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ENDING THE DAYS OF PAIN by Whispering Jack The media is reporting that one of the Melbourne Football Club's responses to recent intense media criticism in the wake of the team's poor winless record after nine rounds has been to institute a series of meetings for selected supporters where they can question the club chairman Don McLardy, CEO Cam Schwab, Coach Mark Neeld and his assistant Neil Craig on matters relating to all aspects of its performance. I was fortunate enough to be invited to the first of these sessions on Tuesday night and can vouch for the fact that the evening could in no way be described as a "crisis" meeting although that is precisely the impression that many have of the club at present - a club in crisis. It was however, all about the way the club is moving to end the long days of pain it has been experiencing for more than half a decade. From my point of view as a concerned supporter, the one and a half hours were in fact as positive, constructive as they could be in the club's circumstances. The three speakers, McLardy, Neeld and Craig outlined their plans and strategies and made a good fist of reassuring a group of fairly hardnosed supporters that the club is on the right path despite the fact that it sits winless at the foot of the AFL table in a season in which two very young franchises are currently ahead of them (albeit narrowly). I know there are many sceptics but I have to say I was impressed by what the three had to say. McLardy outlined where the club is off the field and this has been well documented. We a positive net asset position despite the loss of a major sponsor. McLardy defended Cameron Schwab and pointed to the red and blueprint which Schwab put together and which has earned praise from the AFL administration. Neeld put together a very impressive presentation. He presented statistics of various indicators to show how his game plan is developing. It's a game plan that's based heavily on defence - not just from back line players but from every position on the field. He pointed out that statistics indicate that only one premiership team in the past three decades hadn't finished in the top four in defensive statistics (Brisbane Lions in 2003 were sixth but in the second half of that season were first). Neeld cited Dean Cox who said the difference between WCE of 2010 and 2011 was that the players adopted and embraced a strongly defensive approach. Needless to say the coach is convinced the tide will turn but it might still take time. Both he and Craig said they were staggered that players were saying they went through their toughest pre season after the new guard took over. They said that in their view, training loads were kept fairly conservatively (to avoid major injuries) and the intensity will be ramped up more during the next pre season. Neeld's view is that many players are brought up with attacking mindsets. The most talented players coming into the TAC Cup system are usually midfielders or forwards. They often remain good attacking players but don't measure up defensively. He found this with many players at Melbourne. He is convinced that the indicators show that his methods are working. Against Carlton, Neeld was happy with the figures both from a defensive and an attacking viewpoint. We were good in a number of areas but during the last quarter when the players were tired, Carlton was able to ramp up the pressure and many of our players reverted to old habits and didn't work hard enough defensively. The easy way to coach would probably have been to follow the same path as Neeld's predecessors, a path that might have brought better results in the short term but would never have given the club a chance to challenge the big boys in much the same way as it struggled against them last year. We all well remember the meaning of "bruise free" and "186" from 2011 even if there were some big moments against the competition's lesser lights. It goes without saying that we can expect changes in the makeup of the team and clearly, the midfield will be the area that gets a fair bit of attention. Craig defended Neeld and his other assistants and pointed to the unbelievable initiation he's had into coaching ranks including the Jurrah situation, the Davey/Mifsud racism furore, the death of Jimmy, the injuries and poor form. Craig also defended Schwab noting that he hadn't seen any sign of interference from the CEO into football department matters (nor McLardy for that matter). Craig was full of praise for the entire leadership group. For all that, Melbourne remains on the bottom of the AFL ladder, and faces Essendon and Collingwood in its next two matches. The days of pain may not be over yet. THE GAME Essendon v Melbourne at the MCG Saturday, 2 June 2012 at 7.40pm. HEAD TO HEAD Overall Essendon 126 wins Melbourne 79 wins 2 draws At the MCG Essendon 63 wins Melbourne 43 wins 1 draw Since 2000: Essendon 10 wins Melbourne 6 wins The Coaches Hird 0 wins Neeld 0 wins MEDIA TV Channel 7 Fox Footy Channel live at 7.30pm RADIO 3AW Triple M THE BETTING Essendon $1.05 to win Melbourne $10.00 to win THE LAST TIME THEY MET Melbourne 15.11.101 defeated Essendon 10.8. 68 at the MCG It was a great night for the Demons as the unexpectedly bested the Bombers in all parts of the ground. It was a big night for Melbourne's young midfielders with Gysberts, Trengove and McKenzie in outstanding form and Scully doing well on return. The problem from Melbourne's point of view is that its goal kickers that night were:- Green 4 Jurrah 3 Jetta Moloney 2 Howe Scully Sylvia Watts How many of these players will be in action on Saturday night? THE TEAMS ESSENDON Backs Cale Hooker Dustin Fletcher Courtenay Dempsey Half backs Ricky Dyson Kyle Hardingham Jake Carlisle Centreline David Zaharakis Jobe Watson Brent Stanton Half forwards Angus Monfries Stewart Crameri Patrick Ryder Forwards Leroy Jetta Michael Hurley Alwyn Davey Followers Tom Bellchambers Ben Howlett Heath Hocking Interchange Travis Colyer Sam Lonergan Nathan Lovett-Murray Melksham Emergencies David Hille Tayte Pears Henry Slattery In Dustin Fletcher Kyle Hardingham Leroy Jetta Out Mark McVeigh Tayte Pears Henry Slattery MELBOURNE Backs James Frawley Jared Rivers Tom McDonald Half backs Jack Trengove Jack Watts Colin Garland Centreline Jack Grimes James Magner Nathan Jones Half forwards Rohan Bail Mitch Clark Joel Macdonald Forwards Jeremy Howe Brad Green Luke Tapscott Followers Mark Jamar Brent Moloney Jordie McKenzie Interchange Sam Blease Lynden Dunn Daniel Nicholson Colin Sylvia Emergencies Matthew Bate Jamie Bennell James Sellar In Joel Macdonald Colin Sylvia Out Jamie Bennell James Sellar THE TROUBLES by Whispering Jack It's hard to fathom that twelve months down the track from their last meeting that the two combatants in this game would be at almost polar opposites to each other and that Essendon would be starting as such an odds on favourite to win. The Bombers are sitting in equal top position on the ladder with just one loss for the season (by a single point to Collingwood on Anzac Day) while the Demons have lost their first nine matches of the season. That's enough to make it a lay down misere that an Essendon brimming with confidence will win and win easily and that's how I'm predicting the game to pan out. Part of the question why is already explained above in some shape or form. The type of game that is being instilled into the Melbourne team is radically different to that which applied in past years and the team is not yet ready in terms of make up and fitness to conquer top eight teams in full flight. In last year's encounter, we caught a glimpse of a better Melbourne midfield. It was headed by Brent Moloney who won the club's best and fairest and polled 19 Brownlow votes. Beamer's form has been well down on that and he would be very lucky to have polled a vote at all to this stage of the season. But the better midfielders that night included Jordan Gysberts, Jack Trengove, Jordie McKenzie and Tom Scully, who all racked up good numbers on their possession counts. Two of those players haven't played this year. Gysberts is injured and Scully jumped ship. The so called "compensation" for the latter won't kick in for a while. Other potential young midfielders on the list also languish with injuries and loss of form. So the club's all important midfield has taken a hit just at the time when it's most needed and much development time is being lost. But if the midfield has taken a hit then there's also the matter of the attack. Even with the changes that Neeld's defensive approach entails, the end game is always to score ... at least more than the opposition in any given game. So here is something that the club's harshest critics seem to have missed. Last year, Melbourne's top three goalkickers were:- • Liam Jurrah 40 goals • Brad Green 37 goals • Colin Sylvia 25 goals That's 102 goals between the club's three most attacking playmakers. These players alone directly contributed almost five goals per game between them and I dare say would have been responsible for setting up a few more goals to others on a weekly basis. It's not unreasonable that we should have expected this trio, Mitch Clark and perhaps Ricky Petterd as well, to do most of the team's scoring. Alas, after nine matches we have had very little from the players we might have otherwise expected to contribute to the scoreboard. Instead, we have this:- • Liam Jurrah 0 goals • Brad Green 2 goals • Colin Sylvia 1 goal Now, if you take the three top goalkicking forwards as completely out of the equation as the above figures indicate, it's not likely that a young team with a completely new style of play to learn is going to show very much, particularly if the midfield is also performing at well below its best. Sure, you might say it's the coach's role to get the best out of his players and that will certainly be the case in the medium to long term but after nine games in these circumstances, there's is no reason to do anything other than to cut him some slack. The troubles are by no means over but there needs to be a much greater understanding of Neeld and his team's plight. When it all starts to click the results will be quite dramatic; the club will be in a much better place and the days of pain will be over. But, I don't think we can expect that to happen this week. Essendon by 34 points.
Crazy, I know but we beat the Bombers when nobody expected - ESSENDON Backs Kyle Hardingham Cale Hooker Dustin Fletcher Half backs Henry Slattery David Myers Nathan Lovett-Murray Centreline Leroy Jetta Brent Stanton Travis Colyer Half forwards Jake Melksham Patrick Ryder David Zaharakis Forwards Angus Monfries David Hill Stewart Crameri Followers Tom Bellchambers Ben Howlett Mark McVeigh Interchange Alex Brown Dyson Heppell Michael Hibberd Sam Lonergan Emergencies Alwyn Davey Kyle Reimers Andrew Welsh MELBOURNE Backs James Frawley Jared Rivers Joel Macdonald Half backs Tom Scully Jack Watts James Strauss Centreline Jordan Gysberts Brent Moloney Jack Trengove Half forwards Cale Morton Colin Sylvia Jeremy Howe Forwards Max Gawn Brad Green Jamie Bennell Followers Stef Martin Nathan Jones Jordie McKenzie Interchange Liam Jurrah Neville Jetta Michael Evans Daniel Nicholson Emergencies Matthew Bate Sam Blease Tom McDonald In Max Gawn Jeremy Howe Tom Scully James Strauss Jack Trengove Out Matthew Bate Addam Maric Michael Newton (foot) Ricky Petterd Matthew Warnock New Max Gawn (Sandringham Dragons) Jeremy Howe (Hobart)