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THE GREEN MILE by Whispering Jack

The last home game of the season is to be played at the ungodly hour of 4.40pm on a Sunday night in late winter and, because it's against Adelaide and the forecast is for a shower or two, one wonders whether a crowd will turn up to farewell Brad Green who will play his 254th game proudly wearing the number 18 guernsey for the last time in a distinguished career with the Melbourne Football Club. It would be a shame if the Demon faithful fail to turn up to celebrate the occasion.

This season has been a long, hard and eventful one but for all the wrong reasons. While the passion and the generosity of the Melbourne fans at Tuesday night's Foundation Heroes Dinner was encouraging, the curtain will come down this week on the difficult era in which Green played in a pall of gloom but, as always, there is hope for better times on the horizon.

Brad Green arrived at the Melbourne Football Club at another low moment in its history at the end of the last century. The Demons had recently admitted to breaching the AFL's salary cap and, as a consequence, were sanctioned by way of fines and the loss of their first draft pick at the 1999 National Draft which would have been selection five. Ironically, that pick was given to Fremantle who selected Leigh Brown of the Gippsland Power who is currently an assistant coach at Melbourne. The club's first pick that year became selection 19 and it chose wisely when it named young Brad Green from the Tasmanian Under 18s.

Green was a versatile young all round sportsman who had played representative cricket and soccer as a teenager, captaining the Australian under-15 cricket team. He was scouted by Manchester United and spent time in training at Old Trafford before deciding to concentrate on our game. Years into his career, commentators would always reprise the connection with the great soccer club whenever they were caught short for words while Green was present on the playing field.

Things immediately turned around for the club in Green's first year as it rose from 14th to make the 2000 Grand Final where it fell to a great side in Essendon, a tough, match-hardened team brim full of experience that lost only one game that year and took the opportunity to maul its younger opponents into submission on its way to the premiership. The young Green, who was a star in the other finals and had booted four goals in the semi final against Carlton was bashed in the throat and ended in hospital. He hadn't lasted a quarter in the season's ultimate game.

It was ironical that when Melbourne's current coach spoke at this week's Foundation Heroes Dinner, he highlighted the fact that the team he now has at his disposal suffered from its inexperience of an average of roughly sixty games per player against the leading clubs whose make up is nearly double that figure - a differential of two to three seasons per player on average. This was not dissimilar to the gulf between the two participants that one day in September, a dozen years away in a year in which Green, Cameron Bruce, Paul Wheatley and Matthew Whelan were all introduced to the club from a draft in which it was deprived of its first pick.

Green grew with the club and established himself in a number of roles. He was equally adept in the middle, in defence, on a wing, half forward or deep in the forward line where his accurate kicking for goal was a feature of his game. The club was strong enough to contest the finals in most of those early years under Neale Daniher but never enough to make it to the last two weeks in September (actually, that 2000 grand final was played in the first week of September due to the forthcoming Olympic Games in Sydney). In 2006, the Demons finished fifth but were the highest placed of all the Victorian teams.

Off the field, the club had endured in-fighting when two separate factions emerged in the wake of the dismissal of Joseph Gutnick as its chairman and further controversy affected its fortunes when Gabriel Szondy suddenly resigned amid accusations of incompetence and mismanagement of the CEO. Rarely during the past decade or so have the Demons been without some form of off-field wrangling and controversy which still manages to dog them to this very day.

At the start of 2007, hopes for the team were high but it fell into a form of football recession, one from which it is yet to emerge. Wooden spoons and early draft picks followed and these have led to charges of cheating and the current round of tanking allegations. On the ground, the club has failed to rise above twelfth position in the past six seasons and it currently sits close to the foot of the ladder.

Through all of the gloom, Brad Green stood out like a beacon in a stellar career that has now spanned more than 250 games and 348 goals (hopefully, he will make it to 350 on Sunday evening). In 2010, he had his best season, kicking 55 goals and taking 153 marks. He made the All-Australian squad and won the Keith 'Bluey' Truscott Medal along with the Ron Barassi Leadership Award and the "Heart and Soul" Award stamping him as the ideal successor for the captaincy of the Demons, after the retirement of James McDonald. He skippered his country in the round ball 2011 International Rules series against Ireland and was the only Australian to kick a goal during the series with many commentators describing this goal as a "captain's goal".

His leaving is soured to an extent by the club's recent history. When the club fell on hard times and was close to broke during its 150th season in 2008, a new Board headed by the legendary Jimmy Stynes took over to lead its fight for survival. The debt was broken and the club was ultimately able to provide its players with better facilities and an upgrade in the amount of personnel available but some discontentment in the background culminated in the now infamous loss at Geelong on 30 July 2011 that led to the sacking of coach Dean Bailey.

In the wash up that followed the appointment of the new coach, Green lost the captaincy and his place in the leadership group for this year and was then struck by injury and loss of form that wiped out most of the first half of his current and final season that even saw him playing a few games with the Casey Scorpions. He returned in the way that great players do and recently kicked a bag against Gold Coast as the team stormed to a seven goal win at the MCG.

And so the time has come for Brad Green and one suspects, some of the other club elders as a new generation emerges to take up fresh challenges in changing times. I look upon the end of his illustrious career in much the same way as that of the biblical Moses who took a whole generation through the wilderness but never made it to the Promised Land.

THE GAME

Melbourne v Adelaide at the MCG 26 August 2012 at 4.40pm (AEST)

HEAD TO HEAD

Overall Melbourne 11 wins Adelaide 19 wins

At MCG Melbourne 7 wins Adelaide 5 wins

Since 2000 Melbourne 6 wins Adelaide 11 wins

The coaches Neeld 0 wins Sanderson 0 wins

MEDIA

TV Fox Footy Channel – live at 4.30pm.

RADIO SEN ABC774 3AW Triple M

THE BETTING Melbourne to win $6.00 Adelaide to win $1.13

LAST TIME THEY MET

Melbourne 22.17.149 defeated Adelaide 8.5.53 at the MCG Round 7, 2011

Less than 20,000 fans (actually 19,987) turned up to watch the Demons demolish a poor Adelaide outfit at the MCG but the game turned out to be a disaster for the Demons even though they won by 16 goals.

Jack Grimes injured his foot only minutes from the start and missed the rest of the year and Mark Jamar was also injured during the game and forced to miss several weeks. Jack Trengove was reported and suspended for a sling tackle on Patrick Dangerfield.

Ricky Petterd, Colin Sylvia kicked four goals each and Liam Jurrah three while Brent Moloney was his team's best.

THE TEAMS

MELBOURNE

Backs Joel Macdonald Colin Garland Tom McDonald

Half backs Jack Watts, James Frawley, Lynden Dunn

Centreline Jack Trengove Jordie McKenzie Jack Grimes

Half forwards Sam Blease Jared Rivers Rohan Bail

Forwards Jeremy Howe Brad Green Neville Jetta

Followers Jake Spencer Colin Sylvia Nathan Jones

Interchange Daniel Nicholson James Sellar James Strauss Luke Tapscott

Emergencies Matthew Bate Tom Couch Jordan Gysberts

In Daniel Nicholson

Out Tom Couch

Milestone: James Frawley 100 games

ADELAIDE

Backs Graham Johncock Ben Rutten Sam Shaw

Half backs Brodie Smith Daniel Talia Michael Doughty

Centreline Bernie Vince Nathan van Berlo David Mackay

Half forwards Jared Petrenko Taylor Walker Richard Douglas

Forwards Jason Porplyzia Kurt Tippett Matthew Wright

Followers Sam Jacobs Scott Thompson Patrick Dangerdfield

Interchange Luke Brown Ian Callinan Brent Reilly Aidan Riley

Emergencies Josh Jenkins Tom Lynch Jarryd Lyons

In Jason Porplyzia Aidan Riley Brodie Smith

Out Chris Knights Josh Jenkins Rory Sloane (elbow)

The Demons have already played their part in the downfall of one premiership contender earlier in the year when they caused a major shock in beating the Bombers. Ever since that game Essendon has been in freefall and if you composed a ladder for the second half of the year it would sit below Melbourne in the pecking order.

Now it's the moment of truth for Adelaide whose credentials in the top four have been questioned because its fixture looked much easier than the other contenders. A week ago, the Crows were coasting towards a top two finish and a home final in the first week of the finals with Brisbane, Melbourne and Gold Coast left on their roster but their shock loss to the Brisbane Lions after holding a 38 point quarter time lead has served as a wake up call. They now need to win both remaining games and do so by reasonable margins to strengthen their position going into the finals.

Melbourne has languished through the season without showing much credibility and will be aiming to finish the season strongly to hold it in good stead for the future. The Demons' record against the Crows on the MCG is good and the last time they met, it was an easy 16 goal win for the home side.

Times have changed but with Adelaide suddenly shaky, Melbourne has another opportunity to upset a premiership contender.

And what a great way that would be to send of a great servant of the club like Brad Green?

For the Demons to get over the Crows they must get on top in the midfield against an opponent that boasts the dynamic Scott Thompson and Patrick Dangerfield together with an array of foot soldiers who can run and spread as well as any in the land. It is their midfield, its improvement and its consistency that has been instrumental in lifting them from the depths under the adept coaching of Brenton Sanderson. It also has a strong spine with Walker and Tippett dangerous up forward and Rutten and the much improved Talia down back. In comparison, the Demons don't have the midfield depth and while they are solid in defence, they've struggled all year up forward and more so since the injuries to Mitch Clark, Ricky Petterd and the demise of Liam Jurrah.

For these reasons and the fact that the Crows have too much to lose if it can't come home with the four points, I'm tipping them to win but not by much.

Adelaide by 11 points.

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