IF THE presentation was good, the idea of a premiership was even better.
When Ben Brown sat down with a host of interested clubs last October, ready to decide the next step of his career after 130 games and 287 goals with North Melbourne, Simon Goodwin's sales pitch struck a chord.
Brown was new to the prospect of moving sides. The seven years he had spent at Arden Street had been good to him, but a point had been reached where both he and the club felt a move would be mutually beneficial. At that stage, though, where the 200cm forward would be playing his footy next remained a daunting unknown.
The reliable goalkicker hadn't done much research on the Demons going into a meeting with Goodwin and his recruiting staff and was unsure on what the club's expectations would be heading into 2021. He left feeling like there was a flag to be won. He also left knowing exactly where he wanted to be playing his football.
"The pitch was really impressive," Brown told AFL.com.au.
"I've got to be honest, before I started the whole process during the Trade Period, it was very new to me. I didn't really know much about Melbourne and hadn't consumed much of the media surrounding them and I hadn't watched too many of their games. I was coming in a little bit blind.
"But the way it was presented to me, it stuck with me the most out of any club. 'Goody', right from the start, was really bullish about where the club could go. He wanted to see the club win a premiership and I could see how exciting the structure of their list was, with the guys they had.
"If we could get everything right from a game plan perspective, keep everyone out on the park, I knew this would be a possibility. A lot has gone right for us this year, but I do feel like the mentality that 'Goody' and the coaching staff and the players took into the pre-season was one of wanting to be the best. It was definitely what I stepped into."
Brown will now have the opportunity to help make Goodwin's confidence in Melbourne's premiership chances a reality next Saturday night, when the club takes part in its first Grand Final in 21 years against the Western Bulldogs at Optus Stadium.
It will cap the end of a wild 12 months for Brown, which started with that fateful trade request to Melbourne and was quickly followed by surgery on a frustrating knee injury that had hampered his final months at North Melbourne.
Up until the point of his operation in February, Brown had been among the best on the track for the Demons and earned plaudits for the way in which he and Sam Weideman had revitalised the side's new-look attack. The setback kept him out of the side's first five matches. The team's impressive 5-0 start then kept him sidelined for even longer.
The sudden return to form of Tom McDonald and the rapid improvement of youngster Luke Jackson meant Brown and Weideman – who was recovering from a stress fracture to his right leg – were no longer automatic inclusions upon their return. It was a situation that continued to become apparent for both throughout the season.
"It was definitely a blow and not something that I wanted, but it was also a really strange time," Brown said.
"Tom McDonald had trained for the whole of the pre-season on the wing, then suddenly had to step up and play in a key forward role. Particularly for the first half of this year, he's been at an All-Australian level as a key forward, while Luke Jackson has been the Rising Star. Those guys really stepped up into those roles.
"By the time me and Sam were ready to play, it wasn't like we were walking straight into that team. We needed to work hard for it. At the end of the day, all of those things were really good for me and my progression.
"To have that pressure on me to perform at training and in games for Casey to try and push my case, it was really good and kept me pushing along and wanting to get better. You're only going to improve that way."
Brown kicked five goals from his first two senior games in Melbourne colours, but it came amid a period where things weren't quite clicking for the Demons. The result was a return to McDonald acting as the spearhead in attack and Brown returning to the VFL.
He would spend the next two months with Casey, fighting for a reprieve. He kicked three goals against Box Hill, four against Richmond, five against Essendon, yet still found it difficult to earn a recall to the senior setup.
But rather than stew on what had been a frustrating season, Brown used his demotion to the reserves as ammunition. It sparked what is now proving a return to the type of footy he managed at North Melbourne during three successive 60-goal campaigns between 2017 and 2019.
"The VFL definitely wasn't where I wanted to be playing," Brown said.
"But the way things were going at that point in the season, there were a lot of guys in the same boat. The way the club has performed from an injury point of view, we haven't had many. There were experienced guys who had played football and had been training really well, but just couldn't get any opportunity through how the team was performing.
"I knew I wasn't alone in that sense. I just tried to go back and focus on what I needed to do and the things I needed to focus on and it probably shifted my mentality around training. I put my head down and tried to work hard.
"By the time I got to the end of my stint in the VFL, I knew I was going to have an impact at AFL level. I just felt like I was a bit closer to how I remembered being a couple of years ago at North Melbourne. I was bringing that dominant mindset into every game and I felt that again."
Brown was held goalless in his eventual return to Melbourne's team, an impressive round 17 victory on the road against Port Adelaide. But it was clear from the manner in which he worked in tandem with McDonald, as well as his effort around the ball, that he was there to stay.
He has since kicked 17 goals from his last eight games and played a key hand in both the side's qualifying final win over Brisbane and its preliminary final victory over Geelong. That individual uptick in form, he believes, can be put down to the reasons why he chose to play for Melbourne and the club's endless desire to be the best it can be.
"The great thing about this club, from the moment I walked into it, is that everyone is making each other better," Brown said.
"Right from day one of pre-season, the way everyone attacked their training and running and contest work, it was really elite. I thought, 'gee this is a club where you've got a whole heap of motivated guys … if you're not going to pull your weight, you'll end up out of the side'.
"That's through the sheer hard work of the guys that are playing really well, it's not to say that the guys out of the side haven't been pulling their weight. Just look at the training session we had last Wednesday. It was the senior team against the guys not currently in the side. We started our drill and the guys not in the team were thumping us. We needed to be pulled aside by the coach and we were told we needed to pull our fingers out.
"That tells you about the mentality of the club. These guys who are not currently in the side and are probably not going to play in a Grand Final at this point, they're training extremely hard and putting us under pressure. That's only going to make us better as a team. That's what it's been like the whole year."
Needless to say, as Brown approaches his first ever Grand Final surrounded by teammates he has quickly earned the respect of, the 28-year-old is delighted to have been swayed by Goodwin's pitch.
"Yes, 100 percent," Brown laughed.
"It was quite an easy decision at the end of the day. I was excited about coming here and I'm pretty happy with the move."