IT WAS a scenario that Melbourne, if few others, could have imagined last November.
A trade for Ben Brown would have once been an event that led to much fanfare. Instead, when the Demons ensured the key forward would be theirs for little more pick No.26 and a shuffle of other selections, it became a cause for consternation more than celebration.
Yes, there were those who lauded the fact a player who had recently enjoyed three successive 60-goal seasons could cost a club so little. However, the more overwhelming response came from those wondering whether Brown had lost his lustre.
Brown's last two months should have silenced those concerns. But if they hadn't, his performance in Melbourne's rampant preliminary final victory over Geelong on Friday night certainly did.
Max Gawn's incredible five-goal haul will deservedly claim the majority of the plaudits, while Christian Petracca's exceptional 34-disposal effort from midfield will also garner its fair share of attention.
But the 28-year-old Brown laid the platform for his side's scintillating 83-point victory with his physicality and presence in the Demons attack. His composure inside 50 was just as crucial on the few occasions the Cats mounted some type of response.
DEMONS v CATS Full match coverage and stats
Brown kicked the team's first with a strong mark running back to goal. An imposing contested grab soon after led to an Alex Neal-Bullen major, as Melbourne poured on five unanswered goals to finish the opening term.
It wasn't just his direct involvement that spurred the Demons forward, though. His effort to bring a seemingly uncontested Lachie Henderson mark to ground led to a Charlie Spargo snap, before another valiant leap saw the ball spill to Kysaiah Pickett out the back.
When Geelong mounted a charge to finish the first half, reducing the deficit to 29 points on the stroke of the main break, it was Brown who conjured the answer. Another pack mark and goal in front of dual Cats best and fairest Mark Blicavs eased any nerves.
It was the type of effort and will of a player looking to repay his new club's faith. Few other suitors emerged for Brown last November. Almost 12 months on, the Demons will be thankful the competition for his signature was so sparce.
"He's been really important for us," Melbourne coach Simon Goodwin said on Friday night.
"We brought him to the club for a specific reason, to do what he did tonight. He impacted the scoreboard and he was a real focal point for us. It wasn't just his marks, it was his ability to get the ball to ground throughout the whole night.
"He's functioning really well alongside the other key forwards and giving us great aerial competition, but he's also giving us great ground-level support. We're rapt with how the forwards are functioning."
Brown finished with 2.2 from seven marks at Optus Stadium. He contributed a further six score involvements in his best performance of the season to date. A first Grand Final awaits him and his new teammates in a fortnight's time.
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It makes it rather strange that doubts surrounding Brown seemed justified not long ago. A nagging knee injury sustained during his final season with North Melbourne, limiting him to just nine games and eight goals last year, flared up in February.
Pre-season surgery, combined with Tom McDonald's sudden and relatively unexpected return to form, kept him from making his club debut in Demons colours for the campaign's first six weeks.
A trio of mixed performances in his opening three games, culminating in a goalless outing against Carlton in round nine, then saw him dropped again for the next two months. Old concerns were given new life.
But a downturn in Sam Weideman's form and a scratchy Melbourne scoring run led to Brown's recall for a trip to face Port Adelaide. He hasn't gone goalless since, compiling 17 majors from his last eight matches.
While a trade for Brown might have carried some risk, given his form and fitness issues, in hindsight Melbourne – of all clubs – had credits in the bank. No side bats 1000 when it comes to recruiting, but the Demons have gone pretty close recently.
This year's Melbourne team that will play in the Grand Final is certain to feature Ed Langdon, a player that cost the Demons a future second-round pick and a slide of later selections from Fremantle. He's since turned into one of the League's elite wingers.
Steven May and Jake Lever made up the pillars of this year's Therabody AFL All-Australian backline, having arrived from Gold Coast and Adelaide respectively. Both were big investments, but have brought with them even bigger returns.
That's not to mention an exceptional drafting record, headlined by the club's ability to nail its first-round picks. Jake Bowey (pick No.21 last year) has recently entered a team also featuring Luke Jackson (No.3 in 2019) and Kysaiah Pickett (No.12 in 2019).
Then there's the later selections, including Trent Rivers (No.32 in 2019), Tom Sparrow (No.27 in 2018), Charlie Spargo (No.29 in 2017), Bayley Fritsch (No.31 in 2017) and Harrison Petty (No.37 in 2017). All have made significant impacts this season.
There can be little doubt that Adam Tomlinson, signed to the club as an unrestricted free agent from Greater Western Sydney, would have also been involved in this side if not for an ACL injury sustained last May.
Brown's arrival has simply added to those successes. While he might have kickstarted the team's charge on Friday night, his signing was the final piece in a list build that has been assembled faultlessly.