AFL 2021 preliminary final: Melbourne crush Geelong by 83 points – as it happened

By Geoff Lemon
Max Gawn of the Demons celebrates during the first AFL 2021 preliminary final between Melbourne and Geelong at Optus Stadium in Perth.
Max Gawn of the Demons celebrates during the first AFL 2021 preliminary final between Melbourne and Geelong at Optus Stadium in Perth. Photograph: Paul Kane/Getty Images

But tonight is about the Demons. Not just the premiership drought of the post-Barassi era, but the years of being miles from even thinking about a premiership. How many years that they’ve been the battlers of the league, down there on the bottom rungs trying to climb up. The reviews, the sackings, the mishandling of players. The membership voting themselves out of existence in 1996, only for the Hawks to decline the merger.

All across this country, and scattered around the world, are Melbourne supporters who can finally feel the joy of having a top-class team playing beautiful football, with a week to think about running out to play for a premiership.

Enjoy it, relish it, soak it in. Happy for you.

See you tomorrow for Port Adelaide and the Doggies.

Big result for the Cats, too, in the other sense. Not so much in the usual end of year “Are they too old?” thing, but more that Geelong teams in the Chris Scott era have had a habit of looking like genuine contenders through the season but being blown off the park in a quarter of finals football. That pretty much happened in the first quarter tonight, which set the tone, and again in the few minutes after the half. The Cats looked shellshocked right from the first few minutes and never recovered. Last year, winning the prelim, felt like a breakthrough, but this was a reversion. Back to the lab again, yo.

Max Gawn gives it the old “lucky to get on the end of a few” before admitting with a smile, “that stoppage goal, I’ll never be able to do that again in my life”.

Melbourne are in the Grand Final - 19.11 (125) to Geelong 6.6 (42)

Enjoy it, Demons! You’re in. They’ve done it. Melbourne made it to the decider in 2000 and in 1988, but you might understand if I said that neither of those teams really felt like they were in the frame for a premiership. Not against the Essendon and Hawthorn teams of those eras. But this lot? No such qualifications apply.

4th quarter, 1 minute remaining: A late goal at least spares the Cats the ignominy of not kicking one in the second half. Higgins drives a long ball to the teeth of goal, Cameron is floating back and marks just before going over the behind line, then comes back out and plays on quickly to run around and hook it through on his left.

Melbourne 19.11 (125) to Geelong 6.6 (42)

4th quarter, 5 minutes remaining: One brings two. Langdon gets the ball in space on the wing. Long kick, accurate, into space where Fritsch is leading. Simple mark, finishes off his work. Cats could lose by a ton if they don’t do something with the last five minutes.

Melbourne 19.10 (124) to Geelong 5.5 (35)

4th quarter, 6 minutes remaining: There’s that goal! The slippery turf coming into play. Fritsch paddling the ball along the ground, from deep in the pocket, out in front, out in front. Then slapping it further, into the path of Pickett. Running away from goal, gathers it into his arms and has time to turn and snap truly.

Arms wide, face beaming, running away with joy.

Melbourne 18.10 (118) to Geelong 5.5 (35)

4th quarter, 6 minutes remaining: Raining now in Perth. Hawkins gets a free kick for being impeded leading for the ball, but misses his shot from 50. Isaac Smith gets a turnover, plays on and blazes from 55, but Lever gets a fist in on the goal line.

Melbourne 17.10 (112) to Geelong 5.5 (35)

4th quarter, 10 minutes remaining: There’s Geelong’s night. A quick transition gives space and time to the forwards with a loose ball into the pocket. But Hawkins slips over as he tracks it. Then instead of trying to kick a banana or snap on the left, he tries a chip across goal to Cameron. And mis-kicks it. Close gets it, under pressure, and handballs out to Cameron, who then fumbles and drops it over the boundary. Comical.

Melbourne 17.10 (112) to Geelong 5.3 (33)

4th quarter, 10 minutes remaining: All that Melbourne’s night has lacked has been a goal in the final quarter. The sting is very much out of the game and it has been pretty scruffy. Sparrow takes a mark 45 out on the counterattack but his set shot drifts wide.

Melbourne 17.10 (112) to Geelong 5.3 (33)

4th quarter, 16 minutes remaining: I keep thinking that Geelong has the ball in their forward line but it’s just because all their forwards have had to go back in defence. Miers, Ratugolea and company do get it out of there, and a rare foray forward sees Cameron attempt a pass, but Hawkins is double-teamed and it gets cleared away. Down the other end, Harmes for Melbourne takes a flier, riding on someone’s back, but falls short with his kick. Then it comes back to Gawn, who gets a chance for six goals, but he misses the lot.

Melbourne 17.8 (110) to Geelong 5.3 (33)

Three-quarter time: Melbourne 17.8 (110) to Geelong 5.2 (32)

Hooley dooley. That game was done, done, done, minutes into the third quarter. Now there’s a quarter of valedictory stuff to go. Lap of honour. Max Gawn with a Carmen Miranda hat on? Ed Langdon up to the DJ booth dropping bangers? Do as you feel, Demons.

I just got to text a dear family friend who has suffered through all of the Melbourne years since that last premiership in 1964, and say “Enjoy the Grand Final.” So that was nice.

3rd quarter, 1 minute remaining: Exhaustion has perhaps started to take its toll. Melbourne’s defence defuses a goalsquare scramble, then the game grinds down in pace for a couple of minutes, lots of contests. Gary Rohan is on the bench with ice on his hamstring and a dressing on his head. (Mazel tov, mazel tov.) Higgins into the match.

Melbourne 17.8 (110) to Geelong 5.2 (32)

3rd quarter, 7 minutes remaining: What else would you like, Melbourne fans? A goal for Kozzy? Yeah, why not. Party time stuff, up high in the air to make a contest at full forward in a two-on-one, then being the one to keep his feet, rove the bounce, and Pickett dinks it through on the run.

We update the scores manually on this blog, and I, uh... have not had to do anything with that Geelong score for a long time.

Melbourne 17.7 (109) to Geelong 5.2 (32)

3rd quarter, 9 minutes remaining: Will say this for the Cats: Patrick Dangerfield has tried his heart out tonight. He’s on the bench at the moment after flying for the ball and taking a heavy landing on his back. He has thrown himself into contests with abandon. He’s just had no one able to help.

Melbourne 16.6 (102) to Geelong 5.2 (32)


3rd quarter, 10 minutes remaining: Scratch that, he’s kicked five. FIVE. He’s never kicked five. He’s never kicked four. Another centre clearance, another driving ball forward, and this time Gawn isn’t in the centre, he’s camping up front for a rest. Which he enjoys by taking a chest mark and slotting the kick.

Melbourne 16.6 (102) to Geelong 5.2 (32)

Max Gawn has kicked four goals in a prelim

3rd quarter, 11 minutes remaining: Yeah, I’m making that a key event. Out of the pack this time! Rucking in the forward pocket, just grabs the ball out of the air, throws it on the boot while falling over, and somehow snaps it through.

Melbourne 15.6 (96) to Geelong 5.2 (32)

Steven May is being subbed out of the game, with James Jordon activated. That gives May some chance of getting fit for the Grand Final.

Because... not sure if I mentioned this, but, Melbourne are going to the Grand Final.

3rd quarter, 14 minutes remaining: Geelong: cooked. Ratugolea gets his arm around Gawn’s neck during a ruck contest at a forward-line throw in, and Gawn gets the free. Even while that was happening, Oliver was being thrown out of the contest by... Bews, maybe? Didn’t catch it. Two likely frees at one stoppage, any rate. Gawn goes back and kicks his third.

Melbourne 14.6 (90) to Geelong 5.2 (32)

3rd quarter, 16 minutes remaining: Three in a minute! Tom McDonald from the pocket! I didn’t even get time to see that goal because I was writing about the last goal. That’s the sort of night Melbourne is having.

Melbourne 13.6 (84) to Geelong 5.2 (32)

3rd quarter, 16 minutes remaining: Melty melty melt. Petracca takes it away from the centre bounce, draws the defence, handballs over to Gawn, who kicks his second running goal of the night from 55 metres out!

Melbourne 12.6 (78) to Geelong 5.2 (32)

3rd quarter, 17 minutes remaining: This is a meltdown. Brad Close keeps the ball alive on the centre wing boundary when he might have been better to let it go out. Blicavs has nowhere to go and turns it over. Petracca gets away, Selwood chases him and gets shepherded out of the contest. Gets up and gives a shove, which concedes a 50 penalty. Fritsch kicks the goal from the line.

Melbourne 11.6 (72) to Geelong 5.2 (32)

3rd quarter, 19 minutes remaining: What did I tell you? Centre bounce, Melbourne clearance, out to Oliver, charging forward, banged into the pocket, and Ben Brown comes off his 300-metre runup to pop through the goal. Lead by 35.

Melbourne 10.6 (66) to Geelong 5.1 (31)

I am getting messages from a lot of Melbourne supporters who are feeling very nervous about being the better team and being in the lead. Friends! Relax and enjoy! Trust in the vibe. The vibe is all Demons tonight.

Remember I mentioned Geelong 2007? There can come a point when you have to accept that your historically non-winning team is really good in a certain year.

Half time: Melbourne 9.6 (60) to Geelong 5.1 (31)

Goodness me. The dynamism and excitement of the way the Melbourne have come out tonight is extraordinary. Adrenaline-soaked football. They’ve been better than a 29-point lead. Somehow both teams kicked four goals in that quarter, the Cats pinching two of them late, despite Melbourne dominating. Basically Geelong have stayed in the match by way of accuracy with their own shots, plus a few late misses for Melbourne, even though the Dees laced about nine goals in a row it felt like.

2nd quarter, 1 minute remaining: Isaac Smith kicks another before the half! Dangerfield wins a line-ball free kick 55 out and shanks the set shot. There’s a ball up in the pocket. Cam Guthrie kicks it out of mid-air, such is the contested pressure. Smith and Rohan both go for the high ball and Smith holds it. Kicks the set shot on his left.

Melbourne 9.6 (60) to Geelong 5.1 (31)

2nd quarter, 3 minutes remaining: Finally something for the Cats. A bold kick from the wing into the corridor, breaking forward to Smith, who has Bews wide of him having run up from defence. Bews goes one way, goes back, slips over, then finds Hawkins leading into the pocket. It’s a tough set shot from Hawkins’ non-preferred left pocket, but he strikes it perfectly. Surgically precise.

Melbourne 9.6 (60) to Geelong 4.1 (25)

2nd quarter, 4 minutes remaining: A couple of set shot misses, from Petracca and Fritsch. Geelong are rattled. Giving away free kicks just by desperately trying to close and make it to contests. Flying past the ball. Losing their feet. Brown misses a snap. Blicavs cuts off a thrust, the first mark in defence I can remember for the Cats tonight.

Melbourne 9.6 (60) to Geelong 3.1 (19)

2nd quarter, 8 minutes remaining: The lead goes out to 38, as Kozzy Pickett goes off the ground from the pocket! Geelong are nowhere. Their whole style of play has been set up all year by marking in the backline and keeping possession as they work up the feel. Tonight their defence has barely been evident.

Melbourne 9.3 (57) to Geelong 3.1 (19)


2nd quarter, 12 minutes remaining: It’s Melbourne’s night. You can just feel it. Menegola gets a great clearance with a scorching run, but Max Gawn manages to get into a scrap for the ball and kick it over the behind line while lying on the ground. Miers gets a turnover in the middle but thumps it straight into a Demons player. Then it’s Gawn down the other end, marking a high ball that isn’t paid because it was touched, but he knows, and he plays on, running away from goal, turning a ponderous arc, and lining up another goal on the run!

Melbourne 8.3 (51) to Geelong 3.1 (19)

2nd quarter, 14 minutes remaining: The pressure tap from Melbourne stays on full. A couple of Geelong attempts to get through the middle of the ground get shut down. The Demons get it back forward, Sparrow goes to ground and Holmes trips over him and falls into his back. Free kick for Sparrow... and he kicks truly from the pocket! Incredible night, they can do no wrong.

Melbourne 7.3 (45) to Geelong 3.0 (18)


2nd quarter, 16 minutes remaining: Now the Cats reply. A free kick for Gryan Miers as the ball comes in, he had his arm held. Converts from 30 out, right in front.

Melbourne 6.3 (39) to Geelong 3.0 (18)


2nd quarter, 17 minutes remaining: Demons hit back instantly! Dangerfield nearly surges out of the centre bounce but can’t control the loose ball. Melbourne have the chance to work Clayton Oliver loose in the centre. He sends the ball in. Geelong’s defensive intercept marking is their strength, and they haven’t taken one such mark yet tonight. Again the spoil spills to a Melbourne player, and Spargo snaps the running goal.

Melbourne 6.3 (39) to Geelong 2.0 (12)

2nd quarter, 17 minutes remaining: Starting the second quarter, and the Cats are being given no time to move. To breathe. To find a clean possession. Finally they get a lateral series of passes, the ball resting with Dangerfield in the centre, dishes to Selwood, then a pinpoint kick inside 50 finds Stanley on the lead. Such fast burst speed, the ruckman. He kicks truly from 30 out.

Melbourne 5.3 (33) to Geelong 2.0 (12)

Quarter time: Melbourne 5.3 (33) to Geelong 1.0 (6)

A couple of missed shots late, and the Cats are spared. What an opening statement from the Dees! Jake Lever is sore, May is sore, but the rest of the team is flying like the wind.

1st quarter, 4 minutes remaining: Demons playing a blinder. Conceded the first goal, then kicked five in a row. Ground ball again inside 50, Blicavs hacks it out off the ground, but it comes straight back in onto the chest of Charlie Spargo. Set shot, goal. Steven May is back on the bench with a lot of strapping on his thigh.

Melbourne 5.1 (31) to Geelong 1.0 (6)

1st quarter, 5 minutes remaining: Another one for the Demons! Petracca again, at a contest inside 50 again, the ground level ball that ends up in his hands and he charges through traffic to kick one around the corner. Melbourne dominating with pressure around the ball early.

Melbourne 4.1 (25) to Geelong 1.0 (6)

1st quarter, 6 minutes remaining: Stephen May has come off with a hamstring injury. Huge for Demons fans, their fullback pulled up sore trying to contest with Hawkins for that mark a minute ago.

Melbourne 3.1 (19) to Geelong 1.0 (6)

1st quarter, 7 minutes remaining: Tom Hawkins has had an absolute shocker: ball slides off the boot as he shoots from 50, and sprays out on the full. Anyone in Perth tonight? Is it damp there? Looks it on the screen, but who knows.

Melbourne 3.1 (19) to Geelong 1.0 (6)

1st quarter, 10 minutes remaining: Three in a row for the Demons! The Cats looking flat at the minute. Brown marks again strongly 55 metres out. The ball in hits another pack and again it’s all about placement to rove it, Neal-Bullen this time with the flying snap.

Melbourne 3.1 (19) to Geelong 1.0 (6)

1st quarter, 11 minutes remaining: James Harmes scores from the stoppage up forward. Max Gawn punches a ball-up away from goal towards the arc, where Harmes is poised to swoop.

Melbourne 2.1 (13) to Geelong 1.0 (6)

1st quarter, 14 minutes remaining: Ben Brown strikes early, important for him. Marks it strongly after Petracca burns away from a stoppage and gets a clean entry. Converts the set shot.

Melbourne 1.1 (7) to Geelong 1.0 (6)

1st quarter, 17 minutes remaining: The Cats score the first goal of the night. Menegola roves a stoppage on the wing, handball finds Stanley who thumps a long high kick inside 50. It gets spoiled free but Jeremy Cameron in there to find the loose ball and dribble a left-footer home.

Melbourne 0.1 (1) to Geelong 1.0 (6)


A technology drop at just the wrong moment, apologies... we’re up and running now.

Geelong team

Full-back: Jack Henry, Lachie Henderson, Zach Tuohy

Half-back: Jake Kolodjashnij, Mark Blicavs, Tom Atkins

Centre: Mitch Duncan, Cameron Guthrie, Isaac Smith

Half-forward: Esava Ratugolea, Jeremy Cameron, Gary Rohan

Full-forward: Zach Guthrie, Tom Hawkins, Gryan Miers

Followers: Rhys Stanley, Joel Selwood, Patrick Dangerfield

Bench: Max Holmes, Jed Bews, Sam Menegola, Brad Close

Medical sub: Shaun Higgins

Melbourne team

Full-back: Michael Hibberd, Steven May, Jake Lever

Half-back: Jake Bowey, Harrison Petty, Christian Salem

Centre: Angus Brayshaw, Christian Petracca, Ed Langdon

Half-forward: Kysaiah Pickett, Tom McDonald, James Harmes

Full-forward: Alex Neal-Bullen, Ben Brown, Bayley Fritsch

Followers: Max Gawn, Clayton Oliver, Jack Viney

Bench: Luke Jackson, Charlie Spargo, Trent Rivers, Tom Sparrow

Medical sub: James Jordon


Shall we prepare to rumble? Nothing thrills the soul like the word ‘preliminary’, and here we are - the prelim finals for the AFL season of 2021. Another season of wildly fluctuating schedules, last-minute changes, dashes for borders, and strange combinations of teams with grounds. Melbourne and Geelong in Perth? Why not.

Geelong have an interesting recent relationship with preliminary finals. No problems at all with them from 2007 to 2011, winning through to four grand finals out of five. Prelims became a hurdle from then to 2020, with the Cats often dropping out at that stage. Then they cleared it last year to once again play for the cup. They’ve been very consistent this season, but a bit below their best in the last few weeks, and have lost a couple of key players in Brandon Parfitt and Tom Stewart.

Melbourne have been exciting all season, even with a wobble in the middle that saw it threaten to fall away, but they came back strongly at the business end. They’re like the Cats of 2007: a team that hasn’t won a flag since the 1960s, and has a dedicated legion of fans desperate to celebrate away that gap.

And of course, these teams played a corker in the final round of the regular season, with the Demons winning after the siren off the boot of Max Gawn.

It promises much, tonight. Let’s go.

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