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THAT WAS THE SEASON THAT WAS - 2017 by Whispering Jack

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The fog of despair that has now engulfed the Melbourne Football Club for more than a decade since its last finals appearance is lifting but at a such slow rate and in small steps so that it continues to frustrate supporters. 

In 2017 we saw Richmond come from way back and leapfrog over Melbourne and into the top four, from which it launched a successful campaign to win the premiership. 

On the other hand, the Demons, which showed promising form in the JLT pre season series and opened with two wins, sagged under the weight of injuries and suspensions, recovered in mid season and fell at the end to miss out on the finals by the narrowest of percentage margins. Perhaps, it was just as well because they appeared to have run out of steam in the end.

The early season reports of Bernie Vince, Jordan Lewis and Jesse Hogan hurt the club badly as did the Max Gawn hamstring tear and the tribulations of Jesse Hogan that dogged the club in the first half of the season. Losses to the lower down the list Fremantle and Hawthorn didn’t help, nor the continued poor results against North Melbourne (twice) or the disaster on Anzac Eve when, hit by injuries during the game, they succumbed in time on at the end after dominating the eventual premier for most of the game.

The frustration came once again in the form of inconsistency. One of the year’s best performances came at Adelaide Oval in round 8 against the Crows who were premiership favourites. The team came back from a deficit of almost five goals to win in a canter but the victory was sandwiched in between those narrow losses at the hands of the Dockers and the Hawks.

The club did strike a good vein of form in the middle of the year under difficult circumstances when it recorded some good wins despite a run of six day breaks. Using a makeshift ruck, Simon Goodwin had come up with some interesting winning moves. Tom McDonald went forward and played in the ruck alongside Cam Pedersen and occasionally Jack Watts, the midfield with its blend of experience, youth and a hardened edge blossomed and the wins came. The highlight was a big win over the Bulldogs at Etihad Stadium followed by a nail biting victory in Perth over the Eagles.

However, it was at that point in time when the team’s spirits were at their highest, that another run of injuries and the tough schedule that saw four games played in 18 days conspired to bring it down. Glowing reports and talk of a potential top four placing at the end of the season were met with Melbourne’s lacklustre effort on a Friday night against the Swans. It was an ominous sign. 

Suddenly, the Demons were without their co-skippers and with Christian Salem and Watts sidelined and Gawn and Hogan struggling to return to form after long layoffs, the team’s bubble burst at the seams. Even when it was able to win its matches, it was unable to hold on and then increase winning leads. In a season when the difference between an early end and September action was a matter of only two goals, there were too many fade outs. And in round 23, the team ran out of steam and hit the wall hard. With everything to gain, yet everything to lose, it failed to lay a tackle for ten minutes in an opening quarter against Collingwood which ended with the Magpies five goals up in what for them was a dead rubber. 

Their end result was the frustration of yet another failure. 

The stand out on an individual level was second year player, Clayton Oliver’s outstanding form that earned him club champion honours. The newcomers - Lewis, Michael Hibberd and Jake Melksham all contributed to the improved performance over the season which ensured a positive win/loss record for the first time since 2006. Hibberd won All Australian honours and the consistent and dependable Neville Jetta came close to joining him. The controversial decision to name Jack Viney as co-captain with Nathan Jones was a success, the former’s absence late in the season probably ensuring the finals miss.

Things were looking positive for the future - particularly the club’s still emerging midfield, the re-signing of Max Gawn, the recruitment of Jake Lever and the sight of a lean, hungry and fit-looking Jesse Hogan at pre season training. However, at year’s end the edge was taken off all of that with the PR disaster surrounding the cancellation of the club’s commando style training camp at the behest of the players and subsequently, allegations that were made against a yet to be identified player of inappropriate sexual behaviour on a post season holiday.

The club fielded a team in the inaugural AFLW which finished the season in third place and produced a truly watchable and exciting brand of football that has fans looking forward to the second season, due to start shortly. Names like Daisy Pearce, Karen Paxman, Elise O’Dea are already well entrenched in our football lexicon. Of course, because the competition had no finals other than the grand final, the women finished one off the finals pace - just like the men did later in the year.

As we always do at this time of year, we now look forward to the coming season with hope. The difference is that the advances made in 2017 have opened up the opportunity to cross into more exulted company and to play finals football once again. 


 

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