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BLINK OF AN EYE by The Oracle



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In the year 2022, we learned that the fine between ultimate success in sport and failure can be measured in the blink of an eye.

The Melbourne Football Club began the year where it had left off in 2021 - as the powerhouse of the AFL men’s competition.  They steamed towards the halfway mark of the season taking all before them until their winning streak of ten in a row (17 overall since the latter part of the premiership season) came to a crushing end with consecutive losses at the hands of Fremantle, Sydney and Collingwood.  

They arrested the decline but after that, they were no longer the dominators. Somehow, the Dees limped home and finished in second place after the home and away season, two games behind the minor premiers, but the pattern was set in place. The finals against clubs from outside of Victoria, were a “a complete wipe-out”.

As Paul Simon once wrote when considering his place throughout life -

“There are patterns I must follow
Just as I must breathe each breath.”

From the moment, the Demons stepped onto the MCG for their round 11 encounter against the Dockers, the old winning pattern that brought them a flag and a 10-0 opening to 2022, melted in broad daylight and dissipated into a new pattern of injury, bright starts followed by fatigue and fadeouts.

Injuries incurred during a game can have a devastating effect and that was felt strongly when Steven May was concussed early against the Dockers, followed by others. The new pattern was set then and in the games the followed; fatigue, conceding easy goals and giving away handy leads, leading to defeat. The team stumbled into the finals, found its form on occasion but reverted to the pattern in both finals where the straight sets fall from grace bordered on humiliation.

What made it all so humbling was the knowledge that the club had strong rucks (Gawn & Jackson) and one of the best midfields led by Clayton Oliver, Christian Petracca, Jack Viney and attended by up-and-comer Tom Sparrow, spare parts man James Harmes, occasionally Angus Brayshaw and flanked by Ed Langdon and James Jordan.  

And the backline was again both consistent and impressive conceding the lowest total points out of any team in the AFL with an average of just 67.4 points scored against per game, of 2022.  

May took out a second consecutive All-Australian blazer and had great support from Jake Lever and Harry Petty.  They did however miss the brilliance of another All-Australian in half-back Christian Salem who had an injury interrupted season. Trent Rivers and Jake Bowey didn’t come on as much as expected, Jayden Hunt was serviceable and Joel Smith lost too many games with injury. The void was filled well by Brayshaw when played in defence but he was also needed elsewhere from time to time.  Michael Hibberd had a slow start due to injury but returned to form later in the year.

The area where the team really fell from grace was up forward which is really where the pattern changing was set after Tom McDonald’s foot injury in Round 10 leaving a gigantic hole fairly and squarely in the middle of the club’s forward line (surely that was no coincidence?) There were enough premiership players who were capable of holding together the attack. Bayley Fritsch kicked his 50 goals again and Kysaiah Pickett was always menacing in front of goals but they couldn’t click and connect enough in the hard run home when almost every opponent was a finals contender. And when the game was tough and close, they failed to shrug of the “pattern” with the exception of that late season win over Carlton when Jake Melksham turned back time and put in a four goal performance in a game when some Pickett magic turned the game on its head in the dying seconds. The goals dried up in September.

Breaking into a premiership team is never easy.  Two players, Luke Dunstan (5 games) and Daniel Turner were the only new Demons to play a game, the latter lasting less than a half. With the trading to the club of Magpie star Brodie Grundy and Bulldogs Lachie Hunter and Josh Schache as well as a strong list of new recruits and as yet untried youth, things are likely to be different in 2023. The restoration of key forwards Ben Brown and McDonald to full health should go a long way to resolving coach Simon Goodwin’s forward line dilemmas.

Clayton Oliver (25 votes) and Christian Petracca (24) finished equal fourth and sixth respectively in the Brownlow Medal which the former is well on his way to becoming a club immortal count with his fourth Keith 'Bluey' Truscott Trophy award for the club’s best and fairest.

The club’s mission now is to establish a new pattern for the new season and to redeem itself after going out in straight sets.

No such problem exists for the Melbourne women who played off in two grand finals in AFLW seasons 6 and 7, improving from runner up to Adelaide in April to premiers on 27 November when they beat the Brisbane Lions by 2.7.19 to 2.3.15 at the million Brighton Homes Arena in Springfield, outside Brisbane. The Lions were the only team in Season 7 to best the Demons in their home and away game but the tables were turned in the Grand Final. That game was a triumph for coach Mick Stinear and veteran Demon skipper Daisy Pearce who finally tasted AFLW premiership glory. Melbourne’s midfield led by Tyler Hanks, Eliza West and Olivia Purcell dominated midfield possession. Blaithin Mackin and Tayla Harris were the goalkickers and down back, Tahlia Gillard did a sterling job blanketing dangerous Lions’ forward Jesse Wardlaw. 

The AFLW premiership was matched at VFL level by the Casey Demons, coached by Mark Corrigan, who were undefeated for most of the season, suffering only one loss - to the Lions in the final round before the finals. Casey atoned for that performance in the Preliminary Final before overcoming another Queensland side in the Southport Sharks on a cold wet afternoon in the Grand Final by 10.10.70 to 5.8.38. The Demons’ best were skipper Mitch White, veteran James Munro and the prolific Luke Dunstan. A number of youngsters were blooded in the Melbourne VFL affiliate and it is hoped that some of them will head the club’s next charge for another AFL flag as early as this year.

Off the field, the club improved its membership numbers to over 60,000 and recorded a profit in excess of $3m.

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