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2016: THE YEAR THAT WAS by Whispering Jack

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As the final siren blared at Simonds Stadium to mark the end of Paul Roos' coaching stint on Saturday 27 August, 2016, the curtain came down on one of the Melbourne Football Club's least productive decades in its history, one in which every season had produced a losing record in terms of the results of games played and percentages and a consequent failure to participate in finals. The scoreboard at the ground was no more flattering in that it showed Geelong had beaten Melbourne by 111 points.

The Demons last taste of finals glory was in 2006 when they overcame a shaky start to the season to finish with 13½ wins and a percentage of 109.66. They beat St Kilda in an elimination final before losing to Fremantle in the semi in Perth. The steep decline and the dark period in the club's history that followed has been well documented, as has been the club's slow rise from the abyss. 

When the dust settled on 2016 the club had risen a further two places on the ladder above the year before, recording ten wins and but for the young team hitting the wall and losing its last two matches, a positive win/loss record and a finals appearance might have resulted. Had it not been for the enormity of that final round defeat the club would have finished with a percentage in positive territory above 100 for the first time in a decade.

Despite the way things panned out at the very end, it was pleasing to see the club's progression since 2013 when it won a mere two games followed by four and seven over the next two seasons to ten in 2016. A further step forward in the same vein will almost certainly see a return to finals participation next year. 

Time will tell.

The statistical improvement on the field overshadowed somewhat by the disappointment of the season's ending doesn't tell the full story of a season of many highlights. 

The most telling aspect of the continued rise in the team's performance was the fact that it was achieved by turning to its youth. From very early on, it was clear that the intention was to blood young talent and to give it time to settle into the hurly burly of the game. While the results were at first mixed, there were some pleasing efforts as the team held its place in mid table. 

There were times when the selectors might been tempted to revert to bringing in some more experienced from the ranks at Casey but they persisted with the policy and we saw a late season charge of three consecutive wins including the triumph against reigning premier and then ladder leader Hawthorn in Round 20.

The club's affiliate at Casey finished as minor premiers in the VFL but then went down to Footscray in the Grand Final at Etihad Stadium. Next year they will be known as the Casey Demons. 

There were some great personal achievements - Max Gawn's elevation to All Australian ruckman status, Jack Viney becoming the club champion, four Rising Star nominations - Clayton Oliver, Christian Petracca, James Harmes and Oscar McDonald (with Jayden Hunt unlucky to miss and Sam Weideman poised for next year), but on field happenings weren't the only highlights of the year for the Melbourne Football Club. 

The club recorded continued growth in membership numbers (now projected to go beyond 40,000 in 2017) and crowd attendances and it posted a substantial profit. 

Melbourne's pioneering work for women in the sport and the women's game was recognised when it was awarded a licence  to field a side in the inaugural year of the AFL Womens League competition. On Sunday, 5 February, 2017 the first team will run out onto Casey Fields in an historic encounter against Brisbane Lions. 

Much of the good work both on and off the field can be attributed to the club's board and administration led by Chairman Glenn Bartlett, CEO Peter Jackson and the professional team of people they have working under them. Although Paul Roos now leaves the scene he has laid the groundwork and presided over what promises to be a seamless transition to life under new coach Simon Goodwin. 

While the club might have faltered and lapsed from time to time in past seasons due to inexperience on the field, that is one excuse that will not be made when Goodwin coaches his first Melbourne team in a game for premiership points in a few month's time. He should have at his disposal three new players with substantial AFL experience - Jordan Lewis, Michael Hibberd and Jake Melksham to add to the likes of Nathan Jones, Bernie Vince, Tom McDonald and a bevy of young up and comers at his disposal. 

A new era awaits.

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