Gawn’s ‘this is just the beginning’ comments would be echoed by Simon Goodwin in his post-match presser.
Goodwin, unfortunately, wasn’t given the opportunity to speak from the grand final podium after the game’s oldest club had beaten the competition’s longest drought – an oversight that embarrassed the AFL and was one of the only mishaps for a successfully outsourced grand final.
Melbourne, club and players, is brimming with belief. The Demons know they have the competition’s most potent playing list. They expect to keep winning.
Chief executive Gary Pert, too, was candid, rather than talking down what this club could achieve given the talent and demographics.
“This is a starting point, it’s not an end point for us. This has got to be something that builds over the next five or six or seven years.″
The Demons have something beyond confidence. Late on Saturday night, hours after the flag was won, the players stood in the middle of the same centre square where they’d buried the Bulldogs and sang, not just “It’s a grand old flag”, but a version of “Freed from desire” – the song their beaten opponents had adopted as an unofficial theme song in recent weeks.
The story of Melbourne’s premiership, as with all flags, is one of a mosaic that was assembled, piece by piece, player by player, coach by coach, and with a backdrop of administrative stability.
Once this superbly talented playing list was well-coached, injury-managed expertly, and the better players developed that most basic tenet of team success – that they’re a team, not a collection of careerists – then they became harder to take down than Christian Petracca.
Melbourne’s list is good enough to win multiple premierships. In witnessing this team flick the switch and completely overwhelm the Bulldogs in the second half, the dynasty of the recent past that came to mind wasn’t Richmond or Hawthorn.
Rather, the Demons of 2021, share obvious parallels with Geelong of 2007, when it all clicked and the Cats began to smash everyone in their path. Like Geelong’s drought-breaking side, the Demons are propelled by powerful, physically imposing midfielders in Petracca, Clayton Oliver, Angus Brayshaw and Jack Viney and a quality backline.
“It’s young too and our talented players are young, so we’ve got eight players out there that are 21 or younger and we’ve got half the team nearly that hadn’t played a final, let alone a grand final, let alone a premiership,″ said Pert.
“The ingredients are there. Now we’ve got to make sure we do the work, we’ve got to build the belief. But I’ve really felt a real cultural shift within the whole club.″
Goodwin, in Gawn’s telling, had made important tactical changes at half-time, to respond to the Bulldogs’ own change in method. The Dogs, who ranked near last in the AFL for “switching” play (kicking laterally to an open player across the field), had been switching often.
“We adjusted and worked on their switch a little bit more,” said Gawn. “And our mids weren’t working hard enough at all.
“Goody was cool, a calm head.”
Goodwin had entered the season under enormous pressure, nursing self-doubts. The expectations of the club were predicated on the view that this team should be playing finals and contending for a premiership soon.
While the game style evolved into one with stronger defensive mechanisms, the more important change was, as ever, in managing relationships to improve individuals and, eventually, team.
Goodwin’s handling of May, who had been failing to fulfil his professional standards in 2019, having gone through a relationship break-up shortly after he arrived from Gold Coast, is a revealing example of how the Demons, and their coach, gradually put the premiership mosaic together.
“He was very firm with me,” May recalled with trademark candour.
“I needed an arm around me at the time and he whacked me between the eyes and told me, you know, I can be better – best version of myself is the words he used. And he talked to me, I was taking short cuts and I wasn’t doing everything I can in my power.″
Previously, Goodwin had been kind to May and the full-back, thus, was surprised to be admonished. Goodwin did, however, mix that frank messaging with care, taking May to the footy to watch opposition defences.
“I thought – because I just went through a break-up at the time – I had a legitimate excuse, I wasn’t myself and he said ‘stop blaming that, stop making excuses, take some responsibility.’”
That’s Melbourne 2021, writ small. Players, guided by their coach, looked at themselves.
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