MELBOURNE is so close it can smell it.
If the club's miracle finals run of 2018 ultimately proved a mirage, there is nothing misleading about the premiership tilt it is compiling three years on.
Saturday evening's systematic dismantling of Brisbane in the qualifying final, resulting in a comfortable 33-point victory, is proof of that.
DEMONS v LIONS Full match coverage and stats
The Demons are now a serious finals force and a far more mature, hardened outfit than the one that last competed in September.
After their 13.15 (93) to 9.6 (60) win at the Adelaide Oval, one more win will give them the passage into the Grand Final and the chance to play for a first premiership in 57 years.
Clayton Oliver is a player who resembles Melbourne's growth. From a fresh-faced youngster the last time he saw this stage, he has since emerged as one of the competition's most fearsome midfielders. That was evident against Brisbane, where he took complete command of the contest.
Fresh off claiming a second All-Australian blazer earlier this week, Oliver collected 33 disposals, seven clearances and a goal. His work in tandem with Christian Petracca, who himself won 30 disposals and finished with two goals, was as lethal as ever.
Bayley Fritsch, another of the seven Demons named in a preliminary 40-man All-Australian squad, added four goals. Defensive general Jake Lever, again one of the team's most important players, had 15 intercepts from his 18 touches.
FIVE TALKING POINTS Classy Clarry shows why he's the best
Collectively, they helped Melbourne overcome a prolific 46-disposal and 13-clearance outing from Lachie Neale and a scintillating five-goal haul from Charlie Cameron. The winner of Sunday's elimination final between the Western Bulldogs and Essendon now awaits Brisbane next week.
A bruised Lions side, who will be without concussed forward Dan McStay for that upcoming semi-final, stuck with the Demons for large periods of the second half, but from the outset, Chris Fagan's team knew they were up against an accomplished opponent.
COMPLETELY DIFFERENT DEES Goodwin says side has moved on from 2018
In a reflection of the side's reinvention since that 2018 finals series, a young Melbourne team had nine finals debutants. But if there were any nerves, Ben Brown's clever gather and snap barely 30 seconds in ensured they were quickly settled.
It kickstarted an absorbing, entertaining and high-scoring first quarter that featured a combined nine goals. Cameron, an unstoppable force in the Brisbane forward line, had three of them himself and quickly emerged as the game's biggest attacking threat against a Demons defence without a natural match-up.
Cameron's presence at ground level would prove crucial as the night wore on, as the Lions lost key-position target McStay to concussion just minutes into the contest following a brutal collision with teammate Nakia Cockatoo.
But despite Brisbane's flair, Melbourne continued to find responses. Oliver's influence grew stronger and a smart finish from the Brownlow Medal favourite helped the Demons eventually convert their increasing territorial dominance into a handy lead on the scoreboard.
'WE DON'T JUST JUMP OFF THE SHIP' Fagan tips wounded Lions to bounce back
Organised as impeccably as ever by Lever and Steven May behind the ball, Melbourne got its structures right, won the footy from the source and kicked five of six goals on either side of quarter-time to open a 30-point lead by the main change.
Brisbane desperately needed to stem the bleeding and was aided in doing so by Melbourne's profligacy in front of goal. Five of the next six Demons scoring shots would be behinds, as a host of chances to put the game to bed went begging.
The Lions didn't need a second opportunity to reclaim some momentum. Cameron's fourth, combined with a pinpoint set-shot from Hugh McCluggage and a goalless term from the Dees, reduced the deficit to just 19 points by three-quarter time.
It kept the door slightly ajar, with Cameron and Bayley Fritsch trading goals amid an even more frantic start to the final quarter. But eventually, when Petracca produced two poised finishes in a matter of minutes, Melbourne's breathing space was restored.
A preliminary final and the chance to atone for that heavy defeat to West Coast back in 2018 lies ahead for Melbourne. The long road to premiership success faces a badly beaten Brisbane.
MELBOURNE 5.4 9.10 9.12 13.15 (93)
BRISBANE 4.2 5.4 7.5 9.6 (60)
Melbourne: Fritsch 4, Pickett 2, Petracca 2, Brown, Sparrow, Oliver, Langdon, Spargo
Brisbane: Cameron 5, Bailey, Berry, McCluggage, McCarthy
Melbourne: Oliver, Petracca, Lever, Viney, Fritsch, Neal-Bullen, Gawn
Brisbane: Neale, Cameron, Rich, McCluggage, Coleman, Bailey
Brisbane: McStay (concussion)
Melbourne: Jordon (unused)
Brisbane: Mathieson (replaced McStay)
Crowd: 13,784 at the Adelaide Oval