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How Gunston's howler stopped the Hawk charge

Three moments that mattered: Semi Final The crucial plays and pivotal highlights from the match

MELBOURNE remarkably booked its place in a preliminary final on Friday night, perhaps even ushering in a new era in the AFL with a significant 33-point victory over Hawthorn.

But while the Demons led throughout an epic at the MCG, one moment – and two incredibly costly mistakes at either end of the field – turned the match on its head.

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It was a two-goal turnaround, right when Melbourne needed it most and at the exact point when Hawthorn could ill-afford to concede it. Trailing by 15 points, but only just clinging to a Demons outfit that had held the ascendency throughout the match, the Hawks thrust the ball into their forward line where they found an unmarked Jack Gunston. The ball sat for the forward, who ran into an open goal only to cannon his shot into the post. Chance missed. The Dees quickly transitioned to the other end of the field, only to be thwarted by James Sicily. He won a crucial one-on-one battle, pounced on the loose football and gave it to the experienced Liam Shiels. However, just when his fine work looked to have got Hawthorn out of trouble, it was undone by a hot handball from Shiels. It slipped straight out of Sicily's grasp, allowing for Melbourne youngster Charlie Spargo to swoop. He won the footy, dinked a handball over the deepest defender to Alex Neal-Bullen and he finished from almost the identical position where Gunston had just missed from. All of a sudden, the potential to reduce the deficit to just nine points was blown. Instead, it ballooned to a crucial 20-point Melbourne lead. All in 60 seconds.

DEMONS' DREAM CONTINUES Full match details and stats

While it was Spargo and Neal-Bullen who put the finishing touches on the two-goal turnaround, there were two unsung Demons who were pivotal to forcing the errors that led to the costly Hawks mistakes. First, co-captain Jack Viney chased tirelessly to ensure Gunston was under even the slightest bit of pressure as he kicked. Then, at the other end of the field, Jake Melksham's presence perhaps forced Shiels into a handball he otherwise wouldn't have attempted, which led to the turnover and ultimately the Melbourne goal.

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It wasn't just the fact that the deficit went from a potential nine-point margin to a 20-point margin, it was also the momentum swing that occurred as a result of Hawthorn's costly mistakes. For the Demons faithful, it provided a timely boost – right when the Hawks were clawing away at their lead. At the other end, it was deflating for the likes of Gunston and Shiels. Hawthorn found it difficult to recover and Melbourne capitalised. Mitch Hannan and Angus Brayshaw both converted in the brief period between Neal-Bullen's goal and the three-quarter time break, handing the Demons a pivotal 32-point buffer at the final change.

"Gunston's in a beautiful spot if it sits, it does … and he hits the post! He rattles the post! Oh, what a moment!" – Bruce McAvaney, Channel 7.

"Shiels missed the lot with the handball, now Melbourne are in … Spargo, over the top to Neal-Bullen and into the open goal! Can't believe it, can't believe, can't believe … Cannot believe it!" – Brian Taylor, Channel 7.

Both sets of supporters were beside themselves. At one end, the Melbourne fans perhaps couldn't believe that it was them – yes, the Demons – getting some good fortune after 12 years of constant heartache. At the other end, the Hawthorn fans must have been thinking what could have been. No stranger to September success, these two costly errors were the big factors in the Hawks being resigned to their fourth straight finals loss. Remarkably, Hawthorn now hasn't won a finals match since its 2015 grand final victory over West Coast. 

"To be honest, I actually can't even recall that one. The moments that stand out for me are the ones where blokes win 50/50 contests. A lot of Jack Viney's stuff in the middle or Sam Weideman and Tom McDonald taking big contested marks … they're the moments that you think 'we're on here'. It's one of those things, you take what you get and you've got to make the most of it. I think we did that pretty well tonight." – Alex Neal-Bullen.

"It was probably the story of the night. In the end, our efficiency inside 50 was probably the difference in the game. I thought Hawthorn certainly had enough opportunities in that they produced enough shots at goal – they certainly put our defenders under enormous pressure for the majority of the night. That probably ended up being the difference in the game. It wasn't that moment as such, but in general … we lost the inside 50 count, but we were a bit more efficient going inside 50. It was probably the story of the night, really." – Simon Goodwin.

"That one where we were charging in the third and he hit the post … I think they kicked a bounce goal from that play, which was really unfortunate. Talk about energy sappers. We miss one at one end and it was an open goal for us really, we hit the post from 20 out. They ended up walking into a goal in the goal square and proceeded to kick another two, perhaps three goals to put the margin nearly beyond us." – Alastair Clarkson.