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Bitter end to a season of promise for the Dees

Highlights: West Coast v Melbourne The Eagles and Demons clash in the second preliminary final

STAGE fright is a nasty thing, especially in a preliminary final.

If there was a bitter taste in Melbourne mouths after its round 23 nightmare in 2017, then the feeling after Saturday's disaster out west won't be much different.

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This was supposed to be the AFL's third straight fairy-tale, the year the Demons banished the long-standing curse of Norm Smith.

But anything that could go wrong did for Melbourne.

Jordan Lewis had the stinkiest of stinkers (what was he thinking with that hospital handball?).

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The memory of Dom Tyson losing his feet in the centre square won't fade away soon. Then there was Angus Brayshaw failing to grasp that handball.

Sam Frost and Oscar McDonald in general.

And don't forget West Coast forward Mark LeCras' back-heel goal when he fresh-aired a kick.

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Twelve Demons didn't have a tackle at half-time, with their six behinds to that point representing the lowest-ever preliminary final score to the main break.

Supporters: anger (at paying for those outrageously inflated flights), disappointment, emotion, #allthefeels.

Okay, we've got that out of the way. Now a reason to smile.

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Melbourne dismissed its Roo-doo – after 17 consecutive defeats to North Melbourne – and won six games on the trot (rounds six to 11) for the first time since 2006.

And while we're on 2006, that awful finals drought which dated back to then also came to an end.

The Demons did it by beating the Eagles in Perth in round 22, arguably their most impressive performance – and one that put paid to an 0-7 season record against the top nine sides on the ladder.

 

Sam Weideman, a top-10 draft pick in 2015, arrived as an AFL footballer that day as Jesse Hogan's replacement in attack and showed great promise in the weeks following.

It was the start of a four-match streak of top-eight scalps that overlapped with finals triumphs over Geelong and Hawthorn.

Max Gawn and Clayton Oliver won All Australian selection. Jake Melksham wasn't far off that pace. Former defender Tom McDonald emerged as one of the game's premier key forwards.

Brayshaw started the season in the VFL after his career looked in some doubt when he suffered a fourth concussion in 12 months mid-last year, but by the end of 2018 he was a star.

James Harmes emerged as an influential midfielder, while Alex Neal-Bullen found his niche as Melbourne's running man and pressure king.

The Demons' average contested possession differential of 16.4 was the second-best ever recorded behind the Eagles in 2006, too.

They were also No.1 for inside-50 differential, time in forward half differential, points per game, goal per inside 50 percentage, and points from intercepts, stoppages and centre bounces.

Melbourne's focus – at least once one more review is complete – now shifts to the player movement period, where it has been a big player in recent years.

Last year's recruiting prize, Jake Lever, will return at some stage next season from his knee reconstruction, as should Hogan, unless the constant speculation about him returning to Western Australia gains traction.

The player to watch is Dom Tyson, with an increasing suspicion within the industry that the midfielder will be elsewhere in 2019 despite being contracted for one more year.

North Melbourne ruckman Braydon Preuss also seems certain to be a Demon next season, while they were linked to Steven May and even Andrew Gaff at different stages.

Melbourne won't enter this year's much-hyped draft until late in the second round at this stage, but it has proven astute at finding a bargain since Jason Taylor became national recruiting manager in 2013.

The Demons locked away Tim Smith on a new one-year deal this week – an announcement is imminent – leaving Aaron vandenBerg, Dean Kent, Cameron Pedersen, Tom Bugg and Jay Kennedy Harris as the notable unsigned talent.

That is all still to come, so until then the sobering taste of defeat will linger.

But once the mind takes over from the heart, this was a season of serious progression for Simon Goodwin's men.