MELBOURNE has marked its return to finals with a victory to savour, finally putting 12 years of Demon despair behind it with a gritty 29-point elimination final win over Geelong.
A scintillating first-quarter performance laid the groundwork for its 10.15 (75) to 6.10 (46) win, with victory booking the Dees a semi-final berth against the Hawks next Friday night.
In front of 91,767 fans at the MCG, Melbourne toyed with its long-suffering supporters before finally giving them a night to remember. In a grind of a contest, the Demons eventually overcame their experienced counterparts in a display full of tenacity and perseverance.
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A symbol of that spirit, it was the club's co-captain Nathan Jones – the only remaining member of Melbourne's last finals outfit from 2006 – who kicked the deciding goal early in the final quarter to finally swing an arm-wrestle well and truly in his side's favour.
While Jones lived through the bad times and played an important role on Friday night, it was a host of youngsters who stood tall to resemble the club's fresh and exciting new direction.
James Harmes (26 disposals, 11 tackles) thwarted Geelong captain Joel Selwood in a tagging role, while Clayton Oliver (29 disposals, five clearances) and Angus Brayshaw (26 disposals, five tackles) consistently won the ball effectively out of the middle.
But it was perhaps Sam Weideman who best reflected Melbourne's promising future. The young forward kicked three goals from 24 disposals and seven marks in a best-afield display in his first final, with his early contribution particularly pivotal.
Showing no signs of early nerves, Melbourne's ability to win the ball cleanly out of the middle enabled it to overwhelm Geelong's normally strong defensive unit from the outset.
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A significant Demons advantage in the centre clearance count at quarter-time resulted in a five-goal head start, laying the foundations for an imposing performance.
"We were really hopeful we got a really good start to the game and I thought our boys handled the moment incredibly well," Melbourne coach Simon Goodwin said.
"Obviously a huge crowd, first final, but our players were adamant they were going to put their brand on show and I thought they certainly achieved that in the first quarter.
"They established the way the game should look, we got a chaos game and I thought the boys did a terrific job."
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But just when the dam wall appeared moments away from breaking, Geelong clawed its way back into the contest. Or, rather, Melbourne enabled it to.
A series of botched Demons entries gave the Cats a quarter of respite, allowing them to kick the only two goals of the second term and grab a much-needed foothold in the match.
The quarter was emblematic of Melbourne's season as a whole: 17 inside 50s for six behinds and four shots that didn't register a score, with its inability to convert brutally laid bare.
While an emphatic response from the Demons might have been defining, the match instead turned into more of a war of attrition. What the contest provided in intensity, it lacked in free-flowing football – with neither side able to gain the upper hand in a cagey third term.
The two evenly-matched sides exchanged goals in a tense quarter, though Melbourne's fast start meant it took a handy 23-point buffer into the final stanza.
All Melbourne needed was a moment. And just 90 seconds into the fourth term, it got it.
Jones drilled a pivotal goal on the run to extend his side's lead to an unassailable margin.
From that point forward, it was party time for the Demons, with the final siren sparking wild celebrations – the likes of which Melbourne fans have waited for for more than a decade.
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"The final margin was 29 points and they got out to a 30-plus lead (in the first quarter)," Geelong coach Chris Scott said.
"On the scoreboard the game was relatively even post that start. We blew some chances that were inexplicable in our mind and we gave them some opportunities that were a bit uncharacteristic of us.
"They were clearly dominant in clearances and around the ball, which is their strength, but it wasn't as if early on we were blown away. They just made the most of their chances early."
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Melbourne: Neville Jetta had his shoulder worked on by the doctors late in the first quarter but played out the match.
Geelong: Jordan Murdoch came from the field midway through the second quarter following a brutal collision with Aaron vandenBerg, but soon returned. Tom Stewart also went down to the rooms after copping a heavy knock to the back of his head but finished the match.
Melbourne will take on Hawthorn in a highly anticipated semi-final next Friday night, while Geelong can start planning its Mad Monday with its season now officially over.
MELBOURNE 5.3 5.9 6.13 10.15 (75)
GEELONG 0.2 2.4 3.8 6.10 (46)
Melbourne: Weideman 3, Harmes, Gawn, Melksham, T.McDonald, Jones, Hannan, Neal-Bullen
Geelong: Hawkins 2, Kelly, Tuohy, Murdoch, Duncan
Melbourne: Weideman, Harmes, Brayshaw, T.McDonald, Gawn, Viney, vandenBerg
Geelong: Dangerfield, J.Selwood, Ablett, Bews, Tuohy
Geelong: Stewart (neck)
Umpires: Chamberlain, Findlay, Mollison
Official crowd: 91,767 at the MCG