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AFL.com.au's 2024 Preview of the Dees


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Melbourne season preview: Who steps up to support Max, watch on Clarry

Ins and outs

IN

Jack Billings (trade, St Kilda), Kynan Brown (Rookie Draft, father-son), Tom Fullarton (trade, Brisbane), Marty Hore (SSP, Williamstown VFL), Shane McAdam (trade, Adelaide), Koltyn Tholstrup (No.13 draft pick), Caleb Windsor (No.7 draft pick)

OUT

Luke Dunstan (retired), Brodie Grundy (trade, Sydney), James Harmes (trade, Western Bulldogs), Michael Hibberd (retired), James Jordon (free agent, Sydney), Deakyn Smith (delisted), Kye Turner (delisted)

Medical room

No return date has been set for important defender-turned-forward Harrison Petty, who has experienced soreness in his toe and has been unable to build up his training loads following the Lisfranc injury he suffered late last season. The club is taking a conservative approach with recruit Shane McAdam who has ongoing tightness in his calf, with no timeline set for his return either, while young defender Daniel Turner is facing 10-12 weeks on the sidelines after sustaining a stress fracture in his leg. Tall duo Ben Brown (knee) and Tom Fullarton (hamstring) won't be ready for at least the first month of the season. Tom McDonald, Lachie Hunter (both calf soreness) and Charlie Spargo (Achilles) did not play in Sunday's match simulation against Richmond but all three are expected to be available for the Demons' AAMI Community Series match against Carlton next week.

Three burning questions

Where's the ruck back-up coming from if Max Gawn goes down?
The Demons have been left a little thin in the ruck department since parting ways with Brodie Grundy after one season, putting all their faith in Max Gawn to do the job solo. While he's undoubtedly the League's premier big man on his day, what are the Demons' options should their skipper find himself on the sidelines? Tall forward Tom Fullarton was brought in last trade period as ruck cover for Gawn but won't be available for the opening rounds after suffering a severe hamstring injury over the pre-season. Jacob van Rooyen provided Gawn with relief last year, while Adam Tomlinson, Tom McDonald and Harrison Petty can also provide a back-up option if the need arises. Other than that, untried pair Will Verrall and Kyah Farris-White are the only other pure ruckmen on the list.

Can the Demons finally get their forward line functioning?

Cohesion and accuracy in attack has long been an issue for the Demons and it proved costly in finals last season - they had 32 more inside 50s than Collingwood in the qualifying final, then went on to lose to Carlton despite having eight more scoring shots. While Sunday's match sim didn't show any signs of significant improvement, there were a host of big names absent from the Demons' forward line making it hard to get a gauge on exactly where they are at. Adding to their woes, Harrison Petty is under an injury cloud for the start of the season while Kysaiah Pickett is suspended for Opening Round. There's confidence there's light at the end of the tunnel, however, with Petty earmarked to have a big impact when he returns, while Jacob van Rooyen will have plenty of natural improvement with a third pre-season under his belt. There's also confidence the additions of Jack Billings and Shane McAdam will bring some polish to the Demons' attack. 

Is an Opening Round return on the cards for Clayton Oliver?
There were questions when, or even if, we'd see Clayton Oliver in 2024 after he took extended leave from the club to focus on his personal wellbeing. But Oliver's presence in Sunday's match sim against Richmond, albeit in the second-tier side, was a massive step forward for the premiership midfielder. He's expected to play some managed minutes in the AAMI Community Series hitout against Carlton next week but that's no guarantee he'll be a walk-up start come Opening Round. Oliver has few more boxes to tick before he's given the all-clear to return to play, the biggest one being a tick of approval from the AFL.

Track watch

Bailey Laurie has impressed after being exposed to more midfield time across the pre-season. After debuting in round one last year, the former first-round pick went on to play just five senior games across 2023 - including three as sub - but could become a permanent fixture for the Demons this year. Laurie returned for pre-season in his best shape yet and has had an eye-catching summer on the track, finishing on the podium in the Demons' 2km time trial and impressing in Sunday's match simulation with his strength inside the contest and clean ball use.

Fantasy lock

After Brodie Grundy's move to Sydney, Max Gawn (RUC, $831,000) is back and likely to be the Demons' solo ruck. Gawn has dominated this role for many years, averaging 100-plus on six occasions and over 110 three times. Last year, he had the role late in the year for six games and during that period he averaged 113. Expect Gawn to be back to his best in 2024 with another triple-figure average.

Instant hit

Caleb Windsor. Taken with the Demons' first pick (No.7) in last year's draft, the speedy winger has generated plenty of hype over the pre-season and is primed to make an early debut. With Lachie Hunter out of action with a niggling calf injury, Windsor lined up on the wing for the 'A' side in the Demons' match sim hitout against Richmond. He was also a first-choice winger in a recent intraclub with his highlights package speaking for itself. Showing exceptional speed, great skill and quick decision-making, Windsor was a clear standout and is every chance to feature when the Demons face Sydney in Opening Round.

It's a big year for…

Clayton Oliver. The four-time club champion's talent is undisputed, but his well-documented off-field issues have somewhat derailed what has been a near-perfect career to date. The 26-year-old only recently re-joined his teammates for pre-season training and he played three strong quarters in the second half of the match sim against Richmond, but it remains to be seen whether Oliver will feature for the Demons early in the season. Can he return to his superior best as he enters the first year of a monster seven-year, multi-million-dollar contract in 2024? Time will tell.

Pass mark

Winning a final is the minimum after successive straight-sets September exits, but the Demons' list is simply too talented to not be talking premierships in 2024.

Best 23 for 2024

B: Adam Tomlinson, Steven May, Trent Rivers
HB: Judd McVee, Jake Lever, Jake Bowey
C: Caleb Windsor, Clayton Oliver, Ed Langdon
HF: Harrison Petty, Bayley Fritsch, Alex Neal-Bullen
F: Shane McAdam, Jacob van Rooyen, Kysaiah Pickett
Foll: Max Gawn, Jack Viney, Christian Petracca
I/C: Bailey Laurie, Angus Brayshaw, Christian Salem, Tom Sparrow, Charlie Spargo (sub)
Emerg: Jack Billings, Taj Woewodin, Kade Chandler, Lachie Hunter

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B: Adam Tomlinson, Steven May, Trent Rivers
HB: Judd McVee, Jake Lever, Jake Bowey
C: Caleb Windsor, Clayton Oliver, Ed Langdon
HF: Harrison Petty, Bayley Fritsch, Alex Neal-Bullen
F: Shane McAdam, Jacob van Rooyen, Kysaiah Pickett
Foll: Max Gawn, Jack Viney, Christian Petracca
I/C: Bailey Laurie, Angus Brayshaw, Christian Salem, Tom Sparrow, Charlie Spargo (sub)
Emerg: Jack Billings, Taj Woewodin, Kade Chandler, Lachie Hunter

 

Of the on-field group named, I'd argue only Windsor, Tomlinson, Spargo and Laurie would have question marks about whether they can deliver a standard of football that can win AFL finals, andexcept for Tomlinson there are multiple replacements for type waiting (Woey, Chandler, Hunter, Billings, some more kids and maybe even Melksham late in the season)

I'll state the obvious that the quality is there, although we could do with one more high quality key position player for whichever end Petty isn't playing at, and of course the back-up ruck question.

I'm ready for the season to start. We know what's going on, we know the weak points and the potential to utterly dominate if it clicks.

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Pass mark
Winning a final is the minimum after successive straight-sets September exits, but the Demons' list is simply too talented to not be talking premierships in 2024.

 

We have a list that is too talented to not be talking premierships in 2024?

I'm guessing the author isn't a  Demonland poster. 

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