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Melbourne Football Club

Melbourne takes the W in the west

Team song: Melbourne Watch the Demons celebrate their round 22 win

LONG-SUFFERING Melbourne fans can rejoice – the Demons are finally heading back to the promised land.

After 12 long years full of hurt and disappointment, the Dees have secured a return to finals after storming West Coast's fortress in one of the games of the season on Sunday.

Melbourne fully deserved the drama-filled 17-point victory at Optus Stadium and, thanks to a healthy percentage, is safely ensconced in the top eight.

A home elimination final, or even a top-four spot, isn't out of the question.

But the Eagles' third home loss this year has left them extremely vulnerable in second spot on the ladder.

They could need to beat big improver Brisbane at the Gabba on the final day of the season to earn a home qualifying final – and might have to do it without star forwards Jack Darling and Josh Kennedy.

Darling went down with concussion at the 10-minute mark on Sunday, and Kennedy (shin) is a long shot to be fit next round.

Tempers flared between Eagles veteran Mark LeCras and Demon Neville Jetta as the final siren sounded on a 16.12 (108) to 14.7 (91) triumph on Sunday, but the Dees were soon celebrating ­– as well they should after bouncing back from a hellish week and questions about their mental fragility in big games.

Melbourne banished those demons with a performance that showed exactly why pundits across the country have tagged them as a finals danger side, provided they got there. 

The Dees played eye-catching footy, moving the ball with pace and putting West Coast's rock-solid defence under severe pressure.

The AFL's highest-scoring side snapped the Eagles' record streak of 19 games without conceding 90 points in a game and had too much firepower, even without Jesse Hogan (foot).

But they were also tough in the clinches and determined not to let this opportunity slip, withstanding everything the Eagles threw at them in a barnstorming 11-goal third quarter.

It was Melbourne's first win over a top-eight rival for 2018 and franked its credentials as a worthy finalist.

"It was a terrific win," coach Simon Goodwin said post-match.

"As a club, we've had a lot of expectations put on us - obviously not playing finals for 12 years as a club, we carry a lot of those expectations as a team.

"This has been a new playing group for a while now. They have carried that expectation and they have owned it, and they have had their challenges along the way.

"But their ability to stay in the moment like they did today was terrific.

"It's a big step for our football club; a really important one and one they should be proud of.

"I am so happy for our supporters right now.

"They have had 12 years of misery, but now they have a team they can really get in behind and support and build some momentum from here."

Returning forward Jake Melksham's (four goals) experience was telling, Nathan Jones – the only player on the list last time Melbourne played finals in 2006 – was fierce while Mitch Hannan and Tom McDonald (three goals each) were dangerous. 

Giant ruckman Max Gawn (20 disposals, 39 hit-outs, seven clearances) was immense leading a hard midfield brigade, with Clayton Oliver (23), Angus Brayshaw (26, one goal) and James Harmes (28, one goal) jumping on for the ride. 

Without Darling, the Eagles needed another forward to stand up and Willie Rioli (three goals) answered the call.

Rioli's magic kept the home side from being blown away early, with the livewire forward having a hand in the Eagles' first three goals after Melbourne stunned the home crowd with four unanswered majors.

The Demons came to play and swarmed all over West Coast in the first quarter, applying intense tackle pressure, dominating the contest (54-30) and inside 50s (19-6).

It was a pulsating second term, with both sides going goal-for-goal, but the intensity hit fever-pitch in a barnstorming third quarter.

In some of the best football for the season, the Eagles threw everything at Melbourne, but for every punch the visitors landed a counterpunch.

Spurred on by a boisterous 55,825-strong crowd, West Coast piled on four unanswered majors, closing within two points.

The Melbourne of old might have crumbled under remarkable pressure, but these Demons are made of sterner stuff.

The Eagles hit the front for the first time by a point when Mark LeCras slotted a clutch set shot at the 18-minute mark of the final term.

But the Demons answered, with Melksham the hero with the match-winner from the goalsquare four minutes later after Eagles defender Tom Barrass was caught in no man's land.

Dean Kent then sealed the deal with a cool-headed major with two minutes left on the clock and Melksham started the celebrations with his fourth shortly after.

The Dees had winners everywhere, but West Coast relied on too few, with Dom Sheed (31 disposals, one goal), Chris Masten (27, one) and defender Brad Sheppard (23) outstanding, while Elliot Yeo (23, one) lifted after a one-disposal first term.

"We got beaten by a better side. We got jumped at the start, jumped in a lot of areas, obviously on the scoreboard, but the contested ball was a concern," Eagles coach Adam Simpson said post-match.

"Then we lost JD pretty early in the piece … which took a little bit of an adjustment for us.

"We were fighting for three-and-a-half quarters to stay in the game.

"We couldn't stop some of the things Melbourne did, but geez the boys never gave up."

MEDICAL ROOM

West Coast: Jack Darling hit his head on the turf in an Oscar McDonald tackle during the first term and stayed down for some time before running from the ground under his own steam. He went to the rooms for a concussion test and was done for the day.

Melbourne: Michael Hibberd had his hamstring tested in the third quarter but returned to the action. Tom McDonald had a sore right shoulder late in the final term and came from the ground.

NEXT UP

The Eagles head to Brisbane for a crucial game next Sunday, while the Demons can breathe easier as they host the Giants at the MCG, also on the final day of the season.

WEST COAST           3.0      5.4      11.6    14.7 (91)                  
MELBOURNE           4.4      7.6      12.8    16.12 (108)           

GOALS
West Coast:  Rioli 4, Hutchings 2, Masten, Ah Chee, Cripps, Vardy, Sheed, Yeo, Venebles, LeCras
Melbourne: Melksham 4, McDonald 3, Hannan 3, Weideman, Harmes, Brayshaw, vandenBerg, Jones, Kent

BEST 
West Coast: 
Rioli, Redden, Hutchings, Sheed, Masten
Melbourne: Harmes, Melksham, Hannan, Brayshaw, Gawn, Jones

INJURIES 
West Coast: Jack Darling (concussion)
Melbourne: Nil

Reports: Nil

Umpires: Stevic, Hosking, Schmitt

Official crowd: 55,824 at Optus Stadium