With the 2019 AFL draft in the rearview mirror and club lists finalised for 2020, we decided – despite overwhelming popular opinion – that it’s not at all too early to start speculating about the season ahead.
Just how important is the coach? It may seem like a ridiculous question at first. But if Geelong’s Mark Thompson and Richmond’s Damian Hardwick swapped places, would their teams still be at opposite ends of the AFL pecking order?
Chances are nothing would change.
At first glance, Bailey’s coaching record appears horrendous (8 wins from 47 matches), but it is clear his players, at this stage, cannot execute at the level of a finals team.
Damien Hardwick has one tough – and long – task in front of him. We’re three weeks into the season and his team has been on the receiving end of three comprehensive losses.
It’s amazing how all that pre-season optimism can be lost so early in the season.
But heavy defeats are soul-destroying. Melbourne has only suffered one heavy loss this season – in Round 1 – but, in the last two weeks, the Demons have shown plenty.
If Mark Thompson was in charge of Richmond, it would still be winless this year. It’s a simple fact their supporters have to accept.
The Tigers have not won a flag since 1980. Have all their coaches since been no good? Of course not.
Melbourne fans have been waiting even longer.
The last time the club won the ultimate prize was in 1964. Demon supporters will also be waiting a while for their next, despite the recent encouraging progress.
Sure, the buck does stop with the senior coach – fans want results, and quickly. In Melbourne’s case, however, could anyone do a superior job to what Bailey is doing currently with the list?
He was criticised by all and sundry after Round 1.
In the past fortnight, we have rarely heard a bad word spoken about him.
Bailey has five-six years (if he survives the journey) of hard labour in front of him to lift the Demons in to the league’s upper echelon.
The worth of a coach, though, in many ways, is determined by the talent of the list.
Melbourne has a bunch of young, talented players, but they need more games before they make significant progress.
Each year, the premiership coach is also awarded with the accolade of “AFL coach of the year.” That fact is a debate for another day.
But, simply, Melbourne and Richmond, at this point, are not capable of competing on a regular basis with the elite. You could argue the Tigers can’t compete with many sides.
Fans often ignore development – they want results. A loss is tragic, but a win solves all problems – no matter how meaningless it is in the context of a season.
Ironically, the Tigers and Demons face-off this weekend. The loser – and in particular their coach – will face some heat from all quarters.
But, along the journey, the expectations should remain realistic. The Tigers and Demons will be lucky to win 10 games between them this season. Both camps should reasonably expect four points this weekend.
Melbourne, though, will enter the game as favourites with the bookmakers.
The loser will be placed under the furnace.
Long-term problems are never going to be solved with a few draft picks. Hardwick is learning that at the moment.
Most players – apart from the guns – take four or five seasons to establish themselves. It’s difficult to be patient, but it is the only option for supporters of struggling teams.
If Tom Scully and Jack Trengrove emerge from the season with 20 games to each of their names, Melbourne will be better for it in the future.
The same applies to Richmond and its draftees, namely midfielder Dustin Martin.
Both teams have talented kids, but so do most teams.
The process will be long and hard for Richmond and Melbourne, make no mistake.
Fans can get frustrated, but they can’t afford to focus their attention, solely, on the senior coach.
The AFL is a difficult playground to takeover at the best of times – especially when you are rebuilding.
Next time you criticise them, ask yourself if anyone else could do better in the head chair?
And, remember, the wheel is always turning.