The Demons made their official return to the training track for 2019 on a sunny Saturday morning at Goschs Paddock with most of the interest initially centred on a small patch of ground in one of the pockets where the rehab group was going through the paces.
Some good pieces of news on that score. The rehab group is considerably smaller than it was prior to the Christmas break with Christian Petracca (knee), James Harmes (shoulder), Jayden Hunt (shoulder), Neville Jetta (shoulder), Oscar McDonald (hip) and Tim Smith (foot) all having fully recovered and training with the main group.
More good news. The remaining rehabbers were all training at a reasonable level leaving one to think that they all should be right for the opening of the season, with the exception of Jake Lever (knee) who might not be that far away by the end of March. Key midfielders Jack Viney (foot), Angus Brayshaw (back) and Clayton Oliver (shoulders) have been on modified training programmes but appear on target to return to full training in the next month along with Oskar Baker (hamstring, Mitch Hannan (knee), Billy Stretch (toe) and Aaron vandenBerg (shoulder). Nathan Jones was apparently troubled by hamstring tightness and took it easy with a bit of sparring practice and Jake Melksham was the only player missing (possibly because his wife is expecting a child any day now).
And after Friday’s shocking news of Tom Mitchell’s broken leg at Hawthorn’s training, the really good news was that nobody ended the session on crutches or in a moon boot. The story going round during the break of a renewal of Tom McDonald’s toe woes was just that - a tale with no substance. There’s a blister on a big toe but mine’s worse than his and it’s not going to stop me from being at the MCG on Saturday 23 March when the season starts with a game against Port Adelaide.
So with that game in mind, the attention turned to the blokes who were training their butts off in the warm-up to what promises a tough month or two heading up to the 2019 season.
I’ve tried to steer away from all of the media speculation about Melbourne being one of the top three in line for the premiership but the inescapable take away from the session is the observation that the maturing list now runs strong and deep in quality and the club’s recruiting appears to have added icing to the cake.
We are light years away from the position we occupied when Dave Misson arrived to find that the club’s fitness and training regime was well below the standards of most AFL clubs. We no longer need to go into raptures about young draftees stepping up to the plate for round one because that simply isn’t going to happen. The younger recruits will all be given plenty of time. However, there are three (perhaps four if you add former Collingwood VFL player Marty Hore) ready-made potential additions to the team who have arrived from other clubs to add strength to Melbourne’s 2019 campaign. The added depth will certainly put pressure on the veterans like Jones and Jordan Lewis - that sort of pressure being another plus for teams that want to go places in this tough competition.
The addition of another club’s captain to your list is something that doesn’t happen often so my first observation is that Steven May from the Suns looms as a significant addition to the ranks. That was made clear from my first sighting of him on the track - he cuts a very imposing figure out on the ground and one can’t escape the feeling that his move to Melbourne is one that will be a great one for his career and for the club. Imagine him and Jake Lever as additions to the defensive structure of the side that took part in last year’s finals. Imagine another revitalised former Sun in Kade Kolodjashnij and a fit and re-energised Jayden Hunt and/or Billy Stretch added to that mix tearing down the flanks or the wings.
At 206 cm and 109 kg Braydon Preuss is a big man and it’s hard to reconcile why North Melbourne let him go. True, Todd Goldstein had a good season last year and Ben Brown and Majak Daw (before his tragic issues) were considered adequate pinch hitters in the ruck but Preuss is a monster who promises to provide major headaches to opposing clubs that struggle now to counter Max Gawn. With the new rules coming in this season, pity their ruck divisions at centre bounces and pity the defences having to counter resting talls.
Speaking of pity, I want to go back to the rehab group for a moment and talk Jack Viney who set the tone for the rest of the players in this group with his steely determination and toughness. Back in the day, it was generally considered that being on the injured list gave players the opportunity to slack off a bit at training. Pity anyone with that view when Jack Viney’s around! Late in the session, he was doing repetitions around the boundary with Brayshaw and Lever and he attacked them with brutality. It was understandable that he was able to beat off the latter but, by the end, he had Angus gasping in his wake. Viney was restricted to only 10 of a possible 25 games due to those nagging foot injuries and was rarely able to play at his best when he was on the field. On that basis, you could almost consider a fully recovered Viney as a “recruit” in 2019.
The other players who impressed at training were 2018’s big improver James Harmes and the youngster who could take that improver’s mantle, Bayley Fritsch who seems to be relishing his first full AFL pre season.
Then there’s Christian Petracca. I’m looking for him to really break out this year.
Melbourne atoned for the heartbreak of its frustrating finish to the 2017 season by, at long last, making the finals and then disposed of two highly credentialed and experienced teams in Geelong and Hawthorn before it capitulated meekly to eventual premier West Coast in the Preliminary Final in Perth.
The club’s progression has been forward and upward since it finished 2013 with two wins and appointed Paul Roos as coach. The number has increased to four, seven, 10, 12, and now 14 games. The Demons made the finals for the first time in a dozen years and are now tracking for their first premiership in five and a half decades.
In the women’s game, the club’s second season of AFLW competition was dogged throughout by inaccuracy in front of goal causing it to again just miss out on grand final honours finishing third after losing 4.7.31 to 5.3.33 to rivals and eventual premiers, the Western Bulldogs in the final round. The Demons were well led by Daisy Pearce and had a star player in Karen Paxman. They will miss their skipper Pearce, who will be out of the forthcoming season on maternity leave - a first for the womens competition.
The Demons started their men’s campaign with a win in their section of the novelty AFLX competition, then won their two JLT Community Series games against North Melbourne in Hobart and St Kilda at Casey Fields, the latter in unconvincing fashion after building a big lead early.
The opening round AFL match against Geelong resulted in a disappointing loss after a missed shot from Max Gawn in the final thirty seconds ceded a 3 point loss. The club won its next two matches, again unconvincingly although their round 3 win against North Melbourne broke a long run of defeats going back over more than a decade. A poor game against Hawthorn and a final term collapse on Anzac Day Eve against the Tigers had Melbourne down with a 2 - 3 record.
The revival began against Essendon and continued over the ensuing weeks as the Demons stretched their winning run to six games culminating with big wins against Carlton and Adelaide at Alice Springs and a solid victory over the Bulldogs. At the halfway mark of the season they were challenging for a top four spot on 8 wins and 3 defeats. The improvement had come from the return of injured pair Tom McDonald and Angus Brayshaw, the dominance of Max Gawn in the ruck and the strong form of Clayton Oliver and the young midfield. Jesse Hogan was consistently in the goals.
Jake Lever who had taken a while to get his bearings but was solid during the six game winning spree sustained an ACL injury in round 11 and it took a while for the defence to recover from his loss, regroup and consolidate. In the interim, the experimentation in this area was partly the reason for a poor month that saw a three-game losing streak including a disappointing loss to lowly St. Kilda. Earlier defeats to Collingwood on Queens Birthday and away to Port Adelaide might have been expected but the loss to the Saints hit hard and possibly cost the team the coveted double chance.
Melbourne might have lost its star recruit, Lever, in midseason but the club did unearth two young players in Bailey Fritsch and Charlie Spargo who were both drafted in the 30s and established themselves as regulars for much of the year although they understandably ran out of steam a little at the end of the season.
The Demons regrouped after the slump. The back line steadied when Sam Frost returned to help the improving Oscar McDonald in a key defensive role but, after returning to the winning list against the Dockers in Darwin and the Bulldogs at the MCG, they suffered some disappointing losses involving an after-the-siren goal to Zach Tuohy in the return game against Geelong and a home upset against Sydney after some shocking inaccuracy in the first quarter and a half kept the Swans in the game. The injuries were mounting and the loss of Hogan at that point in time appeared devastating to a team that had yet to record a win against a top eight side.
All that changed dramatically over the next four games starting with the Eagles in Perth and followed with a big win over the Giants that saw Melbourne finish in fifth place with a percentage of 131%. Then followed the emotion of a return to finals football and sound victories against seasoned playoff teams in Geelong and Hawthorn in front of crowds that gave majority support to the perennial underdog buoyed by the return from injury of co-skipper Jack Viney and the emergence at last of young key forward Sam Weideman who more than amply filled Hogan’s shoes.
Not for the first time in the modern history of the club, the wall was hit out west. The Demons looked spent in the early moments of their preliminary final in Perth against West Coast and much like last year’s lapse at the final hurdle against Collingwood, this one game is likely to inhabit the players’ collective memory over the summer and into the new season.
Many players excelled and grew in 2018 and the depth of the club revealed itself when injuries struck. Max Gawn won the ‘Bluey’ Truscott’ medal and led an emerging midfield including the co-skippers Nathan Jones and Viney, a resurgent Angus Brayshaw (3rd in the Brownlow), Christian Petracca and Christian Salem and the incredibly improved James Harmes who stepped up several levels in the course of a season. The forward line was the best in the competition as many avenues were opened up to goals, breaking down only in that last final. The disappointment of that performance will surely act as a spur for even further improvement in 2019.
That improvement is expected to come from a defence bolstered by the recruitment of former Gold Coast skipper Steven May and the expected return of Jake Lever in the first month or so of the season. They join some solid performers in defence including Michael Hibberd and the indefatigable Neville Jetta - a star both on and off the field.
The Demons also picked up a handy defender from the Suns in Kade Kolodjashnij and a big ruck back up for All-Australian ruckman Gawn in Braydon Preuss. The club drafted a bevy of youngsters who will all take time to develop at Casey.
Melbourne farewelled Jesse Hogan, Dom Tyson and Dean Kent to other clubs via trades and Tom Bugg found a new home through the draft. Former club champion Bernie Vince retired late in the season after a meritorious 100 game career at his second club. Vince will not be entirely lost to the Demons as he has returned to the club in a part-time leadership and ambassadorial role for 2019.
The loss that will hurt deeply is that of retiring CEO Peter Jackson who has overseen the six year progression from a team that won only two games in 2013 to become a preliminary finalist in 2018. Gary Pert has stepped into the breach to finish the task of leading the club to the promised land and a premiership.
It was an eerie feeling, like floating on air high above the events taking place on the ground below. This was the New Draft, a two day festival of little importance to Melbourne supporters on the first night and seemingly, of little consequence on the following day. It was as if we were the bystanders of the 2018 AFL National Draft.
From the time the Demons traded away their first round selection in this year’s event as part of the deal to secure Jake Lever more than 12 months ago, it was always likely to turn out this way. A little over a month ago, the club held picks 36, 46, 54, 62 and 65 which, once transposed into a world of potential priority picks and father-son and academy bidders, meant that its first choice would be pushing close to a pick near number fifty. It was akin to leaving you standing three city blocks away from Marvel Stadium and well outside the Jack Lukosious zone in draft night calculations. Even when the trades improved things somewhat marginally to a starting point of 23 and 28 (eventually 27 and 33), it meant you had just moved from William Street to King Street but the entrance to the venue was still on the distant horizon.
It was probably just as well that we were that far away because opening night was excruciatingly painful, producing a clumsy and almost unwatchable production compared with the American counterparts in the NFL and NBA which it shamelessly sought to emulate. Gillon McLachlan produced a fitting highlight when he pounced onto centre stage only to discover he had nothing to announce despite the sounding of all the bells and whistles but for us - nothing. Not even the prospect of a live trade managed to keep us in the game.
When the show was over, Sam Walsh, the precocious Croweaters, the King brothers (we drafted the wrong big Max King a few years ago) and a bevy of others were gone. The Swans pulled a swifty trade to get a great deal for their next academy sensation and the Blues did nicely to steal the 2018 Morrish Medallist from the Tigers. Those who were previously uninformed of the new format were left baffled and confused that the Demons weren’t selecting on the night.
By the rising of the sun on day two, we were virtually on the promenade at Marvel Stadium, hoping for a little action now that we were a matter of a few picks away from pole position. The AFL had sneakily changed the starting time from 10.00am to noon but even then we were hardly bashing down the doors to get in despite the dreary conditions outside. But when the draft restarted, we somehow remained the bystanders.
The months (and for some, the years) of following potential draftees, the national championships, junior competitions, TAC Cup finals, draft combines, phantom drafts, power rankings, teams of the year and the late speculation all flashed past our eyes to produce ... on the face of it ... not a great deal. On top of that, there were no bolters, no All-Australian sliders who somehow mysteriously drifted into our laps, nor even any players finding their way to us from a list of so-called hidden gems” that was floating about.
In the end, Melbourne took an inside midfielder in South Australian Tom Sparrow with pick 27 after making an unsuccessful bid for the Bulldog’s father-son prospect Rhylee West. Then came a real bolter in Oakleigh Charger James Jordon at 33, another South Australian, Aaron Nitschke, at 53 and a mature aged defender in Collingwood VFL’s Marty Hore with 56. If there was any icing on the cake, it came when the club was not required to bid for Next Generation Academy dasher Toby Bedford who was taken late at pick 75. The return to type came with the selection of Kade Chandler in the rookie draft.
I should make it clear that this is not a criticism of the selection decisions but rather I’m pointing to the low profiles of those picked. As with any draft decision made, the proof of their value is never determined on the night but well down the track, often years into the future.
The apparent left-of-centre approach to the draft may well pay dividends in the future for a club with a young team on the ascent - the players selected are not shrinking violets. They are all aggressive ball-winners known for their relentless attack on the football. In that respect, none of them are bystanders.
There are some truly endearing memories that I have of the Kid, one or two of them off the ground and others on the field of play.
It seemed to me that at every club function I attended, one of the constants was the sight of the much-loved Colin Sylvia, face smiling and friendly, surrounded by admirers, young and old, male and female. There was the promotional clip (Foxtel, I think) with Colin in the locker room beside skipper David Neitz draped in towels and joking. It was as if, from the very beginning, the new boy on the block was being typecast as a larrikin, albeit a lovable one who, in our hopes, would one day become a hero.
And that was the problem for the recruit from Merbein which, during my childhood produced another star Demon in Hassa Mann, a shy country lad who went on to captain the club, played in a few premierships and was a solid citizen off the field. The new kid from Merbein simply kept getting into trouble.
There were problems with a girlfriend, he broke team curfews, missed the odd recovery session, left the scene of a car accident (it’s unclear if he was the driver). He was often in the wrong place and the wrong condition at the wrong time but we all still loved him. After all, he was going to be our hero.
On the field, he was something else. The first time I saw him was in a practice match for Melbourne’s then affiliate Sandringham, at the Beach Road Oval, ironically named after another blond larrikan Trevor Barker who also passed at far too young and age but from cancer. There was one brief moment that defined Sylvia’s potential as a contender when he gathered the ball near the centre, swiveled past an opponent and barreled the ball from 70 metres out. Years later when I recalled that piece of play with him at a club best and fairest night, he laughed and said he remembered it but thought the kick was “from closer to 80 metres out”.
It took a year or so to get his career going and it built slowly but surely within a few years during which time he grew in stature to the point that it wasn’t necessary to call him by his surname. He was Colin and we loved him.
The tough break for Colin was that Melbourne went into decline just as he was approaching his prime. Most supporters would agree that his best game came on Sunday, 24 May, 2009 on the MCG in front of almost 40,000 fans against Hawthorn when he amassed 24 kicks, 13 handballs, 9 marks and 4 goals that were just not enough to get the Demons across the line.
He continued to play good football for the year despite the fact that the club was regularly accused of tanking its matches and again into 2010 but at around that time, the injuries in the form of groin and shoulder problems came, the team was performing miserably as the veterans left while other young saviours who were replacing them struggled.
The contender was also struggling to live up to his potential status as a hero; he was failing and the fun had gone. After 157 games and 129 goals, the Kid departed for Fremantle at the end of 2013.
Things didn’t work out in the West and, amid ongoing controversy about his attitude and behaviour under Ross Lyon, Colin managed six more games that were mostly unremarkable. Career over before his 29th birthday with life after football bringing further challenges for a young man who found retirement from the game at its top level a tough gig.
Colin was working to get his life on track when his car collided with another vehicle last Sunday afternoon at the intersection of Nineteenth Street and Benetook Avenue in the Mildura suburb of Irymple. He died on the scene and will be buried today.
We loved him to death - our deepest sympathies go to his family.
“I'm the kid who has this habit of dreaming
Sometimes gets me in trouble too
But the truth is I could no more stop dreaming
Than I could make them all come true”
- Buddy Mondlock
PART TWO - NO CHOICE
There was a time before he even played a single game at AFL level that Jesse Hogan was regarded as the player who would lift Melbourne from the bottom of the ladder. He’s been at the club since he was selected in the 2012 mini-draft but circumstances caused him to wait two seasons before making his AFL debut. He achieved Rising Star status in 2015, kicked more than 40 goals in three of his four seasons, had his disappointments with injuries, illness and personal issues with the loss of his father and yet, Hogan the Saviour seemed forever absent for the club’s most triumphant moments.
Hogan is now a Docker after the Demons traded him for national draft picks 6 and 23 on the final day of the AFL's trade period. This is despite the fact that he was contracted to Melbourne for 2019 and would have earned good money. There’s no doubting his quality as a footballer but he wanted to go home and the likelihood remained high that he might be gone after another season filled with unwelcome distractions of an uncertain future at the club. And not for the first time.
When expectations are high for the future after making it to a Preliminary Final, full commitment to the cause beyond the now is paramount. In the end, there was no choice.
Moving on to the future, the three players introduced to the Melbourne Football Club have the attributes of commitment, willingness to work hard and the ability to fill needs. Former Gold Coast co-captain Steven May, a hard-at-it defender has a five year contract. The skillful Kade Kolodjashnij who brings run and carry to the table and mature ruckman Braydon Preuss both join the club with three year deals.
There is no certainty in the business of sport but Melbourne appears to have done well in a trade period that also saw it upgrade its draft position to a point where it now has two picks in the 20s. There is still a lot to do at the draft table, some rookie upgrades and possible acquisition of delisted free agents to fill the eight vacant places on the club’s lists.
Where does this all leave the Melbourne Football Club?
Age journalist Peter Ryan summed up the Demons’ trade period in At a glance: Assessing each club's 2018 AFL trade period when he wrote
“At a glance: Going for the flag”.
Of course, it’s too early to make a reasoned analysis of the trade period because the outcome is never determined in the moment. Time will tell for all clubs and in 2018 there were so many different agendas and strategies. There were clubs that used it to dump the burden of high salaries, some wanted better draft position while others aimed to fulfill certain needs. In the end 42 players changed clubs by way of trades but by draft time at the end of November, there will be many more new faces at every club.
The completed trades - Trade Tracker
PART ONE - BETWEEN RUCKS AND HARD PLACES
Melbourne has been rather pragmatic in its approach to the off season Free Agency and Trade period. After methodically releasing a larger than usual number of players through delistings, it has also traded away a couple of others who it clearly regards as being surplus to the requirements of team focused on a top four finish in 2019 and to this date, acquired a big ruckman to accompany its All Australian Max Gawn in that campaign.
The Demons’ lists have undergone a major refit since the final siren sounded on Preliminary Final day. At that point, we knew of the retirements of Harley Balic and Bernie Vince and soon after the announcements came of Tom Bugg, Dion Johnstone, Mitch King, Pat McKenna and Cam Pedersen and rookie Lachie Filipovic. On Friday, the trades of Dean Kent (to St Kilda) and Dom Tyson (North Melbourne) were signed off, bringing the number of departures to double figures.
The Kangaroos traded Brayden Preuss to the Demons to give Melbourne the competition’s most potent ruck combination.
If things were going well for Melbourne’s football manager Josh Mahoney, they certainly went sour with the news late on Friday that Fremantle had withdrawn its interest in securing forward Jesse Hogan by way of a trade. The decision threw the Demons’ plans of securing Gold Coast defender Steven May along with a raft of other potential trades depending on the outcome of those deals.
The Dockers have been chasing WA native Hogan for some four years and last week they paraded him through their headquarters. After it was announced that Hogan had passed his medical, it was thought to be a formality that a trade would be arranged after the obligatory bargaining period.
Fremantle General Manager of Football, Peter Bell, just two weeks into the job, announced -
“We have been undertaking a due diligence process as part of a possible trade to secure Jesse Hogan.
“As part of that process, we have had discussions with Jesse, the player’s management and Melbourne.
“While discussions were proceeding it became clear that what Melbourne would be seeking for a trade would not be possible for our club to meet.
“As such, we have informed Melbourne and Jesse’s management that we will not be continuing further with the due diligence process.”
This was Bell’s reaction to Melbourne’s refusal to accept his club’s offer of National Draft Pick 11 and a future second-round pick with the Demons expecting two early selections including # 5 that the Dockers would be expecting in a deal with Brisbane for Lachie Neale (Bell is reportedly expecting two first round picks).
The reaction might have come as a surprise but it needs to be looked at in the context of what is happening at the very top at the Fremantle Football Club. In August, its list manager Brad Lloyd departed for Carlton and the task of dealing with the free agency and trading was taken over by CEO Steve Rosich in concert with Bell after his appointment. They are certainly doing things differently in a trade period during which all of the other clubs have been businesslike in their approach — the Freo pair’s dealings over Hogan, Rory Lobb, Neale and a clumsy approach to Geelong’s Tim Kelly who wants to go to the Eagles have raised scorn and disdain throughout the football fraternity and their own fans aren’t happy either!
This has left Hogan back with the Demons for the time being as he plays out the final year of his contract in 2019 (unless the Dockers have a change of heart in the next few days). Mahoney has made it clear that the club is not in a position to follow up a trade for May without completing a deal for Hogan.
The bonus for the club however, is that it can go into the pre season with a quality key position forward approaching the prime of his career while the team is in the premiership window. Meanwhile, at the other end of the continent, the Dockers are likely to languish, living with a dysfunctional recruiting structure and scorned by the rest of the football community. Good luck with that!
Docker shocker as Freo pull pin on Hogan pursuit
This is the full list of trades after five days:
• Reece Conca joined Fremantle as a free agent. The Tigers don't get any compensation.
• Richmond signed Tom Lynch as a restricted free agent. Gold Coast opted not to match the offer. The Suns got pick No.3 as compensation.
• Luke Dahlhaus joined Geelong as an unrestricted free agent. The Western Bulldogs got a round two pick as compensation (No.27).
• Scott Lycett joined Port Adelaide as a restricted free agent after the Eagles decided not to match Port's offer. Port got pick 20 as compensation.
• The Cats traded Lincoln McCarthy, pick 55 and pick 58 to the Lions. In return, the Lions sent over picks 43 and 61.
• Richmond sent Corey Ellis, Anthony Miles and a future third round pick to the Suns for a future third round pick.
• The Blues used one of their special assistant pre-draft picks to send Nathan Kreuger to Geelong in exchange for pick 43.
• The Lions and the Suns did a pick swap. Brisbane ended up with 32, 41, 44 and 77. Gold Coast got 24, 58 and 79.
• Mitch McGovern and a future third round pick made their way from Adelaide to Carlton. Carlton sent back Shane McAdam (their second pre-draft special assistance pick) and a future fifth round pick.
• Sydney sent pick 13 to the Crows. In return, they got pick 40. They also got picks 26 and 28 from Carlton.
• Jared Polec and Jasper Pittard moved to North Melbourne from Port Adelaide. Also sent over: pick 48. In return, Power received pick 11 and a future fourth round pick.
• Sydney's Gary Rohan was traded to Geelong for pick 61.
• The Swans sent pick 61 to North Melbourne in exchange for Ryan Clarke.
• St Kilda traded Tom Hickey, pick 60 and a future fourth rounder to the Eagles. In return, the Saints got pick 39 and a future fourth round pick.
• Alex Fasolo joined Carlton as an unrestricted free agent. Collingwood got pick 57 as compensation.
• Gold Coast signed Josh Corbett (Werribee) and Chris Burgess ( West Adelaide) as two of their special assistance picks.
• Port Adelaide and Fremantle swapped picks: Power got pick six and a future third round selection, and sent picks 11, 23, 30 and 49 to the Dockers.
• Sydney Swans have traded Dan Hannebery and its Rd 2 selection, currently number 28 (on traded from Carlton) to St Kilda for its Rd 2 selection, currently selection number 39 (on traded from West Coast), and its Future Round Two Selection.
• Melbourne have traded Dean Kent to St Kilda for its Rd 4 selection, currently selection number 65.
• Melbourne have traded Dom Tyson to North Melbourne for Brayden Preuss and its Rd 4 selection, currently selection number 62 (on traded from the Sydney Swans).
• GWS Giants have traded Will Setterfield and its Rd 4 (71), to Carlton for its Rd 3 (43), and Future Round Two Selection.
PART 1 - UPHEAVAL AND CHANGE
Every year, as soon as the grand final siren sounds, the 18 AFL clubs enter into a new season that lasts for two months and ends in the drafts. This is the time of transition and sometimes upheaval for the clubs as their lists change in the hope for each of them that they can regenerate their lists to the point where they can challenge for a premiership flag. The official proceedings start today with the opening of the restricted free agency offer and unrestricted free agency period starts and on Monday, the NAB AFL Trade Period kicks off.
The coming off season of change is looming large at the Melbourne Football Club in comparison with last year when the club farewelled only six senior list players (including one, Heritier Lumumba, who had retired before that season even began) and one rookie. Their replacements came via trades and the draft, leaving the 2018 Melbourne Football Club player list (with new players in italics) as follows -
Oskar Baker Harley Balic Angus Brayshaw Tomas Bugg Bayley Fritsch Sam Frost Jeff Garlett Max Gawn Mitch Hannan James Harmes Michael Hibberd Jesse Hogan Jayden Hunt Neville Jetta Dion Johnstone Nathan Jones Jay Kennedy Harris Dean Kent Mitch King Jake Lever Jordan Lewis Oscar McDonald Tom McDonald Pat McKenna Jake Melksham Alex Neal-Bullen Clayton Oliver Cameron Pedersen Christian Petracca Harrison Petty Christian Salem Charlie Spargo Joel Smith Billy Stretch Dom Tyson Aaron vandenBerg Bernie Vince Jack Viney Josh Wagner Sam Weideman
ROOKIE LIST: CATEGORY A
Lachlan Filipovic Declan Keilty Corey Maynard Tim Smith
As in the past, the process has been going on for months and even longer in the case of the assessment of younger talent. The 18 clubs have all been working feverishly looking for potential trades and for which some players on their lists are moved on.
The Demons have already added two Category B rookies who will shortly commence their apprenticeships at the club.
The changes were being foreshadowed even before season’s end when two Demons - Harley Balic and Bernie Vince - had also announced their retirements.
The floodgates were opened almost as soon as the final siren sounded at Optus Stadium on Preliminary Final day. The first delistings included Tom Bugg, Mitch King, Pat McKenna and Cam Pedersen, who announced his retirement, and rookie Lachie Filipovic. Yesterday, Dion Johnstone was added to that group.
Then there are those being mentioned in despatches as being on the trade table from Dean Kent who almost has his foot in the door at St Kilda, to Jesse Hogan, seemingly bound for Fremantle delisted) and others such as Dom Tyson and Aaron vandenBerg said to be exploring options for various reasons. This means a potential of a dozen new faces including names such as May, Kolodjashnij, Preuss and many more in the club’s new period of upheaval and change ...
The Casey Demons led the 2018 Grand Final from the beginning until the 13 minute mark of the final quarter of the VFL Grand Final at Etihad Stadium on Sunday afternoon but were overrun in the finish by the Box Hill Hawks. The defeat was the team’s second in a season-decider in three seasons and marked yet another heartbreaking climax to a year of many highlights for the club.
The Demons had opened the game in promising fashion moving the ball with great speed and converted four times to take a 25 point lead in the early going. They were ferocious with their tackling with 20 in the first term alone and by half time had shown up the effort of their senior counterparts by exceeding their total tally of tackles from the day before.
Casey dominated proceedings in most facets of the game for almost all of the opening half but some crucial shots at goal from easy range. One of the few statistics where they were bested was the free kick count - one of the factors that seemed to keep the Hawks in the game. When the siren sounded to signal the start of the long break the Demons led by 23 points but an after-the-siren goal to Box Hill reduced the lead and gave the Hawks great hope leading into the final half.
The rejuvenated Hawks lifted their game after the break and they gradually clawed back at Casey’s lead, assisted by their complete dominance in the ruck where they smashed the undersized Casey ruck division through the agency of Pittonet who amassed an enormous 57 hit outs and took 7 big marks. This division has been problematic for the Demons all season and was exacerbated of late by the poor form of Mitch King who was not selected for the finals and the injury to young Lachie Filipovic. In their stead, Cam Pedersen, Tim Smith and Mykelti Lefau who were gallant in the preliminary final, simply struggled this week.
And so, when it came to the final term of the biggest match of the season, Casey faltered and was unable to produce one of those stirring finishes that got it through a number of the 12 consecutive victories of earlier in the season. Some of its name players were unable to produce: there were far too many passengers and a number will no doubt be forced to look elsewhere in 2019.
Bayley Fritsch was an exception. He provided plenty of run off the back line and showed great application and heart to prove the judgement of the senior Demon selection panel off key when they omitted him from the team that went to Perth.
The defensive work of Declan Keilty and Harry Petty was excellent in the first half and both have potential as key position defenders. Bernie Vince was solid and creative in his swan song game and Tom Bugg worked hard for four quarters.
The Casey listed crew were mainly underwhelming. Corey Wagner worked hard as did Jay Lockhart while Jimmy Munro tackled strongly as usual. Unfortunately, they weren’t as effective or consistent as they have been for most of the season.
The scoreboard when the final siren sounded heralded yet another disappointment in the Demons’ Heartbreak Weekend.
There’s always next year.
Peter Jackson VFL 2018
Casey Demons 4.4.28 5.9.39 8.11.59 8.14.62
Box Hill Hawks 1.1.7 3.4.22 7.8.50 10.12.72
Casey Demons Bugg Kennedy-Harris Lefau Lockhart Machaya Pedersen Scott T Smith
Box Hill Hawks Moore 3 Jones Hanrahan Lovell Moore O'Brien O'Rourke Ross
Casey Demons Fritsch C Wagner Petty Keilty Vince Bugg
Box Hill Hawks Mirra Moore Pittonet Hanrahan Cousins O'Brien
Tomas Bugg 1 goal 15 kicks 9 handballs 24 disposals 5 marks 7 tackles 114 dream team points
Tom Freeman 10 kicks 4 handballs 14 disposals 4 marks 4 tackles 67 dream team points
Bayley Fritsch 1 behind 13 kicks 7 handballs 20 disposals 8 marks 1 tackle 83 dream team points
Jeffrey Garlett 1 behind 3 kicks 2 handballs 5 disposals 2 marks 3 tackles 27 dream team points
Mitch Gent 4 kicks 4 handballs 8 disposals 1 mark 3 tackles 36 dream team points
Jayden Hunt 7 kicks 5 handballs 12 disposals 4 marks 3 tackles 33 dream team points
Jack Hutchins 2 kicks 3 handballs 5 disposals 2 marks 1 tackle 22 dream team points
Declan Keilty 7 kicks 6 handballs 13 disposals 3 marks 5 tackles 53 dream team points
Jay Kennedy Harris 1 goals 1 behind 13 kicks 5 handballs 18 disposals 3 marks 6 tackles 89 dream team points
Mykelti Lefau 1 goal 4 kicks 2 handballs 6 disposals 4 marks 1 tackles 6 hit outs 32 dream team points
Jay Lockhart 1 goals 1 behind 10 kicks 3 handballs 13 disposals 4 marks 3 tackles 61 dream team points
Pat McKenna 1 behind 2 kicks 1 handball 3 disposals 1 mark 1 tackle 17 dream team points
Cory Machaya 1 goal 1 behind 5 kicks 5 handballs 10 disposals 5 marks 3 tackles 53 dream team points
James Munro 1 behind 5 kicks 6 handballs 11 disposals 2 marks 12 tackles 78 dream team points
Cameron Pedersen 1 goal 7 kicks 3 handballs 10 disposals 4 marks 5 tackles 12 hit outs 72 dream team points
Harry Petty 5 kicks 7 handballs 12 disposals 5 marks 42 dream team points
Angus Scott 1 goal 6 kicks 3 handballs 9 disposals 5 marks 4 tackles 62 dream team points
Tim Smith 1 goals 1 behind 11 kicks 5 handballs 16 disposals 4 marks 7 tackles 6 hit outs 95 dream team points
Cory Stockdale 2 kicks 1 handballs 3 disposals 2 tackles 10 dream team points
Bernie Vince 3 behinds 18 kicks 1 handballs 19 disposals 4 marks 7 tackles 99 dream team points
Corey Wagner 1 behind 15 kicks 6 handballs 21 disposals 2 marks 7 tackles 87 dream team points
Josh Wagner 8 kicks 6 handballs 14 disposals 4 marks 3 tackles 61 dream team points
Mitch White 9 kicks 5 handballs 14 disposals 4 marks 3 tackles 59 dream team points
This was the first finals series the Melbourne Football Club has participated in a dozen years and its first Preliminary Final for 18. The club got here in 2018 because it built its reputation on contest, but in the end the game against West Coast was no contest as the Eagles ran out winners by over ten goals.
The match itself was really over by quarter time, as the young Demons were simply swamped by a side that was bigger, stronger and ultimately had more intent on achieving its goal.
The game, while disappointing from an outcome perspective, should motivate the Demons in the same way that the Round 22 match against Collingwood did last year. It was what finals football was all about and while they had performed admirably in winning their past 2 matches to progress to the Preliminary, this was when things got serious.
Melbourne was exposed in the same way that Richmond was exposed on Friday night because, to get into the Big Dance, you cannot afford to come into any game half-hearted, injured or with stop gap players.
Right from the start the Demons were in trouble, with errant handballs and players slipping constantly at critical moments. While West Coast scored four goals to zip in the first quarter, three of those came directly from Melbourne turnovers. Coupled with some undisciplined acts from Jordan Lewis, the momentum that a young team relied upon to forge forward was completely and utterly deflated.
It didn’t get any better in the second quarter and by half time the Eagles held a ten goal lead, which was to be the final margin. The coach would have been fuming as he watched Melbourne revert to the old style of play of standing back and expecting others to do the work. I heard it mentioned that the Demons had only three tackles to ¼ time and a paltry 30 odd for the whole game - a poor result from a side that prides itself on contest.
Statistics lovers would think Angus Brayshaw played a good game. But stumbles, fumbles and miskicks don’t get recorded. The stat which did get recorded was the eight clangers. The fact that he wasn’t on the ground for a majority of the third term indicates that something was wrong with him, and his grunt and surety was missed, despite the numbers.
All around the ground, we were seeing structures which were not what had been seen in past weeks or months. Tom McDonald was playing back, Aaron vndenBerg almost full time in the middle, Joel Smith supposedly selected as a backman spent most of the game forward. When players are being thrown around like this, it can only mean that an attempt is being made to fill gaps.
The result is the was little in the way of forward structure, but then the ball didn’t get down there until the second half of the game, and even then there was no genuine marking target. How we would have relished Jesse Hogan in front of goal - perhaps next year?
The mids were simply destroyed, not from the clearances, but by the outside run which enabled them to deliver cleanly to their forwards in Darling, Kennedy, Cripps and LeCras. As mentioned last week, when we have Jones and Tyson on the wing, there is no run for us, but importantly, they cannot keep up with the opposition. Then with Alex Neal-Bullen able to just hit 50% disposal efficiency, it showed that even when we had the ball, we simply butchered it.
The forwards had a shocker of a day as well. Without T McDonald there to provide a target for good parts of the game, the likes of Melksham, Hannan and Spargo rarely had a viable touch, with all of them barely into double figure disposals. Sam Weideman reverted to being unable to hold a mark this week, and Christian Petracca kept trying to give the ball off to others when inside 30m himself. His set shots were nothing to behold again. Plenty of work needs to be done for him in this area over summer.
The backs were overwhelmed by the amount of ball coming in, but the lack of composure was telling, especially compared with their work-rate last week. Sadly, Oscar McDonald and Michael Hibberd failed to effect a single tackle, Sam Frost, Lewis and Christian Salem one each. Neville Jetta at least had three.
The mids weren’t much better and their numbers were mostly twos and threes. Overall there were seven players who didn’t lay a single tackle in the game. Simply not good enough in any game, let alone a Preliminary Final.
Can the Demons learn from this game? The coach has already indicated that contest is king and that is particularly the case in Finals, especially when you get to the pointy end. The fans can be proud and happy with the performance during the season, and have seen the results following years of promises and nothing to show but there has to be more.
And there is much more improvement to come, simply because the majority of this group is still young. They came up against a side on its home turf which played in a Grand Final just three years ago, finished the home and away season in second spot and were handed (and took) the initiative in the first ten minutes of the game. They deserve to be Grand Finalists again this year, but we must learn to perform to the standard required to get to the final stage, that they displayed in this game ... an in particular, to always provide a contest.
I just can’t wait for the cricket and tennis to be over ...
Melbourne 0.3.3 0.6.6 5.9.39 7.13.55
West Coast Eagles 4.8.32 10.9.69 15.10.100 18.13.121
Melbourne Melksham 2 Hannan Harmes Oliver J Smith Weideman
West Coast Eagles Kennedy 4 Cripps Darling LeCras 3, Hutchings Redden Rioli Ryan Venables
Melbourne Harmes Oliver vandenBerg Petracca J Smith Viney
West Coast Eagles Kennedy Redden Cripps Hurn McGovern Sheed LeCras
West Coast Eagles Nil
West Coast Eagles Nil
Umpires Nicholls, Meredith, Chamberlain
Official crowd 59,608 at Optus Stadium