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MELBOURNE 2.5 7.7 12.9 17.13 (115)GOLD COAST 1.2 3.6 8.8 13.11 (89)Goals: Melbourne: J Watts 3 B Newton 2 D Tyson 2 J Garlett 2 J Hogan 2 A vandenBerg C Garland C Salem H Lumumba M Jamar N Jones. Gold Coast: G Ablett 2 M Rischitelli 2 S Day 2 A Saad A Sexton D Gorringe D Swallow H Bennell J Harbrow T Miller.Umpires: Chris Donlon, Luke Farmer, Brendan Hosking.Reports: Gold Coast: M Shaw (Gold Coast) reported for rough conduct on Dean Kent (Melbourne) in the first quarter.Official Crowd: 27,013 at MCG.
First, Colin Garland outmarked his opponent on the Melbourne half-back line, turned, took off and kicked. Then Jay Kennedy-Harris marked, looked sideways, played on and placed his pass onto the chest of a moving Dom Tyson. Tyson took a few quick steps, sidestepped an approaching Gold Coast defender, took a few more and then guided the ball towards goal.
Already, Jesse Hogan had taken a big mark at centre half-forward, refusing to be spoiled. Angus Brayshaw had run a player down in the centre square, Jack Viney had won more of the ball than anyone and Aaron Vandenberg had taken a mark as gutsy as Hogan’s. But Tyson’s running goal completed the Demons’ best bit of play yet: quick, precise, confident. It pushed them four goals clear of the Suns but it also raised a question: what would happen from there?
The query was a reasonable one, given that for its many fresh faces in recent years, Melbourne had not won four points in round one since 2005. Not since John Howard was Prime Minister, the Bali Nine was arrested, Pope John Paul II died, Lance Armstrong won his seventh Tour de France and Britney Spears won a Grammy had the Demons started the season with a win and that was three coaches ago, six if you count the interims. Mark Jamar was the only member of Saturday’s side to have played in that match alongside David Neitz, Clint Bizzell, Jeff White, Adem Yze and others.
The question also applied to the Suns, who were far from their usual slick selves and with Tom Lynch missing had no one other than Sam Day to look for moving forward. They began their first challenge early in the second half, winning more contested possessions, moving the ball forward with more urgency and starting to score with a little more ease. Three goals in a row had them within 12 points by halfway through the third quarter and more players were starting to contribute, but it was then that their other problem started to become more apparent.
For all their attacking, the Suns weren’t simultaneously about to hold Melbourne back when the Demons got the ball. Not enough to make them anywhere anxious enough, anyway. And Melbourne wanted to hold on. Brayshaw took a tough mark. Nathan Jones kept running, Viney too. Jack Watts forced the ball to ground on the goal line so that Jeff Garlett could poke it back over with his toe. When Vandenberg smothered a ball on the 50-metre line and handballed off to a running Ben Newton, the Demons were exactly where they were half an hour earlier: four goals clear.
They still needed to resist one last time, from a more pressured position, to make sure it all ended in a win. It happened quickly, too: Jarrod Harbrow scored in the first minute of the last quarter and then Gary Ablett bobbed up not once but twice in the forward pocket, dodging, evading and slipping past players to kick two quick goals and cut the gap to eight points, with more than half of the quarter to go.
Again, the Demons persisted. Again they refused to panic, and again they were able to turn their hard work into goals. Watts kicked his third, around the corner from the boundary line after the ball bounced off Rory Thompson’s boot and over the line on the full. Hogan took another big mark. Newton snapped his second goal and young Sun Jack Martin helped them out at the other end, not quite making the most of his three opportunities. But the “this feels over” moment came when Nick Malceski’s pass out of the back line was intercepted by Heritier Lumumba, who was only ever going to take off, straighten up and thump through a goal.
There was so much more to like. Watts didn’t stop working, his three goals a nice bonus. Newton (foot skills), Garlett (genius), and Lumumba (who linked the half-back and half-forward lines together nicely) all got a tick. Hogan hit the ball hard and didn’t look like a player held up by his body for so long. Brayshaw was what he was before he got to the club last November: hard, tough, competitive. So was the older Vandenberg. Given the chance to play under slightly less stress than they did for most of last season, McDonald and the other defenders controlled most of what went on around them. Any number of others deserved a spot on the best player list: Nathan Jones, Jack Viney, Jeremy Howe, Lynden Dunn, Colin Garland, Tyson.
Melbourne know more than any other team what can go wrong. But the Demons ran and kept running; they seemed to be in motion for most of the day. They looked like a more confident, calm, organised and proactive side, but one willing to knuckle down when it looked like things were starting to turn against them. This was just a start, against a slightly underdone side that needs one or two of its key forwards back badly. But it was a very, very promising one.
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