A top-two spot doesn’t quite have the same gloss in these pandemic times. Teams may “host” a qualifying final in name only. But while they cannot yet know what the finals will look like, Melbourne fans can at least know this: their team is one win away from a first minor premiership in 57 years.
A win in Geelong next weekend would secure the Dees top spot at the end of the home-and-away season, a feat the club last achieved in 1964. And the faithful barely need reminding how that season ended.
On a heartbreakingly beautiful mid-August Sunday afternoon at the MCG – the type of day that in normal times would serve as a portent of bustling finals days and nights – the Dees ensured that lightning (this time of the metaphorical kind) would not strike twice for them this season, shrugging off a valiant and rebuilding Adelaide outfit, the same side that had inflicted upon Simon Goodwin’s men their first loss of the season back in round 10.
The Crows started brightly and a strong patch from the visitors either side of half-time gave them a sniff deep in the third term. But Melbourne steadied and ultimately got home comfortably enough, in doing so notching their 16th home and away victory for the season, equalling the club’s previous best haul.
It was Bayley Fritsch who took it upon himself to swing the contest definitively in the Dees’ favour when it hung in the balance. Previously wayward in front of goal, the smooth-moving aerialist ended up slotting a flawless 7.0, six of which came from the middle stages of the third term and beyond, and the last right on the final siren. Fritsch’s inaccuracy has been an issue at times in the past, but this was the stuff of a bona fide sharpshooter.
Pleasingly for the Dees, they managed to secure a regulation win while also giving gun backman Steven May the afternoon off. The club insists it was just soreness that kept him out of the game, and that he will be back to confront the Cats.
The Crows tried to outwork Melbourne on the outside and intermittently they picked holes in the Dees’ strong defensive structures. But when challenged Melbourne returned to first principles, with their superior pressure inside forward 50 among the starkest differences between the sides on the day.
The Crows lost young key forward Elliott Himmelberg early to a hamstring injury, further depleting a side lacking compelling key forward options without the suspended Taylor Walker.