Gawn boots Melbourne into AFL grand final
Melbourne ruckman Max Gawn has produced the greatest quarter of his career to lead the Demons to an 83-point preliminary final demolition of Geelong in front of 58,599 fans at Optus Stadium.
In just six minutes of actual playing time during the third quarter of Friday night's match, Gawn kicked four magical goals to help turn a 29-point halftime lead into a monster 70-point margin.
The Demons slammed through eight goals to nil during the third-quarter romp on the way to the 19.11 (125) to 6.6 (42) triumph, meaning they are now just one win away from snaring their first flag since 1964.
Melbourne will meet either Port Adelaide or the Western Bulldogs in the September 25 grand final in Perth.
But the win over Geelong saw star defender Steven May suffering an injury scare to his right hamstring in the opening term.
Although May was able to play on until being subbed out in the third quarter once the result was settled, he looked restricted at times and is set to undergo scans to determine the extent of the injury.
Gawn finished with a career-best five goals from 19 disposals in a best-afield display, while Christian Petracca (32 disposals, eight clearances) and Jack Viney (34 disposals, nine clearances) were also influential.
Cats star Patrick Dangerfield (29 disposals, 10 clearances) tried his heart out, but Geelong were outgunned from the outset.
The result could mark the beginning of a belated freefall for the Cats, who have missed the finals just twice since 2004, and have reached the preliminary final stage in five of the past six years.
The Cats fielded 11 players who were 30 years or over on Friday night, and they face a fight to keep their premiership window open in 2022 and beyond.
The ease with which they were dismantled by Melbourne is cause for concern, with the Cats made to look old and slow throughout the match.
"It's a bitter pill to swallow but our club has, over a long period of time, found a way to recover from difficult situations," Geelong coach Chris Scott said.
"I think we're in that situation again where we've got a choice to make: we can roll over or we can take the time we need to regroup.
"We were pretty battered towards the end of the season, really not just the last couple of weeks but probably the six weeks leading into the finals series.
"There's a few things I won't speak about tonight that will become clearer over the next few weeks but suffice to say, I'm proud of the way our guys endured. But we just completely ran out of steam by tonight."
Melbourne led by 27 points at quarter time, with Geelong's structure crumbling under the Demons' quick-fire run and spread.
Alarm bells were ringing for Geelong when the scoreline read 60-19 late in the second term.
Goals to Tom Hawkins and Isaac Smith to finish the half closed the margin to 29 points, but the third quarter became the Gawn show as the All-Australian ruckman produced a series of stunning highlights.
Gawn's first goal of the quarter was something to behold, with the ruckman doing his best impression of a midfielder by receiving a handball from Petracca after a centre bounce before nailing a 52m goal on the run.
His third goal of the quarter was a show of strength, with Gawn outmuscling Mark Blicavs in the ruck before snapping truly from a tight angle.
"We want to be able to win the grand final. That's what the target is," Gawn told the Seven Network after the match.
"This is really nice, but we haven't broken the drought until we've done something in two weeks."