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ACCENTUATE THE POSITIVE by Whispering Jack

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"You got to ac-cent-tchu-ate the positive
E-lim-i-nate the negative
And latch on to the affirmative
Don't mess with Mr. In-Between” ~ Johnny Mercer

The problem with Melbourne for far too long has been the fact that so many of its players are Mr. In-Betweens. They can turn up to games and occasionally they will put in a good one but they can’t be relied upon to consistently produce at the highest level. The fact that G Ablett and J Selwood can always be relied upon to perform at the pinnacle of their ability and that they did that to perfection last Sunday was the difference between the teams in a close fought three point game.

That said, there was plenty to be positive about against a team that last year finished a game off being in a grand final. The game was often played at a frenetic pace and Melbourne held its own in the ruck and the midfield contests. Max Gawn was back to his All Australian best and it was unfortunate that he fluffed that shot for goal with a tired effort late in the game. The likes of Christian Petracca and Clayton Oliver were superb and Nathan Jones gradually worked his way into the game. It was a pity that the selectors in their wisdom or otherwise saw fit to leave out Angus Brayshaw and Dom Tyson because neither of them are Mr. In-Betweens. Perhaps they simply were not quite well prepared enough to gain selection because otherwise, I thought they had done enough in the pre season to warrant selection.

And there was simply not enough drive given by the defence (perhaps with the exception of Oscar McDonald) as they leaked like a sieve in the opening half to concede 80 points although they did tighten up to let through just 17 more in the second half. Pity the forwards simply couldn’t emulate their JLT Community Series efforts when they were all in the frame and we saw multiple goal kicking performances. Instead, a dividend of one goal from eight shots at goal in that final quarter simply wasn’t good enough.

Despite all that, there were sufficient positives to accentuate. Despite the big numbers of Ablett and Selwood, the Demon midfield helped the team move the ball inside the 50 metre arc a staggering 64 times to 41 and that sort of dominance will normally win you games by big margins. And we know that the likes of Nev Jetta and Jake Lever will play better than they did against the Cats.

So it’s onward to Saturday night in Brisbane where the Demons have rarely been sighted in the past few years. They have not met at the Gabba since the early days of the current decade but the intervening period is like light years for both clubs. Melbourne has reloaded with a maturing team with loads of talent while the Lions have been languishing in the early stages of a rebuild. However, the game will hardly be a cakewalk in the light of the Lions’ improvement.

They have a young eager side that troubled Melbourne at their last meeting which happened just two or three games ago and late into the 2017 season.

And they are playing at their home ground just as thousands of international visitors begin to descend to gather just down the road for one their region’s biggest sporting event for ages.

Melbourne therefore must bring its best and brightest game to our northern state. That must be reflected in the team selected to run out onto the Gabba - a team without any Mr. In-Betweens.

THE GAME

Brisbane v Melbourne at The Gabba Saturday, 31 March, 2018 at 7.25pm

HEAD TO HEAD

Overall:  Brisbane 20 wins, Melbourne 24 wins

At The Gabba: Brisbane 13 wins, Melbourne 7 wins

Last Five Meetings:  Brisbane 2 wins, Melbourne 3 wins

The Coaches: Fagan 0 wins, Goodwin 1 win

MEDIA

TV - Fox Sports 3 live at 7.00pm

Radio - SEN ABC ABC Grandstand

LAST TIME THEY MET

Melbourne 16.8.104 defeated Brisbane 14.7.91 at the MCG, Round 22, 2017

It was close for the first three quarters but when James Harmes kicked truly with less than six minutes gone in the last, the Dees were headed for a place in the finals. Surely, against the lowly Lions and on their home turf, they were capable of pushing a 32 point lead out to a 50 point win?

No, not this team. They conceded four goals in a row and at one stage, led by just 7 points to cause a significant rise in the collective blood pressure of the Demon faithful and a week later they were unceremoniously dumped from the finals.

THE TEAMS

BRISBANE LIONS

B: Nick Robertson, Josh Walker, Darcy Gardiner 
HB: Luke Hodge, Harris Andrews, Alex Witherden 
C: Lewis Taylor, Dayne Zorko, Ryan Lester 
HF: Cameron Rayner, Daniel McStay, Hugh McCluggage 
F: Allen Christensen, Eric Hipwood, Charlie Cameron 
Foll: Stefan Martin, Jarrod Berry, Dayne Beams 
I/C: Rohan Bewick, Cedric Cox, Rhys Mathieson, Sam Mayes  
Emg: Zac Bailey, Jake Barrett, Tom Cutler, Archie Smith 

IN: Rohan Bewick, Cedric Cox, Rhys Mathieson

OUT: Tom Bell (omitted), Daniel Rich (ankle), Mitch Robinson (suspended)

MELBOURNE 

B: Michael Hibberd, Oscar McDonald, Neville Jetta
HB: Jordan Lewis, Jake Lever, Bernie Vince
C: Jayden Hunt, Christian Salem, Nathan Jones
HF: Christian Petracca, Cameron Pedersen, James Harmes
F: Bayley Fritsch, Jesse Hogan, Jeff Garlett
Foll
Max Gawn  Clayton Oliver  Alex Neal-Bullen
I/C
Dom Tyson  Jake Melksham  Tomas Bugg  Josh Wagner
Emg: Sam Frost, Dean Kent, Corey Maynard, Billy Stretch

IN: Tomas Bugg, Dom Tyson

OUT: Mitch Hannan (omitted), Corey Maynard (omitted)

THE FULL FOUR QUARTERS

In the wake of Melbourne’s narrow round one defeat, the media has highlighted the team’s tendency over the past two or three years to lose its way for short periods during games.   

It’s true that the Demons blew multiple opportunities to ice that game but the lapses have occurred too often and they happen at different times so we don’t quite know when they’re coming.   

Last week, it was the leaking of three goals after the 25 minute mark of the second quarter. In the club’s previous AFL rostered game in round 23 against Collingwood, it was in the first quarter and a week before that, it came in the last 20 minutes against the Lions at the MCG. And so on ... despite all of the improvements in personnel, there always remains a doubt as to Melbourne’s ability to play out 100 minutes of football.  

Is this a sign of mental fragility, a lack of fitness or maturity among the team, too many Mr. In-Betweens or is it something that just happens?

We don’t really have the answer just yet but we might find out a little more about the Demons this week when they travel north to face a Brisbane side that also held its own for much of its own round one encounter, only to fade at the end.

The Lions have been fortified by the recruitment of Charlie Cameron, Luke Hodge and young gun Cam Rayner and will be eager to take the points in the first home game for the season.  

Melbourne left things to far too few last week with just four players managing over 20 disposals and we will surely see better from the likes of Christian Salem, Nev Jetta, Alex Neal-Bullen and the forwards who failed to take advantage of 64 entries into the forward 50.

They might be hard at it in the middle but they also need some more run on the outside where they were exposed by the Cats.  

There will also be great interest in the ruck duels where Max Gawn should be highly motivated to erase the memories of last week’s final moments. It won’t be easy because Stef Martin is a seasoned campaigner who will be equally eager to prove a point against his old side.  

In the end, it could actually come down to the team changes. Brisbane has lost players through injury and suspension while Melbourne looks a better side with the inclusion of Dom Tyson (who should never have missed last week). Tom Bugg is not in everyone’s best 22 but he has been sitting on the sidelines for months on end wondering if he will ever get the opportunity to atone for his brain fade against the Swans in July last year. He knows he has to grasp his chances now that he’s back in the side.

And that’s the thing. The Richmond team that started its own journey towards fame and fortune twelve months ago, wasn’t really rated because it couldn’t perform with consistency for the full four quarters. At the time, they didn’t have an explanation but with, hard work and over time, they found the answer.

Demons to bounce back, put in a full four quarter game and win by 28 points.

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