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Demons ruckman Max Gawn turns Saints nightmare into dream win over Cats

The rise of Gawn Max Gawn raises the bar with a superb performance
GEELONG, AUSTRALIA - JUNE 21: Max Gawn of the Demons handpasses the ball in front of Cameron Guthrie of the Cats during the 2015 AFL round twelve match between the Geelong Cats and the Melbourne Demons at Simonds Stadium, Geelong on June 21, 2015. (Photo by Adam Trafford/AFL Media)
Max Gawn was equally ferocious in the air and at ground level against Geelong

MELBOURNE ruckman Max Gawn had a point to prove heading into the game against Geelong.

The 23-year-old knew he had made the wrong decision at the final centre bounce against St Kilda a week earlier, hitting the ball into space rather than where his midfielders requested.

He wasn't solely responsible for the agonising loss but the misdirected tap-out, eventually sharked by Saint Jack Steven and booted forward, played a large part in the decisive goal being conceded in the 41 seconds remaining after the Demons had taken the lead.

"I did hit it to the wrong place so I needed to come back from that," Gawn told AFL.com.au.

His poor decision was front and centre at the review, the incident reinforcing a message Gawn had heard more than once before: ruckmen with 28 games of experience follow directions from the midfielders and coaches, rather making up plans on the run. 

"I just had to go back to what I know that I do best," Gawn said. 

He had to compete in the air, play tall in ruck contests and, when the ball hit the deck, scramble.

"I knew if I ticked them off today I would be able to hold my head up high," Gawn said.

He did not dwell on the past but steeled himself for what lay ahead.

On Tuesday night he watched a rare Melbourne win at Simonds Stadium on Fox Footy and resolved to repeat the dose on Sunday.

He gained confidence from the fact injury had depleted Geelong's ruck stocks and he would face Mark Blicavs and Josh Walker, neither of whom are recognised ruckmen.

And he felt relief when fellow tall Jake Spencer was named, as he knew he would not be forced to chase around on his own two opponents renowned for their endurance. 

"They had no ruck this week so I really looked at the opportunity to really go out there and play a really good first half," Gawn said. 

He delivered. 

Max Gawn had the measure of makeshift Cats ruckman Josh Walker. Picture: AFL Media

By half-time Gawn had 14 hit-outs, 13 disposals, a career-high five contested marks and a goal and, most importantly, the Demons led centre clearances 10-1.

The Demons were in the game and Gawn's confidence in playing his preferred ruck position was growing.

By the end of the day he had found some redemption for his efforts a week earlier with 19 disposals, 44 hit-outs and just his sixth win at the club

It was the first he had been a part of since round nine, 2014 – exactly 400 days and 10 losses earlier.

In typical Gawn style, the jokes started to roll as the significance of the win dawned on him.

"I was just joking with Bernie [Vince] then that he has had 38 [disposals] three weeks in a row and I've been in the team three weeks in a row, so I said 'I'll keep giving you 38 if they keep playing me'," Gawn said. 

Given Vince has chalked up 34 disposals against Collingwood, 38 against St Kilda and 38 against Geelong in the past three weeks, Gawn might have stretched the truth a little.

But no one would deny Gawn – who has had two reconstructions in six seasons –  a touch of levity given the week he had just endured and his lack of success along the way. 

"We've had some dark days down here and it's just great to finally get a win," Gawn said.

"In the six years I have been at the club I have not seen this sort of fight so it is really good to get a result."

He now knows a feeling that his coach surely knows only too well: you're only as good as your last game.

Gawn won't be getting carried away as he now understands what is required to be the No.1 ruckman.

"Basically all we had to do was strip it back to the contest, win contested ball and to tackle hard, the basics," he said.