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IMAGINE by Whispering Jack

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The Demons made their official return to the training track for 2019 on a sunny Saturday morning at Goschs Paddock with most of the interest initially centred on a small patch of ground in one of the pockets where the rehab group was going through the paces.

Some good pieces of news on that score. The  rehab group is considerably smaller than it was prior to the Christmas break with Christian Petracca (knee), James Harmes (shoulder), Jayden Hunt (shoulder), Neville Jetta (shoulder), Oscar McDonald (hip) and Tim Smith (foot) all having fully recovered and training with the main group. 

More good news. The remaining rehabbers were all training at a reasonable level leaving one to think that they all should be right for the opening of the season, with the exception of Jake Lever (knee) who might not be that far away by the end of March. Key midfielders Jack Viney (foot), Angus Brayshaw (back) and Clayton Oliver (shoulders) have been on modified training programmes but appear on target to return to full training in the next month along with Oskar Baker (hamstring, Mitch Hannan (knee), Billy Stretch (toe) and Aaron vandenBerg (shoulder). Nathan Jones was apparently troubled by hamstring tightness and took it easy with a bit of sparring practice and Jake Melksham was the only player missing (possibly because his wife is expecting a child any day now). 

And after Friday’s shocking news of Tom Mitchell’s broken leg at Hawthorn’s training, the really good news was that nobody ended the session on crutches or in a moon boot. The story going round during the break of a renewal of Tom McDonald’s toe woes was just that - a tale with no substance. There’s a blister on a big toe but mine’s worse than his and it’s not going to stop me from being at the MCG on Saturday 23 March when the season starts with a game against Port Adelaide.

So with that game in mind, the attention turned to the blokes who were training their butts off in the warm-up to what promises a tough month or two heading up to the 2019 season. 

I’ve tried to steer away from all of the media speculation about Melbourne being one of the top three in line for the premiership but the inescapable take away from the session is the observation that the maturing list now runs strong and deep in quality and the club’s recruiting appears to have added icing to the cake. 

We are light years away from the position we occupied when Dave Misson arrived to find that the club’s fitness and training regime was well below the standards of most AFL clubs. We no longer need to go into raptures about young draftees stepping up to the plate for round one because that simply isn’t going to happen. The younger recruits will all be given plenty of time. However, there are three (perhaps four if you add former Collingwood VFL player Marty Hore) ready-made potential additions to the team who have arrived from other clubs to add strength to Melbourne’s 2019 campaign. The added depth will certainly put pressure on the veterans like Jones and Jordan Lewis - that sort of pressure being another plus for teams that want to go places in this tough competition. 

The addition of another club’s captain to your list is something that doesn’t happen often so my first observation is that Steven May from the Suns looms as a significant addition to the ranks. That was made clear from my first sighting of him on the track - he cuts a very imposing figure out on the ground and one can’t escape the feeling that his move to Melbourne is one that will be a great one for his career and for the club. Imagine him and Jake Lever as additions to the defensive structure of the side that took part in last year’s finals. Imagine another revitalised former Sun in Kade Kolodjashnij and a fit and re-energised Jayden Hunt and/or Billy Stretch added to that mix tearing down the flanks or the wings.

At 206 cm and 109 kg Braydon Preuss is a big man and it’s hard to reconcile why North Melbourne let him go. True, Todd Goldstein had a good season last year and Ben Brown and Majak Daw (before his tragic issues) were considered adequate pinch hitters in the ruck but Preuss is a monster who promises to provide major headaches to opposing clubs that struggle now to counter Max Gawn. With the new rules coming in this season, pity their ruck divisions at centre bounces and pity the defences having to counter resting talls. 

Speaking of pity, I want to go back to the rehab group for a moment and talk Jack Viney who set the tone for the rest of the players in this group with his steely determination and toughness. Back in the day, it was generally considered that being on the injured list gave players the opportunity to slack off a bit at training. Pity anyone with that view when Jack Viney’s around! Late in the session, he was doing repetitions around the boundary with Brayshaw and Lever and he attacked them with brutality. It was understandable that he was able to beat off the latter but, by the end, he had Angus gasping in his wake. Viney was restricted to only 10 of a possible 25 games due to those nagging foot injuries and was rarely able to play at his best when he was on the field. On that basis, you could almost consider a fully recovered Viney as a “recruit” in 2019.

The other players who impressed at training were 2018’s big improver James Harmes and the youngster who could take that improver’s mantle, Bayley Fritsch who seems to be relishing his first full AFL pre season. 

Then there’s Christian Petracca. I’m looking for him to really break out this year.

Imagine that!

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