Melbourne’s season has come to a crashing halt, bowing out of the post-season in straight sets to end its back-to-back flags dream after Friday night’s 13-point shock semi-final upset loss to Brisbane.
It came despite the Demons leading by as much 28 points just before half-time, with the Lions then cranking up the heat in the second half to run over the top of the reigning premiers in a thrilling turnaround at the MCG.
The result ended Brisbane’s hoodoo at the venue — where they hadn’t won at since 2014 — while snapping a four-game losing streak to the Demons including a 58-point smashing at the Gabba just three weeks ago.
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Meanwhile Simon Goodwin’s side became the first team since Hawthorn in 2016 to go out in straight sets as the reigning premiers.
So where did it all go wrong in 2022 for a team some thought might go undefeated after emphatically ending its 57-year premiership drought last year?
Melbourne’s forward half struggles were again an issue on Friday night, registering 20 inside 50s in the second half for just two marks inside the attacking arc.
It prompted Harrison Petty, who’d produced a brilliant game in defence, to get moved forward in the dying stages of the game to try and spark something.
“You reckon there aren’t going to be Melbourne supporters all around town saying there’s our forward line answer right here in Harrison Petty,” Demons great Garry Lyon posed on Fox Footy post-match.
“The thing that’s haunted them all year is their inability to go forward with any great danger – apart from when Harrison Petty went there late.
“The front half stuff continues to haunt them.
“The midfield’s elite, the defence last year was impenetrable – they’ve given up 90+ points tonight for the fifth time in eight games. They gave up 90+ once last year.
“They come out and win 10 on the bounce, it only has to be that much, and it might not be the case, but how do you get four and five goals in front in seven games and lose as the reigning premier? They might not be as hungry as Geelong. Or as hungry as Collingwood.”
Melbourne’s 10-straight wins to open the season (and overall 17-game winning streak) to close in on Geelong’s VFL/AFL record of 23 consecutive victories had the club looking ominous as the red-hot flag favourites and a near unstoppable force in its bid to go back-to-back.
They finally dropped a game to Fremantle in Round 11 … then again to Sydney the following week. And the alarm bells were starting to sound after a third straight-loss to Collingwood on the Queen’s Birthday which came amid off-field controversy after a public boozy scuffle between Steven May and Jake Melksham.
The Demons never really got momentum back in their season from that point despite finishing second at the end of the home and away campaign. They ultimately went 6-8 over their last 14 games and at stages looked vulnerable of dropping out of the top four — if not further — on the run home, an unthinkable scenario earlier in the year.
Essendon legend Matthew Lloyd sensationally went so far to say he was close to putting a line through Melbourne’s premiership chances in late July amid its late-season collapse, and it was really only after the Demons’ thrashing of Brisbane at the Gabba in Round 23 they won back a lot of the AFL world’s faith.
But not many could’ve predicted Goodwin’s troops would lose consecutive games at the MCG to Sydney and Brisbane respectively to tumble out of the finals in straight sets, again, a shock outcome given how dominant they looked at one stage at 10-0.
“I‘m stunned really that we’re sitting here and Melbourne have gone out in straight sets,” Saints champion Nick Riewoldt said on Fox Footy post-match.
“Halfway through the season, you could not possibly have believed that this could be the situation.
“(You think) if Melbourne get there, they’ll just fix it, but you can‘t just get to finals and flick the switch and everything’s going to be OK.
“The issues that were there and were constants all year and crept in late, the ability to score with the footy, to go forward and defend with the footy late in the season, it’s the reason they are out tonight in straight sets.
“6-8 in their last 14 games – that’s an average team.”
Former Collingwood coach Nathan Buckley backed up Lyon’s point on how Melbourne struggled to hold onto leads in games.
“They’ve proven incapable to run games out as often,” Buckley said on Fox Footy.
“They’ve had leads of four or five goals this season and been overrun
“They were running out games better than any other team (last year) and they ran through the competition. Have they just dropped off?”
Melbourne has crucially locked away several stars on long-term deals this year including Christian Petracca (until 2029), Clayton Oliver (2030) and Angus Brayshaw (2028), however Luke Jackson is widely expected to depart the club this off-season to return to Western Australia amid the Dees’ link to star Collingwood ruckman Brodie Grundy.
But there’s no guarantees for next year as 2022 will go down as a lost opportunity for Melbourne while its premiership window is wide open.
Goodwin said he and the club felt “empty” and sensed they let their fans down after the loss to Brisbane where the team’s “vulnerabilities” were exposed again.
A shattered Max Gawn’s message to Melbourne supporters and members was simply “sorry”.
“It’s a pretty devastating couple of weeks for the football club,” the Demons skipper told Melbourne Media.
“We really put ourselves in a good position Round 23 … we showed fans we still had an appetite for the contest and worked incredibly hard.
“But when push came to shove and the pressure was right on or fundamentals were a little bit off and other teams were a little bit cleaner in Sydney and Brisbane the last two weeks.
“It’s extremely disappointing, we want to make the MCG a fortress, we want to play some good footy here … and we were unable to do it.
“It’s going to be a bitter taste for me and 65,000 members and everyone here until we can get back day one.”