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Melbourne flag favourites? Unprecedented times, indeed

Melbourne flag favourites? Unprecedented times, indeed

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This might sound like a strange thing to say in the midst of the pandemic, but I really wish I could press ‘save game’ right now.

That’s because, right now, at this present moment, the Melbourne Demons are – and I have to pinch myself as I say this – about to play in a preliminary final. And we’re favourites!

Not just that, but we’re favourites to win the premiership, too. Yes, the actual premiership! Not just the minor premiership, either; we already bagged that three weeks ago, the same week that five Dees made the All Australian team, Luke Jackson won the Rising Star and coaches named Clayton Oliver the league’s best player.

We’ve heard the phrase “unprecedented times” a lot recently. But this, my friends, is a truly unprecedented time. I feel like I’m on the precipice of fulfilling my wildest dreams, and that’s as many parts exhilarating as it is terrifying.

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It’s terrifying because life, apparently, is not a video game. As much as I wish I could ‘save game’ and rewind back to this moment in the future, I know that on Saturday morning all my dreams could be over.

If the Cats win on Friday night, then the Dees are once again as irrelevant as 15 other teams. The 56-year-old premiership drought will tick over to 57, and I’ll have to place my dreams on hold for another 12 months.

The last time I wrote for The Roar in 2018, I had resigned myself to the fact that Melbourne would probably never win a flag in my lifetime. I argued that the football community placed too much emphasis on premierships, and that it’s important for fans to not let this overdetermine their enjoyment of the game itself.

In other words, premiership might be the buried treasure, but the real treasure are the moments of joy we have along the way.

That was a nice philosophy then, and one that helped me appreciate the Demons’ breakthrough finals victories over the Cats and Hawks in the weeks that followed. I’m only half-joking when I tell friends that I’ve witnessed two Demons premierships in the flesh – on Friday 7 September 2018 and Friday 14 September 2018.

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Have I been happier at any moment in my life, before or since those finals? I honestly don’t think I have.

The Demons mob Max Gawn after kicking a goal after the siren to win the game against Geelong.

(Photo by Daniel Pockett/Getty Images)

Most of my footy friends are quick to remind me what happened the subsequent weekend, when the Demons failed to trouble the goal umpire for an entire half against the Eagles in Perth. And I’m not going to lie – that was a pretty miserable afternoon.

But when I think back to the Spring of ’18, that afternoon at Federation Square feels blurry. Indeed, when I’m not revelling in the glow of those two electrifying Friday nights, I reflect upon the pre-emptive wonder of submitting an entry into the grand final ballot.

My debit card records will tell me this was a waste of $10, but the thrill of being so close to glory was an intoxicating feeling.

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Now, three years later, there isn’t a chance in hell of attending this year’s grand final… but it’s for different reasons. With Melbourne lockdowns forcing the big dance across the Nullabor, I have no choice but to watch the last three games of 2021 on my own TV, in my cosy one-bedroom apartment, with only my partner and two cats beside me. No offence to the company, but it’s not what I had originally envisioned.

For most of this season, I’ve been happy to enjoy the ride. I’ve distanced myself from the dread shared by fellow supporters, many of whom have been nervously anticipating a Demon self-destruction. I have understood their fears, but have done my best to persuade them of my philosophy: “If you can’t enjoy football when we’re on top of the ladder, when you can enjoy it?” I’ve asked.

But now that we’re so close to the grand prize, I’m less attached to my 2018 philosophy. As much as I’ve cherished all the highlights of this year’s ride – from Kysaiah Pickett’s dance moves, to Jake Lever’s wicketkeeper intercepts, to Max Gawn’s heart-in-your-mouth after-the-siren goal – I’ve realised that I am not prepared for it all to end on Friday.

As far as I know, this could be Melbourne’s only shot at a flag in my lifetime. There’s no longer two ways about this – a Melbourne premiership is the only way this story can have a happy ending.

As the media have been saying for the past month, it’s Melbourne’s premiership to lose. They’re absolutely right, too. This Demon line-up is better than any I’ve ever seen pull on the red and blue, and they just keep getting the job done.

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I foolishly doubted the team three weeks ago, when midway through the third quarter we were 44 points behind the live ladder-leader Geelong. Ever since that miracle comeback down at Kardinia Park, which still gives me goosebumps, I’ve realised that it’s Melbourne’s destiny to win the 2021 premiership.

It’s so close I can picture it all in my mind: Gawny hoisting the cup beneath the red-and-navy ticker tape; medical sub Nathan Jones crying tears of joy in Simon Goodwin’s arms; seventh-gamer Jake Bowey awkwardly swapping a hat for a premiership medallion with an Auskick kid only marginally shorter than him… ahh!

The aftermath of 2018 taught me that success – if you are brave enough to call it that – is rare and ephemeral; despite predictions in early 2019 that Melbourne had a flag-ready team, we finished that year in second-last place.

I can’t predict what 2022 or 2023 will be like, and I’m not willing to take the chance that future versions of the Demons will be able to match this year’s fortunes to date.

For all I know, generations to come may eulogise the 2020s as Melbourne’s dynasty decade, an era filled with three-peats, Brownlows and legendary stories.

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But for all I know, Melbourne may never get this close again.

So please, please, please, I ask – to all the gods and demons willing to listen – can this be our year?



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