Grand Final – Melbourne v Western Bulldogs: A ripper!





A Ripper!


It’s late. I’m in a shipping container, in a valley. Yes, drinking.


So what? What a ripper Grand Final! One for the ages.


Ignore the last quarter – a game, year, if not a lifetime, of playing above human endurance, topping up, on this day of mythology, with pure adrenaline – once the result becomes inevitable, sails empty or become full. In Grand Finals there will always be blow-outs that say nothing about the highs and lows, the arm wrestle of momentum. Blow-outs mean little. Results are most things.


In its moments, of which there were many, this game was mighty! Just plain mighty!!


Melbourne set off early. They spread better, hit contests harder, and, used one of their unmentioned innovations to deadly effect. Anywhere from half back down to full forward, when covered, they kick to contests, and anyone under the ball does not back into the pack, they position 100% front and centre. Petracca is a specialist at it. Langdon is, even Maxie Gawn showed the discipline. If you’re not breaking lines to charge and leap AT the ball, full impact, you’re Front. And. Centre. And anyone 10 to 40 meters behind that, runs for the release handball.


They played magnificent Kevin Bartlett, the oval over.


It left the forward line open. It left Fritsch one-on-one, with room. From the backline Melbourne had Salem, the Doggies Daniel, but, beyond that, the Dees had Fritsch.


The Doggies didn’t.


English decided to not negate, he went blow-for-blow with Gawn, May was nervous, fumbled, most backmen did their jobs, without killing anything. Langdon, a hero of mine, ran without reward. Ignore the stats, he only killed it once the game was done. Sorry, Ed, I still love ya.


The difference, all game long, was, for several reasons, Fritsch. When it counted, in a Grand Final of brilliant forwards and brilliant defenders resulting is scores of 5/10 for everyone, Melbourne had a winning forward. Effect. Not stats. He kicked 6, but did so to give them momentum, then, to save the game, then to seal it.


It was his timing that made his so close to Normie, not his score-line.


In effect, not stats, they had Brayshaw. Goddamn, I am a fan, and always will be! As an on-baller, he fits perfectly into the Demon defenders’ ethos. Petty, Rivers, Hibberd, they fulfil rolls, to a T. Perfectly. Brayshaw smothers, tackles, spoils, does everything bar lifting Petracca and Oliver onto his shoulders. He is, simply, an epic workhorse!


But, the Doggies are famous for chewing up 3-5 goal deficits in 3-5 minutes. And in the second, 5-1 down, that’s what they did. For several reasons the Mob from out West started smashing it out of the middle.


Trealor went into the guts, they negated the Gawn, Petracca, Oliver. Treloar went forward with the ball. 2 goals to him, two to the MIGHTY Bont, and, bang, the sweetest thing in football, un-bottleable! Momentum.


I could feel the weight of the entire oval shift, its camber slope to 45 degrees, everything downhill, with the wind, for the Doggies.


The container almost leaned with the weight of it.


But, as a neutral, well into flood caused by Footscray breaking the dam, I wasn’t overly worried. The Bulldogs forwards didn’t rush in, and, in a game that looked like it would take 15-18 goals to win, the Doggies forwards simply weren’t pouring into the breach, and on-ballers were never going to kick all of them. Bont spent himself. Treloar was never going to kick seven.


And class will out.


As I’ve said all year, Petracca is generational. Reflexes beyond all norms, speed, of hands, body, of the Daicos shift and shimmy, yet, somehow, bull strength of Riccuto, even though his leg width says nothing of it. He has force of will to go with snap reflexes. Balance from heaven. From! Heaven!


Balance. It was what made Voss so good, so great. Baldock before him. The greats. I once saw Voss over the ball when someone hit him with the full force of momentum, full impact. Michael sailed through the air in the same pounce stance he was over he ball, and landed that way. A cat, with a bull heart. And there it was, almost 20 years later.


The ball came in high, at the start of the second, Christian was under the ball, leaping, two Doggies charging. Like all good modern defenders, unable to chop, they hit him, flat knack, with their bodies. He spun, 360 in the air, and landed on his feet, the exact same stance he leapt in.


I’ll never forget it.


Add to that the modern fitness levels, you just can’t hold him forever.


But the Dogs kicked the first two of the third quarter. Melbourne were playing, form full back forward, to stop the bleeding. No way to stop any momentum. To attack enough to win Grand Finals. Another team’s momentum can un-wrap any system, any weapon, leave it unfired.


Then, 19 points down, the last 362 scoring shorts to Western Bulldogs, two players stood up. And one coach.


Yabbie Jeans oft said; In a GF both clubs have five or six superstars. The team that will win has the better bottom six players.


Turn that to middle-rangers, and here it was, on the oval – a blueprint of the words of a master.


Benny Brown said to himself; It’s not coming down, and went wondering. Did 100 metre leads, time and again. When it mattered, when this seesaw was in the balance, he took marks, and got frees, on the defensive side of the wing. Clunkers, momentum stoppers. Three of those gave Melbourne room to breath, stop panicking, then counter. Even if and when his touches lead to nothing. He changed the game’s template. Three solid touches. In the premiership quarter. When it counted.


Enough for the greats to suck in air, for the backs to regain their attacking cool, to get back on board, all of them.


He kicked goals, too. But, more so, everyone’s son of Richo broke lines and broke the game’s mould.


Good. On. You. Benny!


And, Simon Goodwin stepped in. The coach. Something had to give, become unconventional. The norm and reps weren’t working.


Max Gawn, a legend of the game not one week ago, the All-Oz captain, was having zero impact. Simon put young Jackson in the ruck. Back the kid? Hell, Jackson replaced the jockey!


Max is one of the all-time classic tap ruckman. A great mark, a great reader of the play. A great leader. A champion. As said, no impact. Enter Jackson. The colt.


He looks like a donk, but plays a next gen game from the bounces. Win or lose, each team has a centre structure around the ball, protected from outsiders by a centre square. The circle around the contest. The chess board with a game of dominos.


Jackson doesn’t quite put everything into his hit outs, he saves balance. Lands forward of the contest, ready.


In days gone, ruckmen, on-ballers, would get a kick or give a tackle. Yet on-ballers these days are good enough to still get a handball out, a knock on, a slap on the boot, a knuckle, even when wrapped up like mummies.


Jackson knocks a an arm that’s going to handball, taps the ball from waiting fingers with his foot, blocks the pill with an elbow, his chest, whatever part of the body it takes to bobble it free from the other mob, to get it fumbling forward, past that circle of structures, Melbourne’s way, where their three ground level players can run onto it, full throttle.


Next gen.


It worked. It was golden. He stood tall. A middle six player stepping up, to break the deadlock of match-winners.


I recently had an argument about the value of ruckmen. He proved I had a point. Votes? For effect? Easy.


Petracca has the joy of duality. In traffic he is a beast, even though almost all of his bursts from the centre involve handball receives. Harms, Viney, lots from Oliver. Running onto Jackson’s momentum, they all took turns at feeding him. A team within a team, up and firing. Crisp, clear breaks from the middle, thanks to Jackson, their extra, all body.


Don’t believe the hype suckers. Gawn was just, so was Oliver, to his standards, so was Lever. May destroyed Naughton. Then, as the game wore on, found his nerves to also get possessions. The Unsung, Hibberd, was, I thought, b.r.i.l.l.i.a.n.t! Caught one-on-one, time and again, before during and after the pendulum, one-on-one, one-on-one, one-on-one, deep in the 50, he brought the ball to ground, he negated. He beat his man. Without once being spectacular. Defenders the country over knew, and wept.


Backman’s award to ya mate, from me. Not many others will respect how good your game was.


Beyond that, as said, ignore the last quarter. It was junk time. So much effort spent, a forgone conclusion. McDonald kicked two in it, that’s how absurd it was. Irrelevant. It was a killer game. So good! I adored it!


All that was left was the human side, the celebrations. I never understood fans who use those moments to go to the bar, put their kids to bed, whatever. For me, its moments are for me to be unconditionally jealous! To revel in the pure joy, the happiness, of both them and the supporters on the boundary. A merging of the AFL players and our passion. One totally irrelevant without the other.


To see Peckett, who had a quiet day, clenching his premiership medal between his teeth as he stood on the fence, tears in eyes, hugging his family, was to feel pride most of us will never experience. Its power, its value.


Was to see his character.


To see Hibberd snatch the cup from the player’s huddle and sprint to the fans. To see Goodwin, with, who was it? Petracca? On his phone, deliriously happy, doing face time with his wife, in a moment that’s meant to be all media, blowing her kisses, gave me faith in him as a person. These things that make victory have worth, mean everything. Humanity.


For three quarters the game heaved to one side, then heaved to the other, then heaved back again. I was brilliantly seasick. Surely, that’s football.


The game was glorious. Thank you Bulldogs, thank you Melbourne.


Innovations played out in this Grand Final. The game evolves, and always will. The future is looking sensational!


As for myself, when my wife met me, I was living in a cabin on a remote mountain in SE Tassie. A local told her about the swingers arms pub, the logging tracks. The looseness. These days I’m a family man. Life speeds up, we evolve, too. Or should. I love my wife, my child. This is the rarest night off, the game’s done, I’m proper drunk, and will keep on drinking. In a shipping container, in the rain, in lockdown, in nowhere. That too, is glorious.


But, by morning I’ll be there, shabby, to take my daughter to the beach, or further into the ranges, or simply with me working on the farm. Happy, spent.


Thanks once more Doggies and Demons. Thank you, Hibberd, for running the cup to all of us. For being an underdog.


Thank you football.


Old Dog’s Votes:

5 Petracca

4.9 Fretch

3 Jackson

2 Treloar 

1 Salem

Nathan Jones 5 ghost votes. Was everywhere.



MELBOURNE                   4.5     5.9     12.11     21.14 (140)
WESTERN BULLDOGS     1.2     7.5     9.5     10.6 (66)


Melbourne: Fritsch 6, Brown 3, Petracca, Neal-Bullen, McDonald 2, Spargo, Brayshaw, Sparrow, Oliver, Langdon, Jackson
Western Bulldogs: Bontempelli, Treloar 3, R Smith, Naughton, Hunter, Johannisen


Melbourne: Petracca, Fritsch, Oliver, Brayshaw, Salem, Gawn, Jackson
Western Bulldogs: Bontempelli, Daniel, B.Smith, Treloar, Macrae, Liberatore, Dale


Melbourne: Nil
Western Bulldogs: Nil


Melbourne: Jordon (unused)
Western Bulldogs: Vandermeer (unused) 


Crowd: 61,118


15 – Christian Petracca, Melbourne – 33333
10 – Bayley Fritsch – 22222
3 – Clayton Oliver – 111
1 – Christian Salem – 1
1 – Caleb Daniel – 1


Luke Hodge (Chair) – C Petracca, B Fritsch, C Oliver.
Harry Taylor – C Petracca, B Fritsch, C Salem.
Tania Armstrong – C Petracca, B Fritsch, C Oliver.
Andrew Krakouer – C Petracca, B Fritsch, C Daniel.
Callum Twomey – C Petracca, B Fritsch, C Oliver.






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  1. Brian The Ruminator says

    So many facets to this game beautifully captured in this article. As a Roos supporter, I got a warm glow seeing Benny Brown strut his stuff last night. While Fritsch defines the new type of forward we’ve been seeing in recent years, there’s still something special about a lanky sharp shooter moving silkiliy, taking overhead grabs and slotting it through at crucial moments.
    Onya Browny! Onya Dees. Can’t wait to see a photo with Barass holding the cup. Norm Smith is long gone but the great man’s heart beats true for the red and the blue, and we are all the better for it.

  2. As an aside, the GF in Perth was a roaring success. For the sake of the fans, if it’s two Vic clubs, it should be in Vic, but of it’s interstate clubs, I think, of course the GF should roam. It is, after all, Australian rules footy.

  3. Terrific Old Dog. Luke Jackson was my hero of the match. I would have given him second best. He was the player who changed the momentum of the game. Clean hands and a leap.
    If Max and Nic Nait had a love child…………….
    The player that had me scratching my head all game was Aaron Naughton. I thought the stage was set for him to make an impact. Against Port he seemed to get down the ground more to the wings and contesting kick ins. I expected him to run May around. Seems to me that he has a horizontal more than vertical leap. Best off the long run with time to gather a head of scheme. Dunno. Did he have a bad one or was he used ineffectively?
    Hard to criticise Bevo.
    Once Jackson got clean ball going forward for the Dee’s midfield the Bulldogs improv backline got found out. May and Lever have a script.

  4. Great review, Old Dog. Loved it!!

    Kudos to my old Roos man Benny Brown. Well played, BB.

  5. Daryl Schramm says

    Terrific insight into the match accompanied by a fairly clear portrayal of personal setup for the evening. I watched amongst a gathering of friends whose main focus was on ‘catching up’.

    I thought the Dees were in big strife in the third before the spark. The sign for me was Gawn pretending to be thrown to the ground in a tackle on the boundary, an act of desperation. Later Lever did the same thing in a marking contest.

    The change, in the blink of an eye, was almost unreal. I’ll be having another look thanks to your fine analysis to see (again) for myself.

  6. What a truly great game of footy. Both sides went into the match determined to attack at all cost. A good first quarter from Melbourne was only marred with inaccurate goal kicking . Then came a resurgence by the Bullies whose play was simply outstanding in the second quarter. The perplexing thing during this period was the non goal from a long shot by Gawn which appeared to be a six pointer by most except the goal umpire (the only one that counts). Carrying on with their wonderful attacking flair in the so called premiership quarter (third) the Dogs had extended their lead to 19 points. Urged on by Coach Goodwin, the Dees regained their composure and attacked incessantly to produce so scintillating attacks resulting in snatching a six point lead. The next 2 minutes produced 3 exciting Demons’ goal and before you could say “Neile Daniher” their lead was extended to 4 goals at three quarter time. Although the Dogs never gave in, for Melbourne, the final quarter was Party time as they rattled on a further 9 goals to only 1. The turnaround by the Dees who were really under the pump was truly amazing. This match produced some of the most exciting footy of the season – loved every second of it.

  7. Great review Matt, just beautifully put in words.

    For three quarters this was an even contest with heaps of momentum swings.

    The last minute in the third quarter was great but killed the contest.

    Hope history still judges it a very good match.

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