Well, well, well, the Demons are up 2-0. Who’d have thought?
This achievement marks the first time since 2005 that the much-maligned Melbourne Football Club has been in this position but, needless to say; there’s no need to get carried away.
Before I examine this week’s encounter with the Cats, I should make my allegiances, or lack thereof, clear.
I am Brisbane born-and-bred, a rugby league diehard for a long time. Until recently, AFL was still that Southern foreign game for me commonly referred to as ‘aerial ping pong’ up here.
How original, you’re thinking.
Call it an epiphany of sorts, but around July last year, I became heavily frustrated with the NRL. The poor standards of play and constant rumour-mongering about trivial matters drove me insane, so I switched to channel 504 and didn’t look back.
Of course, we have an AFL team in Brisbane, but a single finals campaign since I finished Grade 1 hardly endeared my enthusiasm for the sport. It may be Australia’s game, but it has never felt like Queensland’s game.
Getting Fox Sports last year meant I was able to break free from the shackles of constant Lions and Suns games on 7Mate and enjoy the nine-game feast that comes with a full round of AFL.
To all intents and purposes, I remain neutral, with obvious exceptions – I hate Collingwood, #FreeKickHawthorn, I’m on the Bulldogs bandwagon, GWS are an AFL conspiracy, yadda, yadda, yadda.
So, why Melbourne?
The Dees always piqued my interest for being a team seemingly crushed under the weight of history. The title of ‘World’s Oldest Professional Football Club’ has high trivia value, but little meaning when GWS are flag favourites in only their sixth year of existence.
I have taken on the mantle of cataloguing their 2017 season for Hashtag Footy, unburdened by the weight of a decade of mediocrity on my shoulders.
I was impressed to see them develop strongly under Paul Roos, who made their defence a more disciplined unit, delivering on the expectation placed on him when he signed his contract.
To the match against Geelong, then.
This is awkward because everything the Dees learned about defence under Roos was abandoned in the last match against the Cats in Round 23 last year.
The 111-point shellacking was as poor a way to send off Roos as any, even more so than the upset loss to Carlton in the previous week.
The new year has provided yet another new beginning for Melbourne though, and sitting at two from two is a very welcome start in what is shaping as a defining year for the club.
The first match against St Kilda was a pretty good effort for the first real game of the year, and once the Dees clicked into gear after quarter time, there was no stopping them.
As for the Carlton game, we were left chewing our fingernails in what should have been a straightforward match once again.
Why couldn’t the Dees put up a bigger score despite having the ascendancy throughout the contest? Does a small comeback against the Blues indicate mental strength or weakness?
Melbourne was undoubtedly the better team throughout, but feelings still linger of those bitter ‘How did we lose that?’ moments from years gone by, which looked apparent in the playing group before three-quarter time.
To the Demons’ credit, that they were able to overcome those mental hurdles and overhaul Carlton after the late deficit was a good sign for their grit under the Simon Goodwin era.
Yes, it was only against Carlton, but it was a game the Demons would have lost over the last decade, à la Essendon in Round 2 last year.
Saturday’s twilight clash at Etihad Stadium provides a good litmus test to see how Melbourne and Geelong have progressed and regressed, respectively, since last year’s blowout.
The general consensus is that Melbourne will finish firmly inside the finals spots this year, most likely around seventh or eighth, while Geelong is being tipped to do everything from taking out the flag to finish well outside the top eight.
I would personally rate the Cats as a slightly higher team than Melbourne, though minus Dangerwood (that’s the last time I’ll use the phrase, I promise), I feel these teams would be neck and neck.
Melbourne’s win over Geelong in 2015 is their only win over the Cats in the last decade. Doing so again versus a Cats side markedly better than the team that missed the finals that year would be one hell of a statement to their supporters as well as the league.
The suspensions of Jordan Lewis and Jesse Hogan robs the Dees of some much-needed experience and spark against Geelong, though. How the playing group reacts to their absences will be a good indication of the strength of Melbourne’s mentality this season.
I’d love to be greedy and tip the Demons to go 3-0 up, but I just feel that there isn’t quite enough grit in the team to overcome a Geelong side fresh off a ridiculous comeback against North Melbourne which is bound to inflate their confidence.
It’s not that the Dees don’t have a solid work ethic, but constant years of finals campaigns versus none counts for a lot in a match between two otherwise even sides.
Demons games at Etihad Stadium have to be the hardest ones to tip in the competition now. Yes, they have only won two of their last 27 there, but they won their most recent match there against the Saints only two weeks ago.
It should be said that after the Cats used up their ‘Get out of jail free’ card last week, they aren’t exactly a picture of mental fortitude and stability either.
This is the match of the round for mine, not least because it will provide us with greater clarity on where these two sides sit in 2017.
As I often do, I’m going to play it safe and tip Geelong, just because I feel this is a game in which Geelong’s superstars can grab the ascendancy early on and enter cruise control.
If Dangerfield, Selwood and Hawkins can combine to kick the first three majors, I feel that the ghosts of Melbourne past may just re-emerge to spook them out of the contest.
One of the joys of the first two AFL rounds, however, has been the unpredictability. Port’s victory away to Sydney was a thing of outrageous beauty, while the Lions’ and Crows’ defeats of Gold Coast and Hawthorn respectively stood up to provide the AFL with some much-needed excitement early in Season 2017.
If the Demons wish to join the list of upset winners, they will need all cylinders firing on Saturday, especially with the losses of Lewis and Hogan.
I’m still expecting a close game, but I think what we can rule out is a stress-free Melbourne win. We know it’s just not in their nature!
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to try and memorise the lyrics to ‘It’s a Grand Old Flag’…