Demons win through to AFL prelim final

Roger Vaughan
The Demons first AFL finals campaign since 2006 has gathered momentum with victory over Hawthorn

Melbourne are riding a wave of emotion and momentum to reach their first AFL preliminary final since 2000.

The Demons withstood Hawthorn's searching test at the start of the last quarter to win Friday night's MCG semi-final by 33 points.

The 16.8 (104) to 10.11 (71) win sets up Saturday week's clash with West Coast in Perth - another big test, but one Melbourne will face with great confidence.

Only a month ago, the Demons had a crucial win over the Eagles at the same venue in round 22.

"But it's a new game, so we know what we're up against - we're up against a really strong footy club," said Melbourne coach Simon Goodwin.

"They have some experienced players who are back in the team, who didn't play that day - as we have."

There are growing parallels to two years ago, when the Western Bulldogs had a storming run from seventh place to win their drought-breaking premiership.

Melbourne likewise have started from an elimination final and have no margin for error if they are to break their 54-year premiership drought.

Next weekend's two preliminary finals will mark a changing of the guard - for the first time since 2002, they will not feature at least one of Hawthorn, Geelong or Sydney.

The Demons looked home at three-quarter time on Friday when they led by 32 points, but the Hawks kicked three goals early in the final term and cut the margin to only 12 points.

Melbourne then kicked four of the last five goals to secure the win - a big tick for their poise under finals pressure.

Coach Simon Goodwin said it showed how far they had come from round 18 in Geelong, when they were overrun in the last quarter for a heartbreaking loss.

"We've probably passed that test in the last six weeks, a lot, probably since that Geelong game," Goodwin said.

"Our ability just to hold our nerve, continue to hold momentum has been a real hallmark of this side over the last six weeks.

"So the maturity of the group is starting to grow and they understand what the game demands at that stage."

Goodwin said they are relishing the support of their long-suffering fans and called on as many of them as possible to travel to Perth next weekend.

Demons co-captain Jack Viney was best afield, while Tom McDonald kicked four goals and fellow forward Jake Melksham had a massive last quarter.

Goodwin said forward efficiency was the difference, with Hawthorn having more inside 50s, but blowing too many big shots on goal.

While Hawthorn bow out of the finals in straight sets for the second time in three years, they are far better placed than at the end of 2016.

The Hawks lost key players Jaeger O'Meara and Ben Stratton to injury for the semi-final, while Grant Birchall has not played this season and Cyril Rioli has retired.

"In a list that's changed pretty significantly in the last 18 months, to have four of quality like that - one of which is gone now in Cyril - just cuts pretty deep," Clarkson said.