Melbourne have consigned a 57-year AFL premiership drought to history after orchestrating a remarkable second-half turnaround to thrash the Western Bulldogs by 74 points in Saturday’s grand final.
Led by Norm Smith medallist Christian Petracca and fellow standout Bayley Fritsch, the Demons rallied from behind in the third term, kicking 16 of the last 17 goals en route to finishing 21.14 (140) – 10.6 (66) and sealing their first flag since 1964.
Petracca gathered a grand-final record 40 disposals and kicked two goals while forward Fritsch finished with six majors in the historic season decider played in front of 61,118 spectators at a sold-out Optus Stadium in Perth. Clayton Oliver was also influential seized control of a see-sawing contest.
“It feels like a dream,” Petracca told Seven. “We set out in the off-season to get this club back to where we should belong ... we bloody did it.”
It is Melbourne’s first premiership since 1964 and 13th overall, drawing them level with Richmond and Hawthorn in equal-fourth position – three flags behind leaders Carlton and Essendon (16 each).
For Luke Beveridge’s Bulldogs, it ended hopes of replicating their 2016 flag.
The Demons led in the first quarter before the Bulldogs hit the front in the second. Led by captain Marcus Bontempelli and Adam Treloar, the Dogs fought back to hold an eight-point half-time lead and extended the buffer to 19 points midway through the third term.
But Simon Goodwin’s side responded with seven unanswered goals, including four majors direct from centre bounces, in a 15-minute burst of dominance before the final change to build what would become an unassailable lead.
There was a sour note, with the majority of the Demons’ legion of fans stuck in Melbourne’s latest Covid-19 lockdown and unable to witness the momentous triumph in the flesh.
“It’s been a long time coming,” captain Max Gawn said. “My heart goes out to everyone in the eastern states that are at home watching this, we did it for you.”
Watching on television, those fans saw a cautious start from both sides before Petracca’s booming goal from 50 metres gave Melbourne a spark. Their pressure strangled the Bulldogs’ ball movement and two goals to Fritsch helped fire the Demons into a 21-point lead by the first change.
Melbourne’s Ben Brown complemented Fritsch in attack with three goals and fellow key forward Tom McDonald finished with two, completing the rout with a set shot after the siren.
Gawn and tough midfielder Jack Viney were valuable contributors in the engine room, while All Australian duo Jake Lever and Steven May stood tall in defence.
The long-awaited flag means Melbourne can finally lay claim to having buried the infamous curse of Norm Smith. Smith, who led the Demons’ last VFL premiership, was sacked as coach in controversial circumstances the following year and the club spiralled out of control for decades.