Sport AFL Peter Schwab: The moment that ignited a dream for the Melbourne faithful

Peter Schwab: The moment that ignited a dream for the Melbourne faithful

The Demons faithful are starting to believe. Photo: Getty
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My observation of Melbourne over the years has been a team too often on a wave of emotion.

Every big game for the Demons has had too much hype and a feeling of redemption about it. Every week seems to be built up as a chance to regain lost pride.

To me, this can enthuse or drain people, and I think that is fundamentally what happens to the Demons.

High emotions either boost them or deflate them depending on what happens within a game and from week to week.

Something has changed this year, though.

The Demons seem more resilient and more consistent.

I have no doubt they are more capable because I believe their talent is very good – almost good enough to make a Grand Final.

That is helped because I feel Melbourne’s challengers just aren’t that good.

But there is still a small nagging doubt in the back of my mind about the Demons, which I never feel with Richmond or even Collingwood this year.

A quick look at the Demons’ season shows some blips.

Hawthorn exposed them in Round 4 and Richmond showed them as nowhere near the top level in Round 5, but it is also worth remembering how long ago those games were.

The wins came after those matches, the Demons building form with six successes in a row, all by large margins but against some poor teams.

A real challenge came in the form of Collingwood and the Demons could not pass it, going down by 42 points.

The jury was still out.

Again, we waited to see what would happen. Could they be disciplined and unrelenting against quality teams? Could they truly believe in their talent? Could they be genuine?

I was at the MCG for Melbourne’s Round 15 loss to St Kilda – a two-point defeat that was its third loss in succession.

I came away from that match thinking the Demons had a defence that simply would not stand up against the better teams.

Nathan Jones Melbourne
Things looked bleak after the loss to the Saints. Photo: Getty

The loss of Jake Lever has and will prove to be decisive in the end.

The midfield that day was not changed at any stage by the coaching staff, who seemed to believe in the often-used definition of madness, that being: “Keep doing the same thing and expect a different result”.

A win against West Coast in Round 22 secured Melbourne’s first finals appearance in 12 long years, though, and it was a performance full of merit.

The victory showed Melbourne’s talent had begun to merge with the grit and determination necessary to be a genuine finals team.

And I think that win has created a belief among the Demons that they are capable.

It was not a final, but that triumph has a resemblance to the Western Bulldogs’ finals win over the Eagles in 2016.

It has ignited a sense of possibility. A sense of freedom to go for it. To take on any challenge with no thought for the outcome, but a collective belief that they are good enough.

Melbourne’s opponents on Friday night at the MCG, Hawthorn, looks vulnerable, but it is natural to believe the team that won the week before will have an advantage over the team that lost.

Particularly a team that lost its best key defender and will not be able to find a likely replacement.

Statistically and observationally, Melbourne looks more able to enter its forward-50m arc than Hawthorn, more likely to mark it in there, maintain the pressure to keep it, and is more capable of exposing Hawthorn’s defence as a result.

The depth of midfield looks clearly in Melbourne’s favour with the ruck dominance of Max Gawn and the return of Jack Viney to go with Nathan Jones, Clayton Oliver, Angus Brayshaw, Dom Tyson and James Harmes.

If the Demons can secure another win they will return to the west with a momentum that will be hard to contain.

And then the Demons faithful can genuinely believe premiership success is possible.

Peter Schwab played 171 VFL/AFL matches for Hawthorn from 1980 to 1991, winning three premierships. He later served as Hawthorn coach, AFL National Umpiring director, AFL Match Review Panel chairman and Brisbane Lions list manager

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