Less than a year after it looked like he was going to unceremoniously leave the club, Greater Western Victoria Rebels product Tom McDonald has helped Melbourne win its first premiership in 57 years.
The former St Patrick's College student kicked two goals in the Dees' 74-point win against the Western Bulldogs to reach the highest peak of his 193-game career.
"I never thought I'd be here to be honest," McDonald said after the game.
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"We were a rabble. We finally turned it around and have now got a club we can proud of."
McDonald, originally from Edenhope, was drafted by Melbourne with pick 53 in 2010 and joined the club in a torrid period.
He played in nine wins in his first 39 games and the Demons didn't finish higher than 13th in McDonald's first five seasons.
A move to the forward line in 2018 proved revelatory.
McDonald kicked a club-high 58 goals in the season to help Melbourne reach a preliminary final.
The breakthrough saw McDonald sign a new four-season deal, but two lean years would follow.
A return of 18 goals from 15 games in 2019 kickstarted a descent which saw McDonald eventually fall out of favour midway through the 2020 season.
The forward played just nine games and was told by the club to explore his options in the trade period.
Hawthorn, Collingwood, and Essendon were all rumoured to be interested in McDonald, but nothing eventuated.
The outcasted Dee returned for pre-season training and became emblematic of the club's rapid rise.
McDonald worked his way back into the line-up for the season-opener and would not be disposed for 21 rounds, when he was sideline by a back injury.
The revitalised big man kicked 33 goals from 23 games this season while averaging 14 disposals.
The form saw McDonald sign a contract extension earlier in September that will keep him at the club until the end of 2024.
McDonald believed the Dees' drought-breaking premiership can be attributed to the work the club did during pre-season.
"There was a commitment to doing it right," he said.
"We saw a buy-in to culture and selflessness and work rates in off-season training. We got the results on the back of that."
McDonald's goal after the final siren firmly entrenched him in a special group of former St Patrick's students to have won an AFL premiership. The most recent inductees were Richmond's Daniel Rioli and his former teammate Daniel Butler.
McDonald also becomes the 14th former Rebel to win an AFL premiership. The Rebels have represented in the winning side in six of the past seven grand finals.
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