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Another Thursday night, another pre-finals blockbuster

For the second Thursday night in three weeks we have the top two teams squaring off to start a round and on this occasion it is the second-placed Geelong Cats welcoming top-placed Melbourne to Kardinia Park.

After a rough patch including three straight losses to fellow finals contenders Fremantle, the Sydney Swans and Collingwood, the Dees have hit back with a vengeance in the fortnight following their bye, putting the Brisbane Lions and Adelaide Crows to the sword.

The win over the Lions in particular was made more impressive given they were without its captain Max Gawn as they exposed the Lions as MCG novices, while against the Crows they were also without forward Luke Jackson due to injury.

All this coming while there was talk about the conduct of its coach Simon Goodwin and other key personnel in the early part of their 2021 season which, as we all know, eventually ended in the ultimate glory.

While the Dees were the most consistent side of 2021, it wasn’t until the final round that they sealed its first minor premiership since 1964, which was also the year of their most recent flag up until then, with a dramatic post-siren win over the Geelong Cats at Kardinia Park.

It all came down to the boot of Max Gawn to decide which of the Cats and Dees would finish on top of the ladder, and it was him that would convert truly to give his side the win and sentence the Cats to face Port Adelaide away in the first week of the finals.

Sadly, no one was there to witness it in person due to Victoria being in the midst of another COVID-19 lockdown, which ultimately forced the AFL Grand Final to be played outside of the state for a second consecutive year.

As if missing out on the minor premiership on home soil, then losing its qualifying final against the Power at the Oval, wasn’t enough, the Cats then suffered humiliation at the hands of Simon Goodwin’s men in the preliminary final at Optus Stadium three weeks later.

The Dees, who had been on the wrong end of so many torturous defeats by the Cats in the previous 15 years (think the near-record 186-point loss at Kardinia Park in 2011 that cost the late Dean Bailey his job), turned the tables in brutal fashion that night with an 83-point win.

Max Gawn, the only player left remaining from the Bailey era, produced a finals performance for the ages as he booted five goals to lead his side into their first grand final since 2000, eventually leading them to glory against the Western Bulldogs a fortnight later.

Now, ten months on, the Cats and Dees square off for the first time since that history-turning night at Optus Stadium, with Chris Scott’s side eager to exact some revenge on a side they had inflicted so much misery on prior to last year.

Past Melbourne sides had never previously enjoyed the trip down the highway, though one highlight came in 2015 when they won by four goals, with Gawn producing a breakout performance as the Dees destroyed the 300th game celebrations of Cats veteran Corey Enright.

It was their first win at Kardinia Park since 2005 and their first against the Cats since 2006, at which point the men from Kardinia Park had yet to develop into the dominant and consistent side that would net three of the next five flags while the Dees slid into oblivion.

That aside, the red and the blue also suffered a 111-point loss in Paul Roos’ final game as coach in 2016, lost it after the final siren after being as much as five goals up in 2018, and copped an 80-point loss that marked the beginning of the end of their 2019 campaign.

Back to the present, and despite fears that the Cats’ preliminary final mauling by the Dees last September would cause some mental and psychological scars going into this season, they’ve proven anything but, again being up there among the contenders for this year’s flag.

Max Gawn leads the Melbourne Demons out

(Photo by Daniel Pockett/Getty Images)

Chris Scott’s side enter Round 17 with eleven wins from fifteen matches, having won its past six matches since losing to St Kilda by ten points at Marvel Stadium in round nine to move up to second on the ladder.

Last week against North Melbourne they produced the biggest win by any side this season, winning by 112 points with Jeremy Cameron surging to the top of the Coleman Medal leaderboard with four majors and 30 disposals.

Injury-free, Cameron hopes to be part of the Cats’ next premiership side and would love to do it while captain Joel Selwood, who is due to bring up his 350th game in a few weeks, and Patrick Dangerfield are still playing.

At stake is the chance to potentially knock the Dees off the top of the ladder and move into it themselves, though they will have to (proverbially) bury the demons of their three losses against the Dees last year.

Those two aforementioned matches last year aside, Melbourne also won their round four clash by 25 points at the MCG.

This will, however, be the teams’ only regular season meeting this year, though it is expected the two clubs will cross paths once again in September.

Having the home ground advantage will surely aid the Cats’ bid for revenge, but it’s likely the Dees will have Max Gawn and Luke Jackson back on tow as they look to grab another four premiership points from Kardinia Park and maintain their lead on top of the ladder.

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