It may have been a long journey to premiership success for Melbourne’s Steven May and Jake Lever, but they know one thing is for sure – it was worth the wait.
The two Demons produced career-best seasons, received first-time All-Australian honours, collected league-high numbers, and topped off the year by being a part of Melbourne’s drought-breaking AFL premiership team.
But the rise to the top wasn’t without its challenges.
May spent the first eight years of his career at the Gold Coast Suns, developing his craft as a strong defender.
And although they were formative years in his career, he was unable to experience finals footy while at the Suns.
In the 2018 trade period, May made his move to the Dees in the hopes to not only further develop as a player, but to have the opportunity to fulfil his AFL dream - being a part of a premiership team.
After achieving this premiership success less than three weeks ago, the 29-year-old said he was still not quite able to believe what had happened.
“It’s all been a bit of a blur, the emotions and everything that comes with it,” May told Melbourne Media.
“It still hasn’t really sunk in yet.
Teammate Lever started his red and blue journey in similar fashion, through a trade with Adelaide.
Lever came across from the Crows in 2017, just a year prior to May, and having already established himself as a talented defender, the move came with added external pressure.
“When I first came over [to Melbourne] I thought I had a lot of expectations,” Lever told Melbourne Media.
“I was playing like I had so many expectations on my shoulder.
“I remember an old coach of mine, Jade Rawlings, he said ‘we don’t expect you to be any different than what you were at Adelaide, we don’t need you to come over here and be superman and change.’
“That settled me.”
Similarly to May, Lever was striving for premiership success but differed to his teammate in that he was coming off a 2017 AFL Grand Final loss with the Crows.
This left the defender even hungrier and was ready to do what he needed to go that one step further.
“In 2020, I went into the season really wanting to be a great teammate and execute my role every week,” Lever said.
“This year, I thought to myself ‘how about I just try and become a great player’, and I wouldn’t be able to do that without the other guys around me.
“My own individual game, I’ve put that on the back burner in terms of expectations and I’ve just done what the team needs.”
The two defenders have been strengths down back this year restricting some of the league’s top forwards and conceding the least amount of points within the competition.
Both Lever and May agreed that it had been the culmination of talent from multiple players that had led to Melbourne’s defensive success this year.
“Already this year, Steve and I get a lot of the credit externally, but I feel bad because we wouldn’t be able to be the players that we are without the likes of Harrison Petty, Christian Salem, Trent Rivers and Adam Tomlinson earlier on in the year,” Lever said.
May echoed this sentiment, referring to the strong connection within backline group.
“We’re like a family down there,” May said.
“We all love each other. We certainly love going to work every day and playing together.”