By Nick Creely
As 57 years of anguish and despair washed away from die hard Melbourne fans in the midst of one of the greatest patches of football ever played, the noise reverberating around the city, and around the country would have been deafening.
But there may have been no place more deafening than up in the hills at Coldstream on Saturday night as the club exorcised their Demons to soar to premiership glory.
One of the town’s favourite sons is now a premiership hero, with Bayley Fritsch inking his name in football folklore with a bag of six goals as his Demons became champions of the AFL, in a performance that will never be forgotten in Coldy or anyone associated with the famous red and blue.
It’s safe to say that when the sharpshooting star returns home, the beers will be on the house as he recounts every second of his famous display.
The Demons triumphed in Perth against the Western Bulldogs on Saturday, overcoming a 57-year curse to clinch an unforgettable and emotional bit of silverware.
The Dees burst out of the blocks to lead by 21 points at quarter time, combining ferocious intensity at the contest with an incurable desire to run and gun the footy.
But the Doggies – well-drilled and oiled for the big stage – bit back through skipper Marcus Bontempelli to wrestle back the lead with a scintillating second term to slam on six goals.
It was then that the local boy stood tall as the Dogs threatened to run away with the premiership in the third term, with Fritsch slamming on two quick goals to get the fire started, with two brilliant individual pieces of play that set the tone for an inspired comeback.
It loomed as a classic grand final finish.
One with twists and turns, and everytime you looked away something seemingly shifted the momentum and energy of the contest.
But what occurred was almost inconceivable.
Ask any Melbourne fan for the past six decades – who would have been overcome by jitters of the past – whether it was all some big dream.
There was no way they could have envisioned what would happen next.
The Demons would go on to play one of the greatest 15 minutes ever seen, slamming on six goals to finish the third term and ice the game then and there.
It was breathtaking football led by Norm Smith medal winner Christian Petracca, with the midfielders completely dominating proceedings and turning each touch into one irresistible bit of gold.
As the premiership loomed brightly for long-suffering Melbourne fans, the players didn’t let them down in the final term, racing out to a 74-point win in 30 minutes of football that will be replayed for weeks, if not months and years on repeat.
57 years is a long time in football history – it’s last grand final victory prior to Saturday night being a four-point epic against Collingwood back in 1964 when the club was coached by the legendary Norm Smith and captained by the iconic Ron Barrassi.
It’s been a long time between the 12th and 13th premierships – but it was worth the wait.
Fritsch finished second in the Norm Smith Medal, booting 6.2 from 13 disposals, providing a menacing presence to kick the most goals in a grand final since Darren Jarman’s six in 1997 for Adelaide.
He was sublime in the air, mercurial at ground level and simply made things happen whenever he touched the ball.
His 2021 season yielded 59 goals – a brilliant effort in just his fourth season of AFL football. If he wasn’t already a star of the competition, he is now.
“It’s crazy – surreal, I can’t really put it into words,” Fritsch told Melbourne Media post-match.
“We did it, a lot of hard work’s gone into it – we had a mission from day one of pre-season, and for that to come true is unbelievable.”
Fritsch was modest when talking about his own profound impact on the contest.
“I got pretty lucky, I got on the end of a few cheeky ones early – it sort of went on from there,” he said.
“To play a small part in what was an unbelievable performance is pretty special, and something I’ll look back on for sure.”
Fritsch said he was proud of the team’s resolve to fightback from a difficult position in the third term.
“We sort of took the pedal off a bit in that second quarter, and we wanted to come out and have our best defensive quarter in that third quarter, so we knew our offence would come off the back of that,” he said.
“That’s what happened, and it was nice to pile on the goals which was nice.”
He added that the bond created by the group drove them to premiership glory.
“We’re really close – we’ve got great chemistry, and we’ll keep building moving forward,” he said.
“It’s a great group, a great team to be a part of, and I’m rapt we’ve done this for our supporters.
“To go down in history books to end that drought is special – how good.”
Fritsch’s 2021 Grand Final epic at a glance…
Disposals – 13
Goals – 6
Behinds – 2
Marks – 5
Score Involvements – 9