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IN THE BUNKER

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IN THE BUNKER by the Oracle

Last week Melbourne travelled interstate for the second time this year and it returned home once again in disgrace - a loser by a margin in excess of 100 points.

Make no mistake about it. Despite the protestations of all and sundry, the club is on the rack. Intense media scrutiny now follows the embattled Demons to the point where every move made by the club is analysed and subjected to critical assessment. Things reached such a state this week that coach Mark Neeld implored Demon fans to stick fat and join him in the bunker.

One scribe looked at the appointment of Neeld and opined that the failure of those charged with making the appointment to carry out a "psychological profile" of the man was evidence of some damning failure of judgement on their part. Some are calling for heads to be lopped off. And don't you love these pundits in the media like David King who question Neeld's appointment today but were deathly silent six or seven months ago when he was appointed? Which is probably why King (whose last big statement came during last year's finals when he declared Geelong would not win the flag) never made it beyond a very mediocre assistant coach at AFL level.

I also wonder when I read some of this stuff in the media as to whether Ron Barassi, Kevin Sheedy or Mick Malthouse would have passed the psychological profile test. I recall the early days of Alastair Clarkson's coaching reign at Hawthorn and think of the massive criticism directed at the man who was under siege at the time when his team was being flogged on a weekly basis. They were calling him a coaching lightweight and baying for his blood. And it wasn't just his blood - it was the players, the board, the administration and someone might even have taken a stab at the bootstudder.

But Clarkson promised to change his club and eventually, he delivered on that promise.

All in good time.

Mark Neeld also made a similar promise but gave no guarantees as to how much time it would take to effect change. Of course, no one expected to see the team sitting at 0/8 and none of this is to take away from the fact that the team's performances this season have been well below that which we expect from an AFL outfit five years into what is supposed to be a rebuild.

There are players, senior to the club whose performances thus far have been frustratingly lifeless and devoid of passion. They need to lift or else they might find that their careers will end swiftly in a very short space of time. Perhaps, they've already seen the writing on the wall.

There are many changes happening on the AFL scene these days and recent history indicates that clubs can rise quickly once they get themselves on the right track. West Coast came from last to a top four side in 2011. The Crows who languished near the bottom last year are currently the flavour of the month.

It might be a bitter pill to swallow for supporters seeing their team languishing at rock bottom (if we've in fact reached that point yet) but Melbourne will not remain in this position forever.

Coincidentally, the Demons face Carlton at the MCG this Sunday. The same opposition it played in August last year just a week after they were disgraced by Geelong in the game that saw the sacking of Dean Bailey amid the turmoil of a dreadful 186 point loss. We can't expect miracles to happen this time around but we must remain steadfast and give the coach the time necessary to bring about the changes he promised.

The media loves such situations but for the time being, we need to be calm and remain bunkered down with the coach and I'll happily join him in the trenches as soon as he produces the results of his psychological profile tests. Anyway, now is not the time to be baying for anyone's blood.

THE GAME

Melbourne v Carlton at the MCG - Saturday 27 May, 2012 at 3.15pm

HEAD TO HEAD

Overall Carlton 115 wins 2 draws Melbourne 88 wins

At MCG Carlton 47 wins Melbourne 49 wins

Since 2000 Carlton 9 wins Melbourne 8 wins

The Coaches Ratten 0 wins Neeld 0 wins

MEDIA

TV - Fox Footy Channel live @ 3:00pm.

Radio - 3AW Triple M

THE BETTING

Carlton to win $1.04 Melbourne to win $11.00

THE LAST TIME THEY MET

Carlton 21.8.134 defeated Melbourne 7.16.58 at the MCG, Round 20 , 2011

It was the week after 186 and Dean Bailey was gone. Club legend Todd Viney took over as caretaker coach and immediately there was new fire in the team's belly as it went on the attack from the outset. The problem was that the Demons left their kicking boots at home and kept missing easy shots in front of goal. With a little over two minutes left in the first term, the scoreboard read:

Melbourne 3.6.24 Carlton 3.1.19.

Then a series of errors brought on by inexperience and a couple of umpiring bloopers gave the Blues three quick goals and swung the game's momentum.

Chris Judd then took the game by the scruff of the neck and Carlton's class and superior ability gave them a further eight unanswered goals in the second quarter. The Demons worked hard in the last half but the loss of Tapscott (neck) and Strauss (broken leg) simply added to their woes.

TEAMS

CARLTON

Backs Zac Tuohy Michael Jamison Aaron Joseph

Half backs Bryce Gibbs Lachlan Henderson Chris Yarran

Centreline Kade Simpson Chris Judd Heath Scotland

Half forwards Dennis Armfield Matthew Kreuzer Andrew Walker

Forwards Eddie Betts Shaun Hampson Jeff Garlett

Followers Robert Warnock Mitch Robinson Brock McLean

Interchange (from) Josh Bootsma Paul Bower Andrew Collins Ed Curnow David Ellard Kane Lucas Matthew Watson

In Josh Bootsma Andrew Collins Aaron Joseph Kane Lucas Brock McLean Robert Warnock Matthew Watson

Out  Nick Duigan (calf) Marc Murphy (shoulder) Bret Thornton Jordan Russell

MELBOURNE

Backs James Frawley Jared Rivers Clint Bartram

Half backs Jack Grimes Colin Garland Tom McDonald

Centreline Rohan Bail Brent Moloney Sam Blease

Half forwards Jack Trengove Jack Watts Brad Green

Forwards Jeremy Howe Mitch Clark James Sellar

Followers Mark Jamar Lynden Dunn Nathan Jones

Interchange (from) Jamie Bennell Jordie McKenzie James Magner Dan Nicholson James Sellar

Emergencies Troy Davis Joel Macdonald Luke Tapscott

In Rohan Bail Lynden Dunn Dan Nicholson James Sellar

Out Aaron Davey Liam Jurrah (ankle) Cale Morton Colin Sylvia

BRUISE FREE REVISITED

The two combatants were comprehensively beaten at their last start but, while there's been some pressure on Brett Ratten whose team was on the cusp of premiership favouritism a fortnight ago, it's been Mark Neeld who has been copping most of the flak from the media. 

However, it's Neeld who only eight matches ago took over a fairly young list with a tough fixture and major problems including injury woes on the field and substantial issues off it. Who would have thought six months ago that his two major playmakers Liam Jurrah (criminal case, wrist and ankle injury) and Colin Sylvia (back) would not kick a goal between them in the first eight rounds and be restricted to a total of five matches with severely limited game time? 

Let's not forget what it was that Neeld took over. A struggling side whose last coach (excluding Viney the caretaker) won just over a quarter of his games culminating in 186 after almost four years, with the same media heads claiming he was unfairly treated when ousted.

Yet this team was notorious for its inability to handle the press and when it played against teams that employed that style of play, it would routinely get thumped. Take this week's opponent and remember the "bruise-free" game of round 10 last year. Those of us who witnessed that monstrosity of a game would be well aware of the enormity of the challenge facing a new coach charged with overturning the mindset within a team that produced such a performance.

Can you overcome that in two months when there is so much else of a negative nature swirling in the background? 

I suppose you could do exactly that. You could make no changes to your game plan and continue on exactly as the previous coach did in the past and, given the personnel available, you might be sitting at 2/6 or, if you were really lucky, 3/5 but, in truth, you would really be going nowhere. 

Your old guard who have become inured to producing inconsistency and tend towards laziness would continue on that well worn track. They would smile when they win and smile when  they lose. They would be bruise free. Defeat would not only leave you physically painless. It wouldn't hurt you in any way whatsoever and, while that happens, you're never going to get anywhere in the long run. 

By round nine when you come up against Carlton you'll probably play bruise-free football again. You'll get flogged and the experts will bash you anyway.

And that's the point. Mark Neeld saw the problems he inherited and embarked on a programme he believed necessary to overcome them. He wanted a team that was going to be hard to beat and not easy to win against.

Neeld made mistakes in the short term but some of the circumstances conspired to make more difficult the metamorphosis from a team going nowhere that sometimes played nice but was a rabble when it counted into a real football team. He never promised a rose garden and the task has proven more difficult than anticipated but we suspected that some of the personnel weren't up to it physically and emotionally and that others needed more experience before the new order could take on an flourish.

That won't happen against Carlton this Sunday because the team is still very much a work in progress but if you come back in a year's time, you'll see something different.

Carlton by 55 points.

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