Every big tackle (one by Christian Salem on Ryan Burton in the first quarter, for example) or diving spoil (one by Aaron VandenBerg also in the first quarter to break a chain of Hawthorn possession) drew huge plaudits from the terraces.
Melbourne set out to physically assault Tom Mitchell, whose ball-magnet qualities have him as the Brownlow Medal favourite, with James Harmes, the Demons’ new-found stopper, assigned the task early. They drove Mitchell into the turf too many times for it to be mere coincidence; once, Neville Jetta hit him like a freight train immediately after he had disposed of the footy, and the Hawk midfielder, slow to get up, found himself in the rooms with a shoulder injury.
When he came back on a few minutes later, Harmes roped him up and hurled him into the turf again, and Mitchell, earning a free kick, staggered to his feet. Yet he would not wilt, either, for he is made of stern stuff. The former Swan kept finding the ball in close, feeding it out, and Melbourne knew they were encountering a force that would not be broken up easily.
It was a final after all, and played with the intensity that comes in September. Roughead and Lewis found themselves on either side of a ground ball in the second quarter and without a second thought, attacked it with gusto that they smashed into each other like battering rams. Friendship goes only so far.
For the whole first half Hawthorn deployed big numbers back and chipped the ball around when they had it. Their method was to slow Melbourne down, curb their scoring power which is No.1 in the AFL. Teams used to do this to Hawthorn, and there was an irony in that, but the Hawks could not score (0.6 for the second quarter) and the blight of inaccuracy hurt them again.
Melbourne moved in for the kill in the third, inspired by Jack Viney’s bull-at-a-gate approach. Then two huge moments: with Hawthorn threatening, Jack Gunston missed a running shot from 25 metres out that would have brought the Hawks within nine points, and at the other end just a few seconds later, a misfired Liam Shiels handball fell to Charlie Spargo, whose handball set up Alex Neal-Bullen for an open goal to Melbourne.
For Hawthorn, the opportunity had passed. At the 30-minute mark, Viney’s gather, pirouette from heavy traffic and squaring ball to the dangerous space was a piece of football genius. That another young player, Angus Brayshaw stepped back into the pack and marked the footy, finishing it with a set-shot goal to take Melbourne’s lead beyond five goals, said it all about Melbourne’s new look. It’s the reason they have won so many new admirers.
The Hawks fought doggedly all night but Roughead could not influence the game until it was too late, nor Luke Breust, who was leg-roped by Jetta, about the best little nasty back pocket player in the business, nor a subdued Shaun Burgoyne. Gunston was one Hawk who had the capacity to make an impact, but he kicked 3.5 when the reversal of those results might have changed the result.
As for the Demons, they challenged throughout until Tom McDonald stood under a high ball and marked midway through the final quarter to kick his fourth goal, his second consecutive big final.
The Demons are into a preliminary final in Perth, their first appearance in the penultimate week since 2000, when The Ox, the Wizard and David Neitz were going around. The Black Eyed Peas and Barnesy may be playing the grand final, but the big act may be just getting warmed up.