The Demons are the league’s most consistently underperforming team.
It’s been 104 months since the Demons last played finals football. In the nine years since Brock McLean led Melbourne to that not so fateful elimination final victory over the Saints on a Friday night at the MCG, the Dees have won 41 out of 185 games.
They’ve had seven different coaches in the past eight years, after having five in the 26 years prior.
From the nine-game losing streak to start 2007 to the 186-point loss to Geelong to ‘tank-gate’, Melbourne’s misery has been as diverse as it’s been consistent.
And yet, when the final siren went at the MCG last Sunday afternoon, none of that meant anything.
It was all just faint noise, drowned out by the cheers of the red and blue faithful. All that mattered was ‘Melbourne 15.13 103, Western Bulldogs 9.10 64′.
Tex Winter has a quote that all sports fans owe it to themselves to remember: “you’re only a success at the moment you do a successful act.” Success is multiform, and it doesn’t just exist in the context of a bigger picture. It often operates on a moment-to-moment basis, and when Jesse Hogan rises up in the deep forward pocket, all of a sudden the past disappears underneath him, and all you can see is a kinder future.
The Demons aren’t out of the woods yet by any stretch, but they’re out of hell, and that’s a start. They’re 3-5 (one game behind Hawthorn!), which sounds more impressive when you consider that Melbourne won just six out of 44 games across 2013 and 2014. Nine wins this year is a realistic goal and that would be Melbourne’s most in a season since 2006.
There are no guarantees of success with this Demons team, but sports fans don’t need guarantees. We just need hope, which is to say we just need not to be Carlton. For the first time in nine years, Melbourne has hope.
Gone is the Mark Neeld era and his losing press conferences where he would unwittingly channel Leonardo DiCaprio at the end of the The Departed, a mixture of nervous insecurity and beaten resignation, almost indifferent to inevitability.
In Paul Roos, the Demons have a coach with a proven track record, and more importantly, a strong enough reputation to eschew quick fixes and focus on long-term success. Where Neeld brought perspiration, Roos brings perspective.
The list is finally a cause for optimism. Key position commodities are the AFL’s plutonium, and in Tom McDonald and Jesse Hogan, the Demons potentially have two All-Australian pillars to their spine lined up for the next decade. After misfiring on top 20 draft picks, Melbourne has improved its young stocks to create the semblance of an exciting core.
Dom Tyson has had a down start to the season, but his talent and class are undeniable. Angus Brayshaw showed why he was the #3 pick on the weekend, meshing speed and nous with an aptitude for contested ball. Jeremy Howe is making a strong claim to be Ben Affleck’s understudy in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and mature rookie Aaron Vandenberg looks to be the steal of last year’s draft, up to 13th in the league in tackles.
Jack Viney and Christian Salem have been on the sidelines, but they’ll be back, and their potential is tantalising. Christian Petracca is waiting in the wings.
Inspirational skipper Nathan Jones continues to be at the heart of everything. The evolutionary Todd Viney with more polish, Jones is Melbourne’s best player and an elite midfielder. But it’s Jones’ signature that might prove to be more symbolic than any of his many hard ball gets.
Coupled with the Roos hiring, re-signing Jones to a five-year deal last December may prove to be the turning point for the Melbourne Football Club. In the aftermath of Tom Scully and James Frawley deciding they would rather play elsewhere, Jones’s commitment was a powerful statement – a top-tier player in the competition seeing enough hope at Melbourne to want to finish his career there.
Of course, it’s not all roses. Notwithstanding an encouraging performance on the weekend, Jimmy Toumpas remains about as inspiring as his last name is intimidating. Jack Watts might be his own article at this stage. In terms of comparisons with other number one picks, I’m sure Melbourne fans would like Watts to be something vaguely resembling Brendon Goddard, but instead he’s closer to a poor man’s facsimile of Josh Fraser and Travis Johnstone.
Watts is unquestionably skilled but he’s got the physical aggression of a paper clip. He doesn’t need to find form in the VFL, he needs to watch Die Hard 2: Die Harder on repeat to get some conviction into his game.
I’m not sure there’s premiership-level talent in Melbourne’s current core, but at the same time I’m not sure there’s that level of talent in the cores of 13 other teams either. The AFL is a loaded dice; a game of blackjack where you go bust unless you hit 21. Only one of 18 teams wins each year and there are nine teams that haven’t won a flag in the past fifteen years.
But sport isn’t invariably about premierships. It’s about the journey that you hope will lead to one. Hope, not certainty, is the true currency of sport and now the Demons have that. Their journey has started.
Inevitably, there will be setbacks along the way like the drubbing to Hawthorn a fortnight ago. A team that lost 17 games by 10 goals or more across 2013 and 2014 doesn’t become a contender overnight.
But Melbourne took one small step forward in their journey last Sunday afternoon and they’re on track to take many more in the coming months and years. Melbourne fans should take pride, joy and inevitably at times, solace, in these steps, regardless of whether or not they end up leading to the Holy Grail.
If they do get there though, good for them. They’ll have earned it.