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THE YEAR THE SKY FELL by The Oracle

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After a number of years of linear movement up the ladder, the Melbourne Football Club unexpectedly went into serious decline in 2019, slumping from fourth to 17th in a season that coach Simon Goodwin described “a complete wipe-out”. Those around the club who tried to analyse the apocalyptic events that unfolded during the year were hard pressed to find a single reason for the debacle but the most plausible explanation was that the club’s troubles stemmed from a lack of fitness and injuries that derailed the season before it began.

There was a significant amount of optimism surrounding the Demons over the summer months. Some of the pundits in the media were even suggesting that they were flag favourites based on their forward momentum over a number of years, their midfield strength  as shown statistically by their control of stoppages and their high scoring in 2018 suggesting a coherent system of play and a powerful forward line. The team was maturing and it was thought that the sky was the limit but, as it turned out, the sky fell.

Melbourne’s newly appointed head of high performance Darren Burgess recently said that he believed there wasn’t much the club could have done about the situation the club found itself in both before and during the season.

“Having done a lot of research on what happened last year there was a lot of comment about their fitness or lack of, the surgery just kills you,” he said.

“When you’ve got 17 or 18 players in surgery and 16 were in their best 22, it just kills you.”

And so the club went into the pre season without many of its key players, particularly in the midfield. The signs in the two JLT Community Series matches against Richmond and Brisbane were not good although when considered with the hindsight of knowing they were against two of the top three place getters after the home and away season including the eventual premier, it wasn’t as bad as it seemed. 

The team ran out of steam in its first game - at home against Port Adelaide and then failed miserably at Kardinia Park when despite winning the hit outs and clearances and making 73 inside 50 entries to 48, it was thrashed by 80 points. These figures are bizarre enough but the trend was already set for the season. The team could win the ball well enough out of the centre but conversion into goals was a problem while opposing teams had no problem with their own accuracy on the rebound.

They managed to kick straight (a rare occurrence for the year) against Essendon in their third game but the Bombers were more accurate making it 0-3 for the Demons and a difficult start from which to recover as the injuries began to mount. The win against the Swans in Sydney was welcome but two more disappointing losses put the club in the danger zone. A couple of unconvincing victories against Hawthorn and Gold Coast provided some respite and a trip west looked promising for three quarters against the Eagles before another fade out put paid to the club’s hopes for the season.

All the while, the injuries mounted - they were compounded not only in the number of players out but by the length of time out with their injuries. For most of the first half of the season, the Demons struggled with losses in their defensive half but after the mid season break for the bye, the club successively lost all of its key forwards and won only two more matches - against Fremantle and Carlton to limp home to a five win season and 17th place on the ladder. 

In the latter half of the year, the club tried a reshuffling of the assistant coaching panel but nothing could help as the team lost seven on end, albeit a number of the defeats could be regarded as honourable given the material Goodwin had to work with as the season rolled dismally to a close.

Max Gawn and Clayton Oliver created history with a tie for the Keith “Bluey” Truscott Memorial Trophy. Co-skipper Jack Viney finished third and he was followed by James Harmes, Christian Petracca and Bayley Fritsch. With highly touted recruit Steven May hobbled by injury, it was left to a VFL player, Marty Hore to take the honours of best newcomer.

Given the injury woes at the club, it’s not unsurprising that the Casey Demons also struggled although their ninth place finish was commendable in the circumstances where coach Jade Rawlings and later Sam Radford had so few players with AFL experience available to them.

The AFLW team missed captain and star player Daisy Pearce on maternity grounds and also missed out on the finals under the weight of a massively skewed conference system. A surprise loss in the first game against the Dockers didn’t help. In the end, a big win against Adelaide was required to make the finals - a win that simply didn’t even look like eventuating. Karen Paxman, Elise O’Dea and Lauren Pearce were the pick of the squad. 

And so, as we enter a new decade, the club can look forward to a few acquisitions in the playing side, notably wingers Ed Langdon, Adam Tomlinson and forward Mitch Brown, the possibility of a rejuvenated Harley Bennell and a trio of youngsters from interstate. On the off field side, the experienced Alan Richardson comes onto the coaching panel and possibly the most important change in light of the fitness and injury woes of 2019 is the signing of fitness guru Burgess who is tasked with raising the sky back to the heights of 2018 ... and further.

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