IT TAKES elite character to produce a career, or even season, best performance in a Grand Final.
For many wearing Melbourne colours at Perth's Optus Stadium on Saturday night, that elite character was produced.
Christian Petracca had been a superstar for two full seasons even before Saturday. He emerged from the game an all-time great, his third-quarter leadership with crucial centre square clearances amid a 39-disposal, two-goal performance right up there with any individual feat in any Grand Final.
Angus Brayshaw had 14 fewer touches than Petracca, but in the manic Demons' rooms after the game, key football department staff and teammates felt he was equally as important. His third quarter was season-shaping, particularly his courage to take a diving mark and composure to go back and kick a then much-required goal which was arguably the key component to the explosive surge which turned a 19-point deficit into a staggering 74-point win against Western Bulldogs.
In an extraordinary 2021 home and away season, Bayley Fritsch had kicked bags of six and seven goals in a game, respectively, against this year's wooden spoon winner North Melbourne in round seven and against last year's wooden spoon winner Adelaide in round 22.
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In the biggest game of the season and his life, Fritsch kicked six more goals, to finish with 59 for the season.
His six goals in the Toyota AFL Grand Final was match-shaping and historically significant. Two early, two crucially in the third quarter in the early stages of the Demons' comeback, and two in the last when the game had morphed into a Melbourne victory lap.
No one since Darren Jarman in the 1997 Grand Final had kicked six goals in a Grand Final. Before that, Tony Lockett booted six in a losing Swans side the year earlier. Stephen Kernahan snagged seven in a losing Carlton outfit in 1993, Peter Sumich six in a winning 1992 one. Jason Dunstall kicked six in 1991, and Gary Ablett nine in 1989, Dunstall seven in '88, and six in '86. Brereton and Paul Salmon booted eight and six, respectively, in 1985. Leigh Matthews managed six in 1983.
Slowly absorb that. Fritsch's performance on Saturday night puts his name in a conversation that has all-time greats as the subjects.
Clayton Oliver last Sunday finished third in the 2021 Brownlow Medal. In the Grand Final, his third quarter was breathtaking, his four-quarter impact right up there with any of his match contributions throughout the season.
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We'll move onto the coach when it comes to career-best performances in a match which determines a premiership. Simon Goodwin was under more pressure than any of his peers in the off-season. He finished the preliminary stage of it as the man in charge of the leading contender, having fully immersed himself and everyone around him into embracing a selfless culture.
Many coaches before Goodwin had taken teams to top spot in the home and away season, and not secured a premiership. The Demons were dominant in two finals, against Brisbane in a qualifying final and Geelong in a preliminary final. But no Grand Final has ever been gifted. Grand Finals need to be won, particularly ones in which you trail by more than three goals midway through the third quarter.
At such moments, bold decisions need to be made. Playing Luke Jackson in the ruck, with captain Max Gawn either resting on the bench or occupying a forward role, was such a decision.
It worked scintillatingly. In just his 30th game in the AFL, Jackson too produced a career best. And with him, we are almost certainly witnessing the early stages of a player who will become great.
Ben Brown's game was not a career-high performance. But it was career-high impact. Three goals in a Grand Final, crucially the first of the final quarter which effectively sealed the game for the Demons, was due reward for a player who post-match admitted severe self-doubt had infiltrated his thoughts mid-season to the point where he wondered if he would play a role in the seniors in 2021.
The list of those who stood up on the biggest stage continued through to Christian Salem, former captain Jack Viney, Alex Neal-Bullen, Jake Bowey and Tom Sparrow. And, of course, current captain Gawn's leadership and selflessness was ever present.
The best team of 2021 became the premier of 2021. That is never a guarantee. It happens only when the individuals within it have the ability to perform at optimum when pressure is at its highest. The moment that happened, when Petracca secured his centre square aura just moments after the scoreboard had ticked over to a Bulldogs' 19-point lead, was ultimately proven to be the moment that led to the end of 57 years of Melbourne Football Club heartache and heartbreak.