Clayton Oliver.
Clayton Oliver looked to have put his off-field issues behind him as Melbourne beat the Bulldogs. Image by Julian Smith/AAP PHOTOS
  • Australian rules football

Demons welcome back a hero in win over Bulldogs

Anna Harrington March 17, 2024

Mere months after Clayton Oliver headlined Melbourne’s tumultuous pre-season, the midfielder’s return to his mesmerising, match-winning best against the Western Bulldogs has left coach Simon Goodwin “in awe”.

Oliver and Melbourne were seeking a response after a scratchy away loss to Sydney in opening round and delivered with a 16.13 (109) to 9.10 (64) win in front of 44,100 fans in warm conditions at the MCG.

Oliver took personal leave in pre-season after a difficult end to last year, including trade speculation and concerns over his behaviour.

After 30 touches against the Swans, the 26-year-old was wonderful on Sunday, racking up 21 first-half disposals to put the Demons in control.

Oliver finished with 35 disposals, six clearances and 565 metres-gained and received a standing ovation, which he later described as “emotional”, and a hug from Goodwin when he came off near fulltime.

Clayton Oliver
 Clayton Oliver (c) earned a hug and rich praise from Demons coach Simon Goodwin. Image by Julian Smith/AAP PHOTOS 

“It’s been a tough couple of months and I thank Gawny (captain Max Gawn) and all the rest of the boys for helping me out,” Oliver told Fox Footy.

“I’ve still got a lot of work to do. There’s little steps along the way but this is one of them.

“I need to keep being a better person and better teammate and keep striving every day.”

Goodwin couldn’t help but grin at the ball magnet’s stellar showing.

“Like every Melbourne supporter, you just watch him in awe,” he said.

“As we’ve said a lot in the last three or four weeks, he’s just done a power of work on himself.

“And the club have been incredibly supportive of Clayton, they’ve helped him in that process.

“He’s committed to it and he’s just come back a healthy, happy person that’s committed to his training and his team and we saw today evidence of that.

“Yep, there’s been a bit go on, but we’re in his corner and we’re behind him and we want to see him succeed.

“It’s emotional for us all because he’s such an important person to us.”

Goodwin admitted there had been doubts over whether Oliver would get back to his best but stressed he had bought into Melbourne’s plan to get him back on track.

“I think everyone had doubts. I’m probably sure Clayton had some doubts,” he said.

Oliver was well-supported by Christian Petracca (29 disposals) and Gawn (35 hitouts, eight clearances, 26 disposals).

Max Gawn and Tim English contest a ruck duel.
 Max Gawn was back to top form in an engrossing battle with Tim English (L). Image by Julian Smith/AAP PHOTOS 

Melbourne’s often-dysfunctional forward line looked dangerous with Kade Chandler (three goals), Jacob van Rooyen (three), Ben Brown (two), Kysaiah Pickett (two), and Alex Neal-Bullen (two) chipping in.

Bulldogs Marcus Bontempelli (25 touches and a goal), Tom Liberatore (32 disposals, nine clearances) and Adam Treloar (31 disposals) were typically prolific.

Key forward Jamarra Ugle-Hagan was lively but kicked 2.3.

Intriguingly, high-profile Bulldog Caleb Daniel was relegated to the substitute role, and replaced impressive first-round pick Ryley Sanders in the third term.

Christian Petracca.
 Christian Petracca served notice he was in for another impactful season for the Dees. Image by Julian Smith/AAP PHOTOS 

The Bulldogs burst out of the blocks but Melbourne settled and took the lead just before quarter-time.

Melbourne kept the Bulldogs at bay, then piled on the pain with a six-goal final term.

“We’ve obviously kicked some points at the start of the last quarter and were well in it,” coach Luke Beveridge said.

“And then for the margin to blow out by another five goals, and that’s really what we’ve spoken about post-game, is the most frustrating part.”

The Demons (1-1) play Hawthorn (0-1) at the MCG next Saturday while the Bulldogs (0-1) head to Ballarat to play Gold Coast (2-0) on Sunday.