IF PAUL Roos is Melbourne's coach-in-waiting, the man warming his seat reckons the $2 million man has genuine high performance talent to work with.
Roos would have been spellbound by Jeremy Howe's extraordinary final quarter mark in defence and how Melbourne proceeded to fight and excite as they fought back in the second half.
Demons interim coach Neil Craig, who is set to make way if the ex-Sydney premiership coach say yes to coaching the club next season, believes the 20-point loss to the Western Bulldogs to end Melbourne's dismal year shows the team has fulfilled its vow to "run to the line and play the season out".
Just one poor quarter - the second term in which the Bulldogs played superb football and the Demons summoned nothing except some fire for a halftime melee - proved the difference in Melbourne's 16.11 (107) to 13.9 (87) defeat.
Towelled up by nine goals to two in the term, Melbourne actually won the other three quarters.
Craig, a former Adelaide coach who took over after Mark Neeld's sacking but has presided over just one win, admits he has enjoyed his return to senior coaching and with the right conditions in place, would be keen to coach the Demons full-time.
But instead Melbourne are chasing Roos hard - and confirmation of his signing after two seasons out of coaching could come as early as this week.
Roos has already spoken to senior Demons players about the prospect of coaching the club in 2014.
But he points to the addition of boom youngster Jesse Hogan next season, the return of injured star Mitch Clark, and the growth of Melbourne's younger players to better things ahead.
"What I can say to the Melbourne supporters is there's genuine high-performance talent there," Craig said.
"That should give them a lot of hope. The Melbourne Football Club is not a quick-fix, but they're developing enough talent in their squad for there to be genuine hope, not false hope."
Jack Watts booted four goals for the match, while Jack Grimes and Nathan Jones performed strongly for the Dees.
Bulldogs coach Brendan McCartney believed his young side were feeling the pinch after a competitive final two months of the season.
But he labelled their second quarter as "scintillating footy - tough, brave, aggressive and great to watch".
Midfielder Tom Liberatore and ruckman Will Minson were outstanding, Tory Dickson booted three goals and skipper Matthew Boyd had 40 touches.
The AFL Match Review Panel is certain to slap players from both sides with fines over the ugly melee after the halftime siren, which spilled over the sideline and within touching distance of the crowd.
Bulldogs ruckman Will Minson, who had his shirt ripped off, and Demons midfielder Jordie McKenzie were among the most prominent.
The Dogs round off their year having won eight matches for the season.
The club also said goodbye to midfield stalwart Daniel Cross, who had 27 disposals and kicked a goal. He received warm cheers from the crowd every time he touched the ball.
McCartney said post-game that it was a tough decision to move on Cross and he hoped he received another chance at another club if he wanted to continue his AFL career.
"It is a really difficult decision for our club to make but we're going to have to keep making them going forward," McCartney said. "We hope he gets another opportunity."
Aaron Davey was rapt to see former teammates create a guard of honour as he ran on the ground. At the end of the game he told Melbourne's website he just wanted to enjoy the day.
"I just went out there and played on instinct. I enjoyed it and I couldn’t be more proud of the way the boys dug deep and fought it out, instead of rolling over after half-time," Davey said. "I was disappointed we didn’t get the result,but that’s footy – you can’t win them all."
A brawl on the half-time siren was the most spirit the Demons showed in the second quarter. Picture: AFL Media
WESTERN BULLDOGS 4.3 13.6 14.8 16.11 (107)
MELBOURNE 4.5 6.5 9.7 13.9 (87)
Western Bulldogs: Dickson 3, Hunter 2, Cooney 2, Giansiracusa 2, Jones 2, Wallis, Grant, Cross, Liberatore, Minson
Melbourne: Watts 4, Kent 2, N. Jones, Garland, Howe, Sellar, Viney, M.Jones, Dunn
Western Bulldogs: Liberatore, Murphy, Minson, Hunter, Boyd
Melbourne: Trengove, Viney, Garland, Watts, Frawley
Western Bulldogs: Daniel Giansiracusa (ankle)
Melbourne: Chris Dawes (calf) injured in warm-up
Western Bulldogs: Koby Stevens replaced Mark Austin in the third quarter
Melbourne: Luke Tapscott replaced Max Gawn in the third quarter
Umpires: Hosking, Armstrong, Fisher
Official crowd: 22,176 at Etihad Stadium