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Why clash with West Coast could define the Demons

But when you’re on the road and with backs up against the wall, victory can provide the camaraderie and confidence to change a season. The Western Bulldogs back in 2016, Collingwood last year and even Richmond now, haven’t allowed injury to bring them down. In fact, the spirit they’ve shown in the face of adversity has galvanised them.

While Simon Goodwin has already said this week that nobody is looking back to that preliminary final last year, that match might actually provide a different explanation for the club’s poor start to the season.

I can only speak from experience in saying there’d have to be a little mental scarring. That mental side of the game is one of footy’s great intangibles.

With all the stats at our disposal, we can easily identify that the Demons are no longer as dominant as they were at winning contested balls, and that they’re no longer the free-flowing, high-scoring team they were last year. But we can’t measure how much of that is because of what’s going on above the shoulders.

Yes, system plays a part, but it’s not everything. And while not everyone will draw on the experience of that loss to the Eagles last September, many will.

For the leaders, in particular, the way they were blown away would have to be in the back of their minds now they’re heading back to the same venue. But that type of result can also present the chance to take a stand.

It’s often mentioned that after Geelong lost to Hawthorn in the 2008 grand final, many senior Cats vowed they would never let that happen again. As it turned out, they wouldn’t lose to the Hawks over the next five years.

The great thing about the competition right now is that it’s incredibly even and if ever there was a time to get the Eagles, Friday night might be it. By their own admission they haven’t been in great form so far this year and in the past two weeks, the Demons have showed they still have a pulse.

They might have beaten Hawthorn by less than a kick and then fallen over the line against Gold Coast, but their reaction to both victories showed they’re clearly still engaged, and they still care.

Yes, they have injuries, but the Dees have managed to keep their strong midfield core intact. Clayton Oliver hit form last week, and we know what type of footy Angus Brayshaw is capable of.

Along with Max Gawn and Jack Viney, they’ll be crucial in controlling the supply to West Coast’s forward line, and then ensuring the delivery going inside their own forward 50 is efficient.

We saw the way Port Adelaide upset the Eagles by playing what they called “dirty” footy – not allowing the likes of Jeremy McGovern and co. the opportunity to zone off and intercept. Melbourne must play their own way, though they can also take a few lessons from the Power’s game plan.

The Dees certainly haven’t had any problems getting the ball inside 50, but on Friday night they must take greater care going forward.

One of the keys is making the Eagles’ defenders accountable. Whoever McGovern is playing on, get him an early touch. Make McGovern think.

Then, wherever possible, isolate their other defenders.

While it might seem like mission impossible, the Demons have to believe anything is possible. If they head west and five or six players think they can’t win, then they won’t.

But if the entire group buys in, then there’s no reason why they can’t pull off what would be one of the great Melbourne victories of recent times.

And maybe then, the Demons of last September might be banished for good.

Two-time AFL premiership captain and columnist for The Age.

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