Melbourne’s unbeaten run to start 2021 continued after holding off a brave Sydney by nine points on Saturday night.
For the most part it was far from a game to write home about, but a tense final quarter made sure no one was leaving early.
The Dees looked to have broken the Swans in the third quarter when they jumped out to a 22-point lead at the 21-minute mark, but Sydney wouldn’t go away.
The Swans started the hotter of the two sides and had a goal in the first minute through Justin McInerney before Will Hayward kicked the Bloods’ second four minutes later to give them a dream start.
But a Tom McDonald steadier ignited Melbourne who kicked the next three of the game and on the back of sturdy defence had the better of the contest to halftime.
When they extended their 11-point halftime lead to 22-points deep into the third it looked as though they were on their way.
However, late goals to Jake Lloyd and Tom Papley cut the Dees’ lead at the last break to just 10-points, before a goal in the first minute of the final term from Callum Sinclair had the MCG rocking and the Swans believing.
But after getting within four points deep into the quarter, best on ground McDonald took a huge contested mark and kicked truly from point-blank range to keep the Swans at arm’s length as the Dees held on.
It’s hard to know if Tom McDonald is a tall or small forward when he’s at his best.
The 28-year-old was bursting through packs and kicking goals on his left foot, snapping goals from 40-metres out on the boundary and nailing set shots.
It’s a great sign for the Dees with Ben Brown finding his feet alongside McDonald in the Dees’ forward line.
McDonald’s importance to Melbourne can’t be understated, with the mobile forward kicking 53 goals in their 2018 campaign which took them to a preliminary final, and he looks to be back to that blistering form.
But not only is McDonald’s goal sense important, his ability to provide a link going forward was crucial as evidenced by his 18 disposals.
Franklin was kept goalless for the first time this season. Pic: Michael KleinSource:News Corp Australia
It was arguably the best game of Callum Mills’ career as his seamless transition into the Swans’ engine room continued.
The 24-year-old led the Sydney charge around the footy and finished with career high numbers in tackles (10).
The former number three draft pick was immense on the inside for the Swans and helped them right the ship when Oliver and Petracca started to get on top.
He finished with 33 disposals and kicked a last-quarter goal.
DEES’ DESPERATE DEFENCE
If the saying “defence wins championships” rings true it might just be Melbourne’s year.
Coming into Round 8 Sydney had only scored fewer points than the Western Bulldogs and Melbourne had the stingiest defence in the competition. Something had to give.
And with Franklin injected back into the second-most potent attack in the AFL it loomed as the perfect test to see what life after Adam Tomlinson’s knee injury looked like for the Dees.
It was watertight.
Melbourne kept the Swans to just 25 points in the first half as Steven May, who might be the best key defender in the AFL at the moment, kept shut Franklin out and Harrison Petty perfectly assumed Tomlinson’s role.
Perhaps the best sign for the Dees was that Jake Lever, who has been in career best form this season, had no influence on the game.
Slippery conditions failed to stop Ben Brown from making his mark in his first game for the Dees on the ‘G.
The former Kangaroo was at his sharpshooting best and proved simply too tall for the Swans’ defenders.
In his second game for the club after debuting last week Brown continued to build on his dangerous tandem formed with McDonald.
Sydney’s number one stopper Dane Rampe was tasked with nullifying Brown for most of the night, but the former Roo got the better of him to kick three goals.
DEES 3.1 5.6 8.6 10.7 67
SWANS 3.3 3.7 6.8 8.10 58
MOTTERSHEAD’S BEST Dees: McDonald, Oliver, May, Jordon, Harmes, Gawn, Salem. Swans: Mills, Parker, Lloyd, Papley, Rampe, Hickey.
GOALS Dees: McDonald 4, Brown 3, Petracca, Melksham, Spargo. Swans: Hayward 2, Papley, Hickey, Lloyd, McInerney, Sinclair, Mills.
INJURIES Dees: nil. Swans: nil.
UMPIRES Dalgleish, Deboy, Hosking.
PLAYER OF THE YEAR
JAMES MOTTERSHEAD’S VOTES
3 T. McDonald (Melb)
2 C. Oliver (Melb)
1 C. Mills (Syd)
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