Melbourne’s hopes of a drought-breaking premiership were dashed after an insipid first half in a one-sided preliminary final against West Coast on Saturday.
The Eagles made a mockery of the Demons at Perth Stadium, kicking 10 goals to none in the first half en route to a 18.13 (121) to 7.13 (55) victory.
West Coast will now play Collingwood in next Saturday’s grand final at the MCG, and the Eagles will enter the clash having defeated the Magpies just three weeks earlier.
Finals victories over Geelong and Hawthorn had Demons fans dreaming of ending the AFL’s longest premiership hoodoo, which stretches back to 1964.
But Simon Goodwin’s side were never in the contest against the Eagles, blown away following a dreadful start in which they recorded the lowest half-time score (six behinds) in a final since 1960.
Melbourne continued to make history for the wrong reasons, too, with the Demons becoming the first side to go goalless in the first half of a final since Richmond achieved the feat in the 1927 grand final.
The Eagles had winners all over the park, with Jack Redden (31 disposals, one goal) and Dom Sheed (27 disposals) continuing to stand up in the absence of suspended star Andrew Gaff.
Key forwards Josh Kennedy and Jack Darling booted four and three goals respectively, while smaller options in Jamie Cripps and Mark LeCras (three goals each) also thrived on the big stage.
The ruck work of Scott Lycett and Nathan Vardy was crucial, too, as Melbourne big man Max Gawn – considered an outside chance to win Monday’s Brownlow Medal – failed to have his usual impact.
Melbourne’s strengthall season has been its dominance of the contested ball, but even that broke down, with the Eagles proving hungrier at the contest and shutting down the Demons’ free-flowing style with precise ball movement.
And of all the damning statistics – and there were plenty – perhaps hardest to take for Melbourne fans would be the fact their team laid just 33 tackles for the match, with seven players finishing with none.
Former Port Adelaide midfielder Kane Cornes said that the Demons “looked like a deer in headlights” and were “smashed all over the park” in the match.
Speaking on an video on the AFL website, Cornes also labelled Melbourne veteran Jordan Lewis’ efforts as a “disaster” and queried whether he may have played the last match of a glittering 307-game career.
“Our contest work and our fundamentals weren’t up to scratch early on,” Melbourne coach Simon Goodwin acknowledged.
“It doesn’t matter what team you are or what mindset you’re in, if the basics aren’t there, you’re on the back foot. We found ourselves on the back foot.
“The Eagles nailed the game in the first half. They finished where they did on the ladder for a reason and they were outstanding today.”
Goodwin added that he “couldn’t be more proud of the group of guys we’ve got” after a season in which the Demons took “significant strides” forward.
West Coast coach Adam Simpson was understandably delighted and said his side has matured significantly following a heavy defeat to Hawthorn in the 2015 grand final.
“It feels good. We executed our plans well, particularly in the first half,” he said.
“We are different than 2015. Our leaders have carried a lot of responsibility, they’ve really grown.
“I’m hoping we’re in a better space. It feels a bit more settled.”
A horror start sets the tone
The Eagles quickly got the 59,608-strong crowd – the largest at a sporting event in Western Australia – vocal as a poor Lewis handball set up Kennedy to snap the game’s first goal.
Then Melbourne’s Angus Brayshaw fumbled, leading to a Cripps goal, and West Coast never looked back.
The Eagles’ ferocity seemed to catch the Demons by surprise, who turned the ball over at regular intervals, and Darling and Cripps added further goals as West Coast took a 29-point lead into the first change.
It should have been more, too, the Eagles kicking 4.8 in the first term, but the hosts made amends once play resumed with another blistering quarter.
Kennedy provided the spark, booting a pair of early majors, and the goals just kept coming – even in bizarre circumstances.
When it's your day…
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Melbourne simply had no answer, going in 63 points down at the main break, before Clayton Oliver (27 disposals) finally broke the goal drought 43 seconds into the third quarter.
To their credit, the Demons did not surrender, kicking seven second-half goals, but the Eagles managed eight and avoided major injuries as they successfully took their foot off the pedal.
Key defender Jeremy McGovern (ribs) and Luke Shuey (ankle) did suffer injury scares during the contest, but both returned to the field and should be right to go next Saturday.
And the grand final promises to be a beauty, with both Collingwood and the Eagles blowing away their preliminary final opponents with simply scintillating first halves.