Lowly Melbourne will climb faster than the Saints or Bulldogs
Carlton and Melbourne players clash at half time during the AFL Round 09 match between the Carlton Blues and the Melbourne Demons . (Photo: Michael Willson/AFL Media)
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When Melbourne last made the finals in 2006, both St Kilda and the Western Bulldogs were in the bottom part of the top eight with them.
In fact the Demons beat the Saints in an elimination final, which ended up being the last match Grant Thomas coached for St Kilda.
Fast forward seven seasons and these three are far and away the worst-performed Victorian-based clubs so far in 2013, but unlike Melbourne, who have been at or near the foot of the ladder since 2006, the Saints and the Bulldogs have been regular participants in the finals.
St Kilda appeared in four finals series in a row between 2008 and 2011, and history will tell us they got very close to winning the flag in both 2009 and 2010, when they drew with Collingwood, before being thrashed in the replay.
The Dogs made three consecutive preliminary finals between 2008 and 2010, but now you could say both are paying for recruiting for the now, with massive gaps existing in their playing list.
The Saints and the Dogs still contain some of the stars who helped them be significant players in those finals series, but the age group between 22 and 26, who should either be reaching or in their prime, hardly exist.
St Kilda’s coach in their grand final years, Ross Lyon, was hell-bent on using the same hard-bodied players to play roles to complement their best players like Nick Reiwoldt, Brendon Goddard and Lenny Hayes, which meant their first and second year recruits at the time either didn’t play or were not adequately developed.
The Dogs have a terrible record of developing recruits from drafts such as 2005, 2006 and 2007. These players should be regular senior players now but are not reaching their potential. Their first round picks from 2005 to 2011 have also generally not succeeded.
Shaun Higgins from 2005 has suffered too many season-ending injuries, Andrejis Everitt from 2006 struggled and was traded to Sydney.
In 2007, Jared Grant was taken at number five with big wraps from the then recruiting manager Scott Clayton. He has ability, but seemingly not the will to succeed.
Ayce Cordy was selected as a father/son choice in 2008, but despite being over 200 centremetres tall doesn’t appear to have the physical presence. Shoulder injuries also haven’t helped.
Christian Howard was a surprise choice among every other club at 15 in 2009 and can’t get a game, while Mitch Wallis, another father and son pick in 2010, was a star at junior level but his lack of pace has been exposed on the elite stage. Clay Smith, taken at pick 14 in 2011, lacks polish with his kicking.
Melbourne has been a disaster since the start of 2007 and with all those finishes at or near the bottom, have secured many early draft picks and, like the Dogs, many of them haven’t come on.
They also appointed senior coaches in Dean Bailey and especially Mark Neeld who have been shown to be out of their depth in those roles. In two matches since Neil Craig took over from Neeld the Demons have indicated the future could be brighter than the Dogs and Saints.
Their midfield is a cause for concern, although Jimmy Toumpas as an outside runner and Jack Viney as an inside midfield have already shown glimpses and should provide excellent support over the years for Nathan Jones, Jack Trengove and Jack Grimes.
However, at the 2013 draft, if they don’t trade it out, they could have the second pick. With Tom Boyd, the exciting key position prospect, tipped to be the first selection, the Demons must target the best midfielder. They must basically devote this draft to finding midfield types.
They are well served with key position defenders in Colin Garland, James Frawley and Tom McDonald. In the forward line there is an abundance of tall timber as well who have loads of talent, such as Mitch Clarke and Chris Dawes when fit, the inconsistent but exciting Jack Watts, powerful teenager Jesse Hogan and Max Gawn and Jack Fitzpatrick, who can both also develop into ruckmen.
The Dogs have concentrated on slow, unskilled inside strong bodied midfielders and have too many of them. They urgently require skilled outside run, key forwards like Tom Boyd as Liam Jones just haven’t come on, despite playing 50 games, while Jordan Roughead, Michael Talia and the undersized but brave veteran Dale Morris need more support at the back.
St Kilda have no tall defenders other than Sam Fisher in his best role is as a rebounding defender. They were very keen on West Coast’s Mitch Brown last year, but he was still contracted and the Eagles wanted him as backup. With Darren Glass and Will Schofield being injured, Brown has played several games, but for mine his value has dropped as he has struggled to impress often enough.
Essendon full back Tayte Pears has only payed when Dustin Fletcher has been injured as Jake Carlisle and Cale Hooker have gone ahead of him, so he might be one the Saints could target at the end of this season.
Two weeks ago James Frawley was being spoken about as a chance to leave the Demons, but as mentioned a change of coach seems to have rejuvinated him.
There are hardly any other key position prospects at other clubs worth considering for the Saints that could fill a role straight away, so they might have to completely rebuild the back half and take the attiude of short term pain for long term gain.
Nick Reiwoldt, despite having a brilliant year, is in the twilight of his career and young key forwards in Rhys Stanley and Arryn Sipposs still seem a long way off from being ready to step into his shoes. Although he has been highly touted, first-year recruit Spencer White is still very raw.
Key position players who are ready to go and have size and strength about them are hard to find, and the Dogs and the Saints lack them, but the Demons don’t, so don’t be surprised to see the Demons on the move up the ladder well before the Dogs and the Saints, who are paying for having both eyes on the now instead of putting one on the future as well.
Dan Lonergan is one Australia's most respected and versatile commentators. In more than 16 years on ABC Grandstand he has covered AFL footy (including four Grand Finals), cricket, tennis, and three Olympic Games, including London 2012 where he commentated 16 sports.