Melbourne defender Joel Smith has had his September campaign cruelled by a hamstring strain, as the Demons prepare to embrace the challenge which awaits in Friday night’s preliminary final against Geelong.
Demons coach Simon Goodwin confirmed on Thursday that Smith, the son of former Demons’ and North Melbourne high flyer Shaun Smith, would be the club’s hard-luck story of the weekend.
Smith strained his hamstring in Perth on Tuesday and will miss the Optus Stadium clash. He had returned to the side in round 22 and held his spot against Brisbane in the qualifying final.
“Joel Smith has a minor hammy … so that is disappointing for Joel. He has worked really hard to get back into the team and perform really strongly for us,” Goodwin said on Thursday.
“That is disappointing for him but with that comes an opportunity for someone else.”
Goodwin wouldn’t divulge who Smith’s replacement would be, but veteran backman Michael Hibberd and the speedy Jayden Hunt, who has recovered from an ankle issue, are in the mix.
Melbourne defender Joel Smith has been ruled out of the preliminary final.Credit:Getty Images
The Demons have beaten the Cats twice this season, by 25 points in round four, and by four points in round 23 when the Cats coughed up a 44-point lead midway through the third term.
“You can draw a lot of belief in terms of how you play. The game is never over. We have come from behind a number of times this year in really important games for us, against the Lions in the middle of the year and again in round 23,” Goodwin said.
“It certainly builds belief that we can do it from any position and, obviously, against the opposition we are playing against, it was only four weeks ago.”
This clash shapes as a feast of contested ball, where the Cats’ big bodied midfield full of 30-somethings must find a way to keep at bay the Demons’ surging 20-somethings.
A quick look at the date of births of the Cats’ midfield shows among this there is ruckman Rhys Stanley (30), Joel Selwood (33), Patrick Dangerfield (31), Mitch Duncan (30) and Isaac Smith (32), with Cam Guthrie 29. All have enjoyed many fruitful September campaigns.
By comparison, the Demons have Max Gawn (29), Christian Petracca (25), Clayton Oliver (24), Jack Viney (27) and Angus Brayshaw (25), all embarking on only their second finals campaign and first in three years.
Goodwin said there were benefits in the Demons lacking the finals pedigree of their opponents, although the Cats have won only two of six preliminary finals under Chris Scott.
“There is no doubt that it comes down to execution, but sometimes there are some benefits in not knowing what is in front of you, not having some of the scars that are associated with prelim finals,” he said.
“So, I think sometimes that is a good thing. We have a good healthy balance of experience and youth. As I said, it really comes down to staying in the moment and executing what you need and perform really well.”
The Demons are also fighting the weight of history, having not won a flag since 1964. Having finished as the minor premier, this is arguably their best chance to break that premiership drought since the days of Norm Smith.
“There is pressure on everyone, there is pressure on every footy club if you look at history and circumstance of all teams that are still in the running,” Goodwin said.
“Our pressure comes because we haven’t won it for such a long period of time. But that’s a real privilege for us. We think we have worked our way to create an opportunity to put our best on show. That’s the way we are looking at it. We want to embrace that past, we want to make sure we respect the opportunity that is in front of us and go after it.”
Geelong wingman Isaac Smith said earlier this week that Demons’ intercept defenders Jake Lever and Steven May “made us look like fools” when the teams last met, a claim Cats’ teammate Cam Guthrie didn’t necessarily agree with. Tom Hawkins booted four goals on May on that night but May still had 19 disposals and nine marks.
Goodwin said the Demons had every reason to think their team-first defensive method will hold up in a cut-throat final.
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