AFTER 57 years, it came down to 15 minutes. They are surely the sweetest 15 minutes in Melbourne's long and proud history.
After the Demons' decades of misery the AFL's longest premiership drought is over after Melbourne's stunning third quarter saw them overcome the Western Bulldogs in Saturday night's Toyota AFL Grand Final.
The 74-point thrashing secured Melbourne its 13th flag and first since 1964, with the premiership promiseland reached in style under lights at Optus Stadium in front of 61,118 fans.
And the Perth prize was captured in the most dramatic of circumstances, with the Demons trailing by 19 points midway through the third quarter before booting six goals in 15 minutes to turn their deficit into a 24-point lead at the final change.
It was a wild patch that came after the Dees hadn't kicked a goal for more than half an hour of game time, and it was led by midfield superstar Christian Petracca, who finished with 40 disposals, nine clearances and two brilliant goals. It was an iconic and dominant big-game performance from the midfielder who will now etch his name into Melbourne history as the first Demons Norm Smith medallist.
That Simon Goodwin's men marched on in the last quarter to finish comfortable victors – 21.14 (140) to 10.6 (66) – will mask the epic nature of the first three quarters of the game. But after midway through the third quarter it was an irresistible sea of Demons in an extraordinary shift that will go down in Grand Final folklore.
Bayley Fritsch was sensational with six goals for the Demons while Clayton Oliver (33 disposals, 10 tackles) was also terrific partnering Petracca in the midfield. Angus Brayshaw (25 disposals, one goal) had perhaps the best game of his season, while half-back Christian Salem (27 and one) set things up. Ruck pair Max Gawn and Luke Jackson were influential, Jake Bowey was busy early and Ed Langdon's relentless run was on show.
Melbourne had the Bulldogs rattled to start. Jack Viney flattened Jack Macrae at the opening stoppage, Salem was physical and Mitch Hannan was floored by Steven May. The hits reverberated around the Bulldogs, who were shaky in defence, fumbly at ground level and simply out of sorts.
The Dees jumped to a 21-point advantage by quarter-time, with Petracca's swivel and long bomb opening proceedings. Bailey Williams had two bad moments in defence that led to goals to Charlie Spargo and then Fritsch.
Beveridge sent Adam Treloar into the middle to start the second term in an inspired move to match Melbourne's dynamic midfield. The former Magpie slotted two smart snaps in the opening three minutes and then helped set up another one out of the centre that saw Aaron Naughton kick the Bulldogs' third in four minutes.
Melbourne's momentum, so hard won in the first term, had dissipated as the Dogs booted six goals to one for the quarter in a dominant turnaround. Dogs skipper Marcus Bontempelli was central to it – he converted his two big inside-50 marks into goals and had nine disposals for the term.
A controversial umpiring decision went against the Dees when Gawn's set shot was ruled a behind when he believed it had sailed through, but the Dogs had lifted.
Bailey Smith took that into the third term and Treloar continued to press, setting up Jason Johannisen's mark and goal. When Bontempelli spun and kicked his third goal in the middle of the term, the Dogs had stretched their lead to 19 points. More heartache loomed for the Dees.
But on the canvas, Melbourne threw its biggest swing, with Fritsch kicking back-to-back goals and Petracca's clearance leading to Ben Brown's second goal.
Within an instant, the game was back on level terms, but the Dees weren't done there. Brayshaw added a goal to his hard-running game, Petracca trickled his second through from the boundary, Tom Sparrow kicked one on the run and Oliver's major on the was a killer blow.
The fourth quarter was party time as the kicked nine goals for the term – and 15 of the final 16 of the game – in front of adoring red and blue faithful in attendance. After so many years of football hell, the Demons were finally in heaven.
MELBOURNE 4.5 5.9 12.11 21.14 (140)
WESTERN BULLDOGS 1.2 7.5 9.5 10.6 (66)
Melbourne: Fritsch 6, Brown 3, Petracca 2, Neal-Bullen 2, McDonald 2, Spargo, Brayshaw, Sparrow, Oliver, Langdon, Jackson
Western Bulldogs: Bontempelli 3, Treloar 3, R Smith, Naughton, Hunter, Johannisen
Melbourne: Petracca, Fritsch, Oliver, Brayshaw, Salem, Gawn, Jackson
Western Bulldogs: Bontempelli, Daniel, B.Smith, Treloar, Macrae, Liberatore, Dale
Western Bulldogs: Nil
Melbourne: Jordon (unused)
Western Bulldogs: Vandermeer (unused)
Crowd: 61,118 at Optus Stadium