What Jack Watts’ departure from Melbourne could mean

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    As the late Dean Bailey once said, “the club is always bigger than the individual”.

    Those words came following his sacking as Melbourne coach, which was brought forward after the club suffered a humiliating 186-point defeat at the hands of the Geelong Cats at Kardinia Park late in the 2011 season.

    That defeat, among many others, counts as one of numerous lowlights in what can only be described as the most tumultuous period in the recent history of the Melbourne Football Club.

    But all that could be about to come to an end, following the trading away of Jack Watts to the Port Adelaide Football Club.

    After weeks of speculation following the end of the 2017 AFL season, which ended with the Dees missing the finals by mere percentage, the club made the call to move Watts on, with many believing the separation of both parties is in the best interests of both the individual and the club.

    Upon being drafted with the first pick in the 2008 AFL draft, Watts was seen as the saviour for a club which has been starved of success in recent years, having not won a flag since 1964 and having not made the grand final since 2000.

    Then-coach Dean Bailey used the Queen’s Birthday clash against Collingwood midway through the 2009 season to unveil their number one draft pick, who had turned 18 earlier that year.

    “It’s an important opportunity for us to wheel out our No.1 draft pick to play on Monday”, he said.

    (Photo by Michael Willson/AFL Media/Getty Images)

    He also promoted the occasion by imploring the fans to come, saying that they will “look back at this time in three, four or five years to see where it all began and to be able to say I was there the day Jack Watts made his debut”.

    After much fanfare, Watts’ debut match would eventually turn into a fizzer, as he was immediately targeted by numerous Pies defenders upon entering an AFL field for the first time at the seven-minute mark of the first quarter.

    Paul Roos, the coach of the Sydney Swans at the time, was among the 61,287 spectators who watched the game at the MCG, and he was shocked by what he saw.

    “I was there that day. I was appalled as an opposition coach and amazed. I can guarantee that won’t be happening again,” Roos, who would later coach the Dees between 2014 and 2016, said in February 2014.

    Watts ended his debut match with eight disposals and a behind, even better statistics than what future greats Jonathan Brown, Nick Riewoldt, Lance Franklin, Jobe Watson and even two-time Brownlow Medallist Gary Ablett Jr managed in their debut matches.

    But because of the way he was unveiled to the AFL public, particularly in the Dees’ biggest match of the year, his debut match will forever be remembered for all the wrong reasons.

    It would also, many could argue, set the tone for the criticism and ridicule Watts would endure in his time at the Melbourne Football Club, first under Bailey, then under Todd Viney, Mark Neeld, Neil Craig, Paul Roos, and finally, Simon Goodwin.

    Watts would play two more matches in the 2009 season, both of them losses.

    With the honour of being taken as the top pick in any draft, comes the pressure to perform.

    Some adapt well to it, and some don’t.

    Among those who have flourished include Andrew McGrath, who took out this year’s Rising Star award, as well as Luke Hodge (three-time Hawthorn premiership captain), Jacob Weitering, Brett Deledio (2005 Rising Star winner), Brendon Goddard and Nick Riewoldt, among others.

    St Kilda’s Paddy McCartin is the most recent of the flops, having managed just 22 games in three seasons and just five this year, the low output coming about mostly due to injuries and inconsistency.

    In Watts’ case, despite his best efforts and some flashes of brilliance throughout a career of more than 150 games, he never really lived up to the hype and has instead been seen by many, both inside and outside of the Melbourne Football Club, as the poster boy for the club’s recent failures.

    Jack Watts Melbourne Demons AFL 2017

    (Photo by Michael Willson/AFL Media/Getty Images)

    The turning point in both his and the club’s recent history appeared to come when Paul Roos was appointed as the head coach in September 2013, nearly three months after previous coach Mark Neeld was sacked mid-season after netting just five wins in 33 games in charge (plus numerous heavy defeats).

    Shortly after this was announced, Watts re-signed with the Dees for three more years, despite reports that he would seek a trade out of the club due to their constant underachieving on and off the field.

    He had also admitted to not being a fan of Neeld’s hard-line stance, which contributed to a drop in his form in 2013, none more so than when he was dropped after a 148-point loss to Essendon early that season (he was jeered when his substitution out of that match was announced).

    One of Roos’ first tasks was to turn him into the player he was born to be.

    “Jack looked me in the eye and said, ‘Roosy, I just want to be treated like a human being’,” Roos quotes in his recent book, Here it is.

    “I was rocked by Jack’s words. In one simple, powerful sentence, he gave me the insight I needed. It was not something I ever thought I’d hear a player say. For whatever reason, the important relationships at Melbourne were in tatters. There needed to be more nurturing and less negativity.”

    Paul Roos, coach of Melbourne looks on during the 2014 NAB Challenge launch

    (Photo: Justine Walker/AFL Media)

    Roos’ tenure as Dees coach saw the club gradually improve from two wins and a percentage of 54.07 in 2013 to four wins and 68.4 per cent in 2014, seven wins and 77 per cent in 2015 and ten wins and 97.6 per cent last year.

    Watts has credited Roos, who guided the Sydney Swans to a drought-breaking premiership win in 2005, for turning his career around, despite the recent events surrounding his acrimonious departure from Melbourne.

    This year, under new coach Simon Goodwin, who took over from Roos as part of a coaching handover, the Dees finished just outside the eight with 12 wins and a percentage of 105.2.

    Watts managed just 16 games in the season recently concluded, after having played all bar two of the 66 matches in which Roos was coach.

    It could be seen as one of the signs that Goodwin is seriously intent on making his mark on the club, which has not only been absent from September since 2006 but also has the longest current premiership drought of any club, having not saluted since 1964.

    Watts’ inconsistency throughout his nearly decade-long career has been cited as one of the main reasons for his trading away from the club to Port Adelaide.

    “There is no doubt that this has been a difficult decision for the club to make but the list management group felt that Jack’s consistency of performance while at Melbourne hasn’t been at the level expected of a player with his experience,” football manager Josh Mahoney said.

    “This may be attributed to the fact that Jack has attracted immense public interest from day one.

    “This has no doubt placed an unfair amount of pressure and expectation on Jack throughout his career at Melbourne and both parties feel like a change of environment and a fresh start will be the best thing for Jack’s career.

    “We know that Jack is a well-liked character but we’ve based this decision on performance and what is best for both parties.

    “While this has been a hard football decision, we have made great strides in rebuilding our playing list and we will continue to make hard decisions to ensure that we take the club to where our supporters want it to be, which is a club capable of sustained success.”

    It will now remain to be seen how Watts fares outside the media bowl of Melbourne, but if recent history is anything to go by, then he may finally be able to fulfill his potential at Port Adelaide.

    After Barry Hall left St Kilda in 2001, he flourished at the Sydney Swans in the eight years he was at the club, captaining the side to the aforementioned premiership win in 2005 before returning to Victoria at the end of 2009 where he spent two years with the Western Bulldogs before retiring in 2011.

    Similarly, Lance ‘Buddy’ Franklin has continued to perform well at the Swans since leaving Hawthorn at the end of 2013, while Gary Ablett Jr continued to do so at the Gold Coast Suns until injuries and family issues saw him request a trade back to the Geelong Cats, whom he left at the end of 2010.

    But then there are the few whose off-field issues followed them out of Victoria, such as Brendan Fevola, who played just 17 games and kicked 48 goals for the Brisbane Lions in 2010 after he was traded from Carlton, where he played 187 games and kicked 575 majors, at the end of the 2009 season.

    17 months after his drunken antics at the 2009 Brownlow Medal ceremony brought about his trade to Brisbane, alcohol and gambling issues saw his brief tenure there (and his AFL career) come to an abrupt end.

    However, Jack Watts’ departure from Melbourne has not come as a result of any wrongdoing on his end, and the move out of the AFL capital should benefit him and the club for the better going forward.

    Melbourne Demons player Jack Watts

    (AAP Image/Julian Smith)

    He will join a top-notch midfield led by captain Travis Boak, as well as Robbie Gray, Chad Wingard and fellow tradee Tom Rockliff, who like Watts left his original club, the Brisbane Lions, seeking immediate on-field success.

    As for the Dees, the departure of Watts should close another chapter in the club’s recent history, which delivered over a decade of mediocrity and criticism over the club’s handling of their so-called “saviours”.

    During this time, they drafted the likes of Watts, Jack Trengove, Tom Scully, Jordan Gysberts and Jimmy Toumpas, believing that these players could form a backbone for the club to achieve the success they thought they could.

    In February 2012, then-coach Mark Neeld made the call to remove Brad Green as captain, installing Trengove and Jack Grimes, who to that point had played a grand total of 69 games between them, as co-captains.

    This move, as well as Neeld’s famous remark that he would make the club “the hardest to play against”, backfired spectacularly in his short tenure as Dees coach.

    None of these personnel remain at the club today, mostly as a result of the cleaning out that has taken place under current CEO Peter Jackson, as well as former coach Paul Roos and his incumbent, Simon Goodwin.

    Only Scully has managed to play any consistent football, racking up 120 games for the GWS Giants since leaving Melbourne at the end of the 2011 season, featuring in each of their five finals and bringing up his 150th AFL game in their 67-point semi-final win over the West Coast Eagles last month.

    He had previously played 31 games for the Dees, including playing 21 out of a possible 22 in 2010 but only managing ten games in 2011. Unlike Watts, however, Scully showed signs of his potential in his brief time at the club before the Giants came calling ahead of their entry into the AFL in 2012.

    Like Watts, though, Scully faced immense pressure in his early years at the Giants, as the club struggled through just three wins in their first two seasons before some steady progress saw the club reach back-to-back preliminary finals this and last year.

    To this day Dees fans still continue to wonder what may have unfolded had he remained at the club beyond the end of the 2011 season.

    However, given the club’s mismanagement with its draftees earlier this decade, there is the chance he may have joined those aforementioned players in AFL oblivion.

    But now is all about going forward for the Melbourne Football Club and continuing their upward progress that has taken place in the past few years, narrowly missing out on a finals berth this year by just 0.5 percentage points.

    Watts’ departure (which has been somewhat offset by the arrival of defender Jake Lever from the Adelaide Crows) could prove to benefit the club in the short term, if what the Western Bulldogs and Richmond have achieved in the past two years is anything to go by.

    This time three years ago, the Bulldogs were in turmoil, having seen their captain (Ryan Griffen), coach (Brendan McCartney) and later their CEO (Simon Garlick), all walk out the door in acrimonious circumstances.

    Experienced heads Daniel Giansiracusa, Adam Cooney and Shaun Higgins also left the club, leading many to tip the club as the bookies’ favourite for the wooden spoon in 2015.

    However, under rookie coach Luke Beveridge, they would finish sixth before losing a thrilling elimination final against the Adelaide Crows, before ultimately going all the way last year after finishing seventh at the end of 23 rounds.


    (AAP Image/Julian Smith)

    Likewise, this time last year, Richmond was preparing to farewell Brett Deledio and Tyrone Vickery, while coach Damien Hardwick was on the verge of being sacked before he was given a vote of confidence by the club’s board.

    This year, a rejuvenated Tigers side went all the way for the first time since 1980, thrashing the favourites, the Adelaide Crows, by 48 points in the grand final.

    And now that Jack Watts has left Melbourne after arguably the most turbulent period in their recent history, who knows what the club can achieve going forward?

    Could their fans dare to dream that they could go all the way in 2018?

    We will all wait to see.