Demons emerge from AFL hell, at last

Max Gawn and his Melbourne teammates celebrate their finals-sealing win over West Coast in Perth.
Max Gawn and his Melbourne teammates celebrate their finals-sealing win over West Coast in Perth.

In 2006, Melbourne finished as the top Victorian side in the AFL, with hopes high that Neale Daniher could march the club deep into September next season.

Nine losses in nine rounds to begin 2007 put paid to that.

The drop-off was to worsen.

The tanking episode and AFL sanctions.

Debt and handouts from head office.

The heaviest loss of the AFL era.

A couple of wooden spoons.

Seven coaches.

Seven captains.

The death of cultural touchstone Jim Stynes.

A revolving door of players.

And all this from a club still living through the memory of a near-miss merger.

For the Demons, it's been 12 years of hell.

But the world's oldest football club wakes up on Friday night when they play in a first final in 12 seasons.

"We did come through some pretty dark times," co-captain Jack Viney said on Thursday.

"To be in my sixth season now and finally get to play in my first final, along with a lot of other people here, it's a really exciting opportunity.

"The buzz and thrill of finals is something we've not experienced.

"And especially coming from where we have."

Demons players showed their euphoria on the final siren after round 22, when Melbourne's finals appearance was locked in with a defeat of West Coast.

In the coaches box at Optus Stadium, sidelined by a foot injury, Viney also laid bare his emotion - with one of the hardest men to ever pull on a Demons guernsey.

"My old man doesn't show too much affection but I was in there with him and we had a little cuddle," Jack said of his father Todd, former club captain and caretaker coach.

"That means it must be a pretty special occasion."

Just one player remains from their last September outing - Viney's co-captain Nathan Jones, who was 18 at the time.

At the MCG on Friday night against perennial finalists Geelong, a new generation of Demons get the chance to experience finals footy.

And with significant question marks over the premiership credentials of each of Richmond's challengers, there's a belief that Melbourne aren't just making up the numbers.

The Demons' best case is their contested-ball work.

Just two teams have notched better numbers than Melbourne in the history of Champion Data statistics - West Coast in 2006 and Western Bulldogs in 2016.

Both won the flag.

That picture looks even better with midfield bull Viney back in the line-up.

"Contested footy is what we've built our game style around," Viney said.

"We know that it's a pretty crucial factor come finals football so we take confidence out of that absolutely.

"Now we get an opportunity to put it on show on the big stage."

Australian Associated Press