever seen, and then consecutive goals to Hannan and Neal-Bullen. The Neal-Bullen goal was especially costly, as Gunston hits the post from not far out, which allows the Dees to run the ball coast-to-coast. The 32-point lead at half time is created by Viney going full beast-mode and crashing through a pack, followed by a good kick to Brayshaw, who converts. The crowd is on their feet, many hands being wrung in excitement of what is possible. Mutterings of ‘Perth’ and ‘airlines’ start to enter the conversation.
One quarter between the Dees and a preliminary final! Vandenberg justifies my purchase of his badge before the game with a good possession on the run, but kicks it out of bounds on the full. Brayshaw takes an intercept mark, but can’t capitalise… again. Clean possession to the Hawks leads to a goal to Smith from outside the fifty, through a very good kick. Another dubious free kick, this time against Brayshaw, has the crowd booing. The Hawks are able to get back-to-back goals for the first time in the game, and suddenly the nerves have returned. A huge defensive mark to Gawn stops another Hawks attack, but the Dees cough it up and it comes back in again. Another stoppage. Heart rate increases. Out again, in again. A free kick against Lewis, who is ropable. Another Hawthorn entry and Gunston misses. Phew.
More pressure sees Roughead kick a goal. Oh boy. Those doubts appear in my mind again – surely we can’t lose another game when ahead by so much at the last change.
Again, I needn’t have worried. Whatever words had been said by Goodwin, whatever discussion had been had about last quarter concentration, these Demons had listened to them. Quick disposal from Oliver to Brayshaw, who then finds Melksham, who goals with a lovely left foot kick from on the 50m arc. The crowd erupts and the Demons are ecstatic. The Dees get the next clearance, and after a ball up and possession hovering around the edge of the centre square, Melksham lines up McDonald who echoes Viney’s beast-mode and gets another goal. Even though the next entry by the Dees goes wide, it is clear that they are having the better of their opponent – the Hawks look a little stunned. Soon, Melksham is able to kick another goal and suddenly the airline prices from Melbourne to Perth have doubled.
When Roughead gets another goal, there is a certain apathy from the crowd. The Hawthorn supporters have lost their voices, and only polite claps celebrate that goal. On the other hand, the Dees crowd have lifted. Oliver runs down Nash, and then Worpel kicks straight to Jones. The Dees start to control the ball and slow things down, with the chant of ‘MEL-BOURNE’ going out around the ground. Vandenberg hasn't slowed and his second efforts are applauded. When he kicks over the pack for Spargo to pounce on and goal, the fans are delirious. As am I. Our younger players are standing tall, our tough-nuts are being just that. Frost chases down an opponent and the call of “BALL” can’t be heard over the singing of ‘It’s A Grand Old Flag’.
If I collected money for every time someone said ‘keep a lid on it’, I would be able to fly to Perth. As it happens, I’m content with watching from a pub in Richmond. My only complaint: if someone has found my voice, could they return it to me? It’s going to be hard to cheer on my Dees in the Preliminary Final without it.