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ROUND ZERO by Whispering Jack



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The Coodabeen Champions have called it a day after more than forty years on various radio stations across Melbourne. When the lads chose the theme from the spaghetti western "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly" as their signature tune, the game was uncomplicated with little time for scientific strategy. Summertime was for easy living and games of cricket, footy teams assembled in February, played practice matches in March and the season opened in mid-April. In their time, the Coodabeens saw changes upon changes that have turned the game on its head and, very late in the piece, they bore witness to a modern day miracle — the resurgence of the game’s perennial ugly duckling into a fully fledged premiership team. They saw the ugly, the bad and the good but in September 2023, the ugly returned with a vengeance. Collingwood won a flag and it was time for them to go.

We usually judge a club’s off season by two measures, the quality of its list management in the transition from the past year to the present and then, by the way it prepares for season ahead with the aim of the team approaching the opening round in a positive frame of mind.

The list management side of things always involves an element of conjecture about how the new blood introduced will fare and whether any departing players will leave gaps that the club might struggle to fill. The trading, free agency and draft process of October/November saw the following changes to the club’s lists:-

In: Jack Billings (St Kilda), Shane McAdam (Adelaide), Tom Fullarton (Brisbane), Caleb Windsor (Eastern Ranges), Koltyn Tholstrup (Subiaco), Kynan Brown (Oakleigh Chargers), Marty Hore (Williamstown)

Out: Brodie Grundy (Sydney), Michael Hibberd (Port Colts), James Harmes (Western Bulldogs), James Jordon (Sydney), Luke Dunstan (retired), Deakyn Smith (delisted), Kye Turner (delisted)

As stated, such things are open to conjecture. Time will eventually tell the tale but the vibe for me is a little bit of good mixed with a touch of bad in that there isn’t much coverage in ruck for an injury to Max Gawn in the short term or, down the track when his career ends, and the ongoing issue of the need for key forwards in light of the impending retirements at the end of the year of Ben Brown, Tom McDonald and Jake Melksham and potential flight risk back to South Australia of Harry Petty.

The other side of the off season is the need for peace, quiet and harmony in preparing for the year ahead. This was, for the most part, ugly and bad. The staff had barely finished packing the team’s equipment away for the summer when Joel Smith was provisionally suspended over an alleged positive drug test for cocaine from the Round 22 game vs Hawthorn and more recently, he was accused of trafficking or attempted trafficking. Smith faces a long stretch out of the game if his guilt is proved. 

Quick upon the heels of that news, followed revelations of Clayton Oliver’s now well-documented health and legal problems, an extended stint on the sidelines after a brief but disastrous appearance at the club’s December training camp in Lorne amid questions surrounding his future. 

No sooner had we finished singing Auld Lang Syne and the team came back to train, that the injury list started to grow. When the time came for the first scratch match against the Tigers, there were more than a dozen players unavailable through injury and suspension (including a raft of tall forwards). The Demons made a bright start at Casey Fields but things turned ugly and the defence leaked ten successive goals against an unfancied opposition forward line. They came back but the ebb and flow left some bad vibrations as Richmond’s new coach won the bragging rights if such things belong to match simulations in the month of February.

The fans were digesting all of the above when the shock news came in of the forced early retirement of Angus Brayshaw, a much loved and experienced team leader and premiership star. A brilliant career cut short was a massive blow to the player as it was to all who love the club.

The off field bickering and the fallout dating all the way back to the replacement of the club’s former chair in 2021, continued as mediation talks fell apart. The media had its fun and games, somebody mentioned “culture” and then, amid all the gloom and doom and ugly fake rumour mongering and speculation about the coach’s premature demise, the fans were finally treated to some very good as Max Gawn led the team to a demolition of the Blues at Ikon Park. And we noticed some rising fortunes among maturing players, new strategies and the emergence of new blood but wait - it was still only a scratch match.

Which brings us here to Round Zero, 2024 at the end of a cycle of The Ugly, The Bad and The Good.

I was surprised to see the early betting odds from last week heavily favouring the Swans to win Thursday night’s game. That was before the AFL Community Series matches but even then, Melbourne’s form turnaround against Carlton and Sydney’s insipid display in the NSW Derby in Canberra and injuries to Luke Parker and Taylor Adams were insufficient to bridge the gap. What it did take to even things up odds-wise was the announcement by Demons coach Simon Goodwin on Monday confirming that Clayton Oliver had been selected to face the Swans.

Suddenly, we seem to have a standoff but I’m not buying. 

I will gladly concede that even in the absence of Callum Mills, Parker and Adams, Sydney has substantial midfield depth led by the likes of Eric Gulden, Chad Warner and a bevy of mid size players but … Melbourne’s midfield setup headed by skipper Max Gawn in dominant form in the ruck and the class of Oliver, Christian Petracca, Jack Viney, a resurgent Christian Salem back to full fitness and rising midfielder Tom Sparrow is miles ahead of whatever the Swans can produce. Brodie Grundy might have a point to prove but in cold, hard light of the evening, he won’t hold a candle to Gawn.

Sydney farewelled Buddy Franklin well before the end of the last season but his replacement key forwards, McDonald and Amartey are hardly in his postcode at this early stage of their careers. And it’s a bad time for them to come up against Steven May and Jake Lever while their remaining forwards (and I include Tom Papley in that lot) are unfortunate in that they are likely to be strangled by the desperate defence of the likes of Jake Bowey, Judd McVee and Trent Rivers. 

There’s been a lot of talk lately about the culture of the Melbourne Football Club but little understanding that it’s actually a strong point because it’s a culture of hard work, attention to detail and hating defeat on the field of play. Cop that, Swans!

Because Melbourne kicked away the chance to win both of its finals matches in 2023 (and a few others in the latter half of the season), there’s a perception out there that it has a weak attack. That’s a total misperception because even with those “connection” issues in the second half of the season it was still the sixth highest scoring team in the competition. The Demons have a good ground ball game and, as they showed last Thursday at Ikon Park, they’re handy in the air when the ball travels forward. Straighten them up a few percent and they would be top two or three in that category. 

And they have recruited well with youngster Caleb Windsor and Jack Billings — both of them excellent disposers of the football — to go with Bayley Fritsch and Jacob Van Royen who are no slouches with football in hand. 

On the small, spaceless SCG, Melbourne should be well suited to the size of ground and conditions expected on the day, even without Kozzy Pickett, Harry Petty, Ben Brown and Shane McAdam who are still to come into the forward mix.

There’s something else to consider and it’s a factor of the early start to the season and the fact that the Swans have played their practice matches in oppressive heat and have not finished off strongly. That’s a sign for me that it’s unlikely for this matchup to turn into a standoff. 

To the contrary, it’s going to be a good, old wild, west ugly massacree with Melbourne winning bad by 49 points. 

THE GAME 

Sydney Swans v Melbourne at the SCG Thursday 7 March 2024 at 7.30pm      

HEAD TO HEAD 

Overall Sydney Swans 117 wins Melbourne 96 wins 2 drawn
At the SCG Sydney Swans 14 wins Melbourne 9 wins
Last 5 meetings Sydney Swans 2 wins Melbourne 3 wins 
The Coaches Longmire 7 wins Goodwin 4 wins

THE LAST TIME THEY MET

Melbourne 11.11.77 defeated Sydney Swans 7.14.56 in Round 24, 2023 at the SCG

The Demons prevailed after a see saw game, thanks mainly to its midfield dominance in the personage of Jack Viney, Christian Petracca and Clayton Oliver and an outstanding return from injury of Bayley Fritsch who overcame a knock to his foot in mid game to finish with five goals. Scores were close until three quarter time but a four goal to nil final term sealed the deal. In form forward Jake Melksham suffered a devastating blow with an ACL injury that placed his career in jeopardy.

THE TEAMS 


IMG_1717.jpeg.cbd212c33587a2992355d00fb5c4960b.jpeg

Injury and Suspension List: Round 0

Ben Brown — knee/ available 
Charlie Spargo — Achilles/ available   
Kysaiah Pickett — suspended/ 1 week
Harrison Petty — toe/ 2 weeks
Lachie Hunter — calf/ 3 - 4 weeks
Daniel Turner — hip/ 7 - 8 weeks  
Shane McAdam — hamstring/ TBC
Jake Melksham — knee/ TBC
Joel Smith — suspended/ TBC

PreviewRd002024.png.26e22fb2c5f4ad9553616457a4bc63f5.png

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Great summary WJ.  

Thanks!

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I’m very much with you Whispering. Over the years, I took refuge in programs like The Coodabeens because I suppose that if my team wasn’t good enough, it was okay to laugh at its place in the game. So I laughed at the stereotypes like the stuffy private school educated Ivan from Ivanhoe and the snow goers. All of a sudden, we became a super strong club and won a premiership and we no longer had the need to laugh at ourselves. Still, I will miss them for their entertainment value.

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THE TEAMS

SYDNEY SWANS 

B: L. Melican, T. McCartin, D. Rampe
HB: N. Blakey, O. Florent, J. Lloyd
C: J. Mcinerney, C. Warner, E. Gulden
HF: I. Heeney, L. McDonald, J. Amartey
F: T. Papley, H. McLean, W. Hayward
FOLL: B. Grundy, J. Jordon, J. Rowbottom
I/C: B. Campbell, H. Cunningham, R. Fox, M. Roberts SUB: S. Wicks
EMG: P. Ladhams, A. Sheldrick, C. Warner

NEW: B. Grundy (Melbourne), J. Jordon (Melbourne)

MELBOURNE 

B: B. Howes, S. May, J. Lever
HB: J. McVee, A. Tomlinson, C. Salem
C: E. Langdon, C. Petracca, T. Rivers
HF: J. Viney, J. Schache, J. van Rooyen
F: A. Neal-Bullen, B. Fritsch, C. Spargo
FOLL: M. Gawn, T. Sparrow, C. Oliver
IC: J. Bowey, K. Chandler, B. Laurie, C. Windsor SUB: J. Billings 
EMG: T.  Fullarton, T. McDonald, T. Woewodin

NEW: J. Billings (St Kilda), B. Howes (Sandringham Dragons), C. Windsor (Eastern Ranges)

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