Melbourne Demons will take long road to rebuilding
Poor draft choices and list management decisions have put the AFL’s Melbourne Football Club back four to five years.
Melbourne lacks two major things on its playing list: experienced players to develop its youngsters, and pace and skill in its midfield.
The Demons sit 16th on the ladder, and travel to the Gabba to take on the Brisbane Lions without gun recruit Mitch Clark, whose season has ended after a Lisfranc tear in his right foot against GWS on Sunday.
Melbourne has not made a final series since 2006, and in the seasons since has finished 14th, 16th, 16th, 12th and 13th. Since 2006, Melbourne has received two number one draft picks; eight first round picks and 11 top 20 picks. This has given the Demons access to the best 20 under-18 players in the country for five years, yet it is clear the Demons won’t finish in the top eight in 2012.
To allow for the development of these draft picks, Melbourne began a youth policy under coach Dean Bailey at the end of the 2008 season, freeing up positions to expose players who could potentially lead the Demons to their first premiership since 1964.
Club legend David Nietz retired at the end of 2008 after 303 games. The club then delisted Adem Yze in 2008 and Russell Robertson in 2009. They forced former captain James McDonald to retire in 2010, who after a year in the VAFA for Old Xaverians, was picked up by GWS as a playing assistant coach for season 2012.
The club also delisted Brad Miller who was picked up by Richmond in the 2011 rookie draft, and failed to re-sign Cameron Bruce, who was picked up by Hawthorn in the 2011 pre season draft.
This cost the demons 1283 games of experience, an average of 213.8 games per player lost. The demons have been able to develop young forwards such as Jeremy Howe, Liam Jurrah and new recruit Mitch Clark, but Miller, at 28 years of age, has proven very useful for the Tigers in his two seasons at the club to date, and could have been very useful to the Demons if retained to help the development of these players.
The colossal loss of experience has also meant a dramatic loss of leadership at the club, leading to the appointment of Jack Trengove at 20 to be the youngest captain in VFL/AFL history, alongside co-captain Jack Grimes at 22 years of age. The pair has played less than 100 games between them, and lead one of the most inexperienced lists in the competition, with only nine players having played more than 100 games.
Former coach Dean Bailey and recruiting manager Barry Prendergast have a lot to answer for. In pursuit of a youthful, talented list, the club cleared out some of its most respected senior players and gutted the culture of the club. Players weren’t forced to earn their spots, instead given games based on the need to educate them. Critically, these younger players had no experienced role models to teach them how to prepare and play at the elite level.
The recruitment decisions made between 2007 and 2011 have been nothing short of diabolical, due both to factors outside of the club’s control, and some very poor decision-making.
The club recruited mobile utility Cale Morton with pick four of the 2007 AFL draft, overlooking the explosive Cyril Rioli (Hawthorn) and Patrick Dangerfield (Adelaide), who both possess extreme pace, something the Demons seriously lack in their midfield. Morton is yet to show any real reason for being such a high draft pick, while both Rioli and Dangerfield are integral parts of their respective clubs.
Pick 21 was used for Addam Maric, who was delisted by the club at the end of 2011 and picked up by Richmond. Scott Selwood was taken at pick 22 by West Coast, and is enjoying a breakout season for the Eagles, while Maric has struggled for opportunity at the Demons and Tigers to date.
The club then selected another mobile player, this time athletic key forward Jack Watts at pick number one in the 2008 draft. Watts is yet to display the dominance that was expected of him as a junior.
Although he remains young as a key position player, and the Melbourne midfield in recent years has been ordinary, the facts remain that the other key position players in the top 10 of that same draft have shown greater development. Consider Nic Natanui (pick two, West Coast), Michael Hurley (pick five, Essendon), Tyrone Vickery (pick eight, Richmond) and Phil Davis (pick 10, Adelaide then GWS).
The Demons then had two more picks inside the top 20 of that draft, 17 and 19, which they used on midfielders Sam Blease and James Strauss. Strauss’ career has been riddled with injury, while Blease, renowned for having great pace, is yet to make an impact. Better starts have been made by Luke Shuey (pick 18, West Coast), David Zaharakis (pick 23, Essendon), premiership player Dayne Beams (pick 29, Collingwood) and Daniel Hannebery (pick 30, Sydney).
Then came the 2009 draft. Melbourne were given priority picks one and two as a reward for two consecutive wooden spoons. They took Tom Scully with their first pick and current captain Trengove with their second. Two highly touted midfielders; Scully with elite speed and endurance, while Trengove was a slightly bigger-bodied midfielder who was a known goalkicker. It seemed the Demons finally had the players to develop a finals side.
They took young inside midfielder Jordan Gysberts with pick 11, a pick they gained by trading Brock McClean to Carlton. Pick 18 was used for Luke Tapscott, a strong, tough defender who grew up with Trengove at Prince Alfred College in Adelaide.
Fremantle used pick 20 for Nathan Fyfe, who has become one of the great young players of the AFL, and North Melbourne bagged under-rated midfielder Ryan Bastinac with pick 21. Both can be said to have been of greater value to their clubs to this point than Tapscott or Gysberts have been to the Demons.
Melbourne then missed the chance to take Sydney key forward Sam Reid, who was eventually taken at pick 39. The Demons instead went with ruckman Max Gawn with pick 34, whose initial career has been riddled with injury and who is currently on the long-term injury list after a knee reconstruction.
In 2010 the Demons took key forward Lucas Cook at pick number 12. We have seen nothing of him to date, and heard even less about him. Pick 33 yielded Jeremy Howe, who has been nothing but impressive since making his debut in 2011, and whose unbelievable leap has drawn everyone’s memory back to Robertson at his best.
The sacking of Dean Bailey led to wholesale changes around the club, and Mark Neeld’s new team were able to successfully hijack Fremantle’s bid for Mitch Clark and lure him to the Demons from the Brisbane Lions. This is something that would have never been possible under Prendergast and Bailey. History shows us that.
Money aside, Clark has proved to be one of the best recruits in the AFL so far in 2012, and without a doubt one of the Demons’ best players. He is exactly what Melbourne needed, a powerful key forward, and has done all that he possibly could have in his short time in the red and blue.
The Demons have been severely hampered by decisions made by people who didn’t properly grasp what the club needed at the time. Under Neeld at long last there appears to be a clear vision and understanding of the direction at the club. One can only hope this leads Demons fans out of the abyss of misery and to September glory in the not-too-distant future.
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