Effort. It’s the one thing AFL supporters demand from their players at the expense of all else. At times, with a developing side, it’s the only thing.
What Melbourne’s players excreted yesterday was an unforgiveable sin.
The keys are desire. Competitiveness. Work ethic.
Showing the fans a willingness to be better without the ball than they are with it. Chasing. Tackling. Harassing. Players putting their bodies on the line as if their teammates, the club and the game mean something to them.
We all recognise skill errors are going to be made. We acknowledge that new game plans take a while to understand and implement. We’re cognisant of the fact that sometimes players and teams can be a little bit off on a given day.
Adelaide were apathetic. Brisbane were bad.
But Melbourne were utterly uncompetitive against a visiting interstate side, Port Adelaide, that won only five games last year. It was an abject, atrocious display that showed not one iota of the qualities described above.
“I simply want to coach the team that is hardest to play against in the AFL.” This was Mark Neeld’s most telling and memorable statement after he was announced as the Demons’ senior coach in September of 2011.
If his statement is still true, he needs to be filling out job applications for 17 other clubs. Right now, 23 games into his tenure, Melbourne would be lucky to be the hardest team to play against in amateur football.
It’s been two years since Carlton’s Mitch Robinson famously derided the Dees as playing “bruise-free football”, supposedly sparking rage and indignation within the Melbourne camp.
What the hell has changed in the meantime?
The only thing that’s changed, as far as I can tell, is Melbourne supporters have become more dispirited, more disenfranchised, more disappointed in their club.
Load up every damning, negative and condescending word you can think of, and every one could describe this club, and this team.
Disgraceful. Disgusting. Gutless.
Colin Sylvia probably has more talent in his little finger than a lot of players in the AFL, let alone at his club, have in their entire bodies. He was the most experienced Melbourne man on the ground yesterday, in his tenth season of senior football.
His numbers look okay, with 20 touches, six marks and a few tackles. He may well be thinking that it’s not his fault, he did his bit.
But this would be a thought process unworthy of a team game. It is his fault. He didn’t do his bit.
The last quarter, with his team having been blown away, was the ideal time to show some leadership. To show he hadn’t given up. To show he could be an example when the ball was delivered to him with only Tom Jonas, of 13 games experience, as opposition.
Jonas got the better of the one-on-one body contest in the air, found the leather on the ground, released the handball, and followed up his possession with hard running to provide another link in the chain before hitting a target with his kick.
Sylvia was seen dawdling along some metres behind, uninterested.
Anyone can lose a contest. It’s what you do afterwards that defines you. It’s time for this sorry footballer to be dropped to the reserves for a lengthy spell, as he’s symbolic of everything that’s wrong with this football club.
Perhaps more first-gamers like Jack Viney and Matt Jones need promotion.
We’d heard a lot about Viney before his debut, having been pumped up seemingly from birth. He delivered a performance of hardness, heart and passion, attacking each contest with the vigour of a starving animal seeking prey. It was unlike Melbourne in every way.
Viney led the side in contested possessions, doing the work in close, and Jones led them in uncontested, running hard to create options for his teammates on the rare occasions they were able to keep the ball.
Thank goodness that Viney has come along to give the supporters something to cling to. We can only assume a pall of sadness has overcome these pitiable, disconsolate figures, and every member is to be commended for their loyalty in the face of such horror.
They say too much can be read into round one but this can’t be passed off as an aberration.
Earlier this month, Neeld was quoted as saying “We are very bullish about the future.”
Try telling that to your paying members and fans now Mark. Because not a single one of them is.