Melbourne’s push for a drought-breaking premiership gathered further momentum with a 33-point semi-final win over Hawthorn at the MCG on Friday evening.
The Demons have not won a premiership since 1964 but are now just two triumphs away from achieving the ultimate glory after a 16.8 (104) to 10.11 (71) win in front of 90,152 fans.
A six-goal-to-three third term proved pivotal for the Demons, with the match swinging in one crucial minute as Melbourne made Hawthorn’s Jack Gunston pay for a simple miss.
Gunston, who kicked 3.5, was running into an open goal but hit the post with a snap when a goal would have reduced the margin to nine points.
And the Hawthorn star’s miss would prove costly, with Melbourne going up the other end and adding to its lead through Alex Neal-Bullen.
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That goal – and two more before three-quarter time – helped Melbourne to a 32-point lead at the final change.
Hawthorn started well in the final quarter and reduced the margin to just two goals but the Demons held their nerve to set up a preliminary final meeting with West Coast in Perth next Saturday afternoon.
The Demons have won their last two against West Coast and both clashes were in Perth, with one coming just last month.
Co-captain Jack Viney gathered 27 disposals for Melbourne in a typically gutsy performance, while forward Tom McDonald booted four crucial goals.
Melbourne’s quick ball movement hurt the Hawks throughout and Christian Petracca broke the lines regularly, adding 22 important disposals.
Hawthorn, who have now lost four successive finals, were hamstrung by an AC joint injury to Brownlow Medal favourite Tom Mitchell. The ex-Swan suffered the problem late in the first quarter and although he ended up with 24 disposals, his impact was thwarted.
The Hawks – who were also without star midfielder Jaeger O’Meara due to a knee problem – have now been bundled out of the finals in straight sets in 2016 and 2018.
“It’s pretty exciting,” Viney told Fox Footy after the match.
“We didn’t have it on our own terms the whole game. We had to wrestle for it and [I am] really proud of how the boys come out for the second half.
“It was a great team performance today and the boys are really excited about flying over to Perth.”
Melbourne ruckman Max Gawn added: “We didn’t want to just be in the finals. We wanted to make a statement in the finals.
“Some people thought that was last week. I tend to disagree, I reckon it was this week and even next week.
“They’re [Hawthorn] a premier side, they’ve been in the top four for 10-or-so years.
“To knock them off in a semi-final, the ‘G, Friday night … pretty impressive from the boys.”
Mitchell made a fast start for Hawthorn but never recovered after receiving a hit from Neville Jetta on the wing – impact that forced him down the race for treatment.
Both sides were locked level at the first change and Hawthorn controlled the second quarter, only to waste countless chances in front of goal.
Alastair Clarkson’s side booted 0.6 for the quarter and Melbourne, who were far more clinical going forward, led by 13 points at half-time.
Melbourne kept Hawthorn at arms length throughout the third term, and Gunston’s miss sparked a five-minute period that looked to have sealed the match.
Some controversial free-kicks in the final quarter breathed life into Hawthorn’s unlikely bid for victory but the Hawks lacked the quality to produce a stunning comeback win, while the Demons finished full of run.
“I feel like we travel pretty well. We’ve got a confident group, we know that,” Viney said of his side’s next test.