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So we've reached that part of the season when nothing much hangs on the result for us and we're playing interstate against a team that we haven't beaten at their ground since just after the turn of the century. We could still show some character and grit and go for the big upset ... couldn't we?
WHO ARE WE? by Whispering Jack A lot of water has flowed under the bridge since Melbourne's NAB Cup win over Collingwood when we were all so excited about the direction the club was taking under new coach Mark Neeld. It might have been a Mickey Mouse NAB Cup game in which both teams were missing regular key players, but there were definite signs that the hard work of summer was about to pay some dividends. It's hard to believe that only one month has elapsed since that time of unbridled optimism for the immediate future of the Melbourne Football Club. Since then the club has lurched from one disaster after another starting with the Liam Jurrah crisis and reaching a crescendo with a disastrous situation created by Jason Mifsud, an AFL official talking out of school to media person Grant Thomas who promptly published untrue allegations against Demon coach Mark Neeld. What should be a major crisis for the AFL and it's leadership has been turned into an opportunity for diverse groups and individuals to dump on one of its clubs. In the interim, Melbourne has barely raised a whimper on the field copping a couple of NAB Cup wallopings and a humiliating 41 point drubbing at home against the Brisbane Lions who finished in 15th place last year. Moreover, the club has been subjected to a blaze of criticism from good judges of football and from the bad. David King claims that "Melbourne has been masquerading as a football club for years". Robert Shaw says "Jack Watts was hijacked by the Melbourne Football Club at 17 years of age ... straight into an institution." Others accuse the playing group of being mentally and physically fragile, lacking in talent and demonstrating a shortage of the pride, passion and interest necessary to achieve success. Some of the criticism is justified but some of it is muddled and without any depth of thought or insight. The usual response when a team gets a lashing from the press is to return fire and prove the pundits wrong. Melbourne's problem is that it faces a the difficult task of rejuvenation in what has become it's "house of hell" - Paterson's Stadium - a cursed place where not a single current Melbourne player has seen victory. It last won there in Round 19, 2002. A few years before that, the Demons did manage to produce a shock victory over the Eagles in Perth with an undermanned and depleted side. That was in round 14, 1998 when Melbourne 14.12.96 defeated West Coast 11.13.79 in Robbo's break out game. It would be an understatement to say that the club needs a repeat of the heroics the team produced on that day. Demon coach Mark Neeld has ridden the waves of last week's disasters with class. He was impressive in handling the after match presser last Saturday and has been strong on the Mifsud issue correctly shunning the advice of AFL CEO Andrew Demetriou to take legal action over Thomas' comments. Neeld is resolute. He isn't interested in pursuing personal vendettas or engaging in witch hunts over who leaked the story to the AFL official who passed on the malicious gossip to someone who wasn't too particular about fact checking, a practice employed by most reputable journalists before going to print. He knows he has to keep focussed on the main purpose of his job and that is to develop his list, to win games and ultimately, premierships. The greatest coach in the club's history was brought down in the midst of preoccupation with a defamation action, a situation from which it has never fully recovered. The team Neeld takes across the Nullarbor must not be distracted by the off field events. The players need to show that they're prepared to have a dip as they did a month ago against one of the competition's flag favourites. Their performance this week against the Eagles could well define the direction they will take in the coming months and years. It will prove who we are as a club. - Ralph Waldo Emerson (American author and poet) THE GAME West Coast Eagles v Melbourne at Paterson's Stadium - Saturday 7 April 2012 at 4:40pm (AEST). HEAD TO HEAD Overall West Coast 27 wins Melbourne 15 wins At Patersons Stadium West Coast 13 wins Melbourne 5 wins Since 2000 West Coast 11 wins Melbourne 7 wins The Coaches Worsfold 0 wins Neeld 0 wins MEDIA Fox Footy Channel live at 4.30 pm (Victoria) RADIO SEN ABC774 THE BETTING West Coast to win $1.06 Melbourne to win $9.00 LAST TIME THEY MET West Coast 16.14.110 defeated Melbourne 9.8.62 at Etihad Stadium Round 21, 2011 The Demons were two weeks into the post Dean Bailey era and after a competitive first twenty minutes or so, managed to sink into the standard insipid fare they produced at the time. Jeremy Howe was a stand out and Sam Blease showed some flashes but for the most part it was dross. THE TEAMS WEST COAST EAGLES Backs Beau Waters Darren Glass Will Schofield Half backs Adam Selwood Eric Mackenzie Shannon Hurn Centreline Andrew Gaff Matthew Priddis Matthew Rosa Half forwards Ashton Hams Quinten Lynch Jack Darling Forwards Josh Hill Josh Kennedy Chris Masten Followers Dean Cox Luke Shuey Daniel Kerr Interchange Andrew Embley Nic Naitanui Scott Selwood Ashley Smith Emergencies Sam Butler Patrick McGinnity Gerrick Weedon No change. MELBOURNE Backs Clint Bartram James Frawley Joel Macdonald Half backs Colin Garland Jared Rivers Jamie Bennell Centreline Nathan Jones Jack Grimes Jack Watts Half forwards Jeremy Howe James Sellar Ricky Petterd Forwards Brad Green Mitchell Clark Lynden Dunn Followers Mark Jamar James Magner Jack Trengove Interchange Rohan Bail Matthew Bate Stefan Martin Jordie McKenzie Emergencies Aaron Davey Tom McDonald Josh Tynan In Jamie Bennell Lynden Dunn Ricky Petterd James Sellar Out Sam Blease Aaron Davey Brent Moloney (injured) Josh Tynan New James Sellar (Adelaide) Umpires L Farmer M Leppard G Fila RAINY DAY WOMEN #12 & 35 "Well, they’ll stone ya when you’re trying to be so good They’ll stone ya just a-like they said they would They’ll stone ya when you’re tryin’ to go home Then they’ll stone ya when you’re there all alone But I would not feel so all alone Everybody must get stoned" - by Bob Dylan I couldn't help thinking about this Dylan song every time I picked up a newspaper or switched on the radio or television set this week. And just so you don't get any wrong impressions, the writer has said of his work that the reference to stoning was in the biblical sense. It seems no matter what happens, whether the truth is told about us or not, whether we do the honourable thing or not, we're going to get "stoned" and the critics are out there like vultures circling their prey particularly because we're vulnerable at the moment. And perhaps it's because of that vulnerability that the West Coast Eagles are treating this game with a touch of caution. They happen to be almost the flavour of the month after coming into last season as the previous year's wooden spooner, rising to preliminary finalists and opening last week with a big away from home win against the Bulldogs (who should prepare themselves for a stoning if they fail in Adelaide on Saturday). The Eagles don't have an A class midfield like the other premiership contenders but it's handy and has some emerging young contenders like Shuey, Gaff and Masten to go with experienced hands in Priddis, Kerr, Scott Selwood and Rosa. The Eagles also have what many would call the competition's predominant ruck division in Cox and Naitanui. The comparison with Melbourne couldn't be starker if you go on last week's form where it got nothing from its ruck division or from its onballers at the stoppages. When you then consider that the Demons couldn't better the Eagles at home two years ago when they were wooden spooners, it suggests we're in for another one-sided contest again this weekend. While the indications are that the team hasn't bottomed out after the disruptions of the past month and the process of adjusting to a new style of play, there are some glimmers of hope on the horizon. The two young co-captains are in the starting midfield. Jack Grimes had about four minutes there in last year's Adelaide game before he was injured. There are many who believe he has the capacity to add some flair to the Demon on ball division. Likewise, Trengove who had an interrupted pre season and showed some early good signs last week is ready to take another step forward in the midfield. Nathan Jones is progressing well in his second year in a leadership role and James Magner was a revelation in his debut last week. With players like these stepping up to the plate, there is no reason why club could not improve quickly around the stoppages and reverse the disasters of the last half of last week's game. It's a tough ask especially with Melbourne winning only 4 of its past 28 games on the road (and half of them were on neutral territory). On the other hand, the Demons have a strong defence when it gets its act together and it’s been augmented this week by the size of James Sellar. Similarly, the attack now has a tall key in Mitch Clark who took a while to get going last week. This week Ricky Petterd and Lynden Dunn come in to assist him and we’re all waiting for Jack Watts and Jeremy Howe to take the extra step forward. I keep coming back to that 1998 game when the Demons won against all odds in the west. I think of how competent and composed the current squad looked against Collingwood a month ago and how the team dominated possession in the latter half of last week’s first term but failed to score goals to match their ascendency. These are all long shots but if they click, the score will be a lot closer than many of the experts who are stoning us right now would have us all think. West Coast by 16 points.