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2016 AFL preview series: Melbourne Demons

(AAP Image/Julian Smith)
Expert
7th March, 2016
41
3530 Reads

2015 was something of a breakthrough year for the Melbourne Football Club. After eight consecutive seasons in the bottom five, they finally broke free – to finish in the bottom six.

There was a clear gap between the middle six teams on the ladder and the bottom six though, with the Demons in 13th finishing three games and 30 per cent behind Collingwood in 12th. In fact, the gap between the Pies and Adelaide in seventh was less than the gap between the Pies and the Dees.

So, Melbourne has to bridge a considerable gap in order to rise. Let’s look at the side they might use to do it.

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B: Neville Jetta Lynden Dunn Tom Bugg
HB: Christian Salem Tom McDonald Colin Garland
C: Bernie Vince Nathan Jones Angus Brayshaw
HF: Jack Watts Chris Dawes Aaron Vandenberg
F: Jeff Garlett Jesse Hogan Ben Kennedy
Foll: Max Gawn Dom Tyson Jack Viney
Int: Sam Frost Dean Kent Christian Petracca Clayton Oliver
Em: Cam Pedersen James Harmes Heritier Lumumba

There may not be much cream at the top, but the Demons have finally developed a list of players that has some depth to it.

Not in the above best 22, Cam Pedersen will vie with Sam Frost for the versatile tall role, and also possibly with Chris Dawes for the centre half-forward position. James Harmes was one of many youngsters to make a favourable impression last year, along with Billy Stretch and Alex Neal-Bullen. Heritier Lumumba was extremely poor in 2016 and shouldn’t be the automatic selection many might think.

Also outside the best side are former co-captains under Mark Neeld, Jack Grimes and Jack Trengove. Looking back, it’s quite surreal to remember how bad it actually got for the Dee’s in that time.

The Melbourne backline is solid but lacking class. The three talls have played a lot of football together now, having been down there together for most of the last four seasons.

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Tom McDonald has the size and contested marking and Colin Garland the agility, versatility and rebound, but both are prone to turning it over by foot. Lynden Dunn brings the skill and attack. The latter two are better suited to a third tall position, so how dearly the Dee’s would love a genuine key defender with a blend of all their attributes.

Neville Jetta is the old-fashioned back pocket, capable of locking down but allergic to getting the ball. Christian Salem is to provide the run and drive, and a lot rests on his shoulders this year, but he might be a player who looks a better kick than he actually is. Tom Bugg will likely be asked to play a variety of roles through the middle and in defence.

The Melbourne midfield is wanting for pure ball-winning ability and class, but not for grunt. They struggle to win easy ball.

Even Bernie Vince, who had some hugely prolific games last year, finishing with 34 or more disposals five times, couldn’t quite average 25 touches a game.

The top five ball-winning Melbourne mids coming into this year – Vince, Nathan Jones, Dom Tyson, Jack Viney and Aaron Vandenberg between them averaged 45 per cent of their overall possessions as contested in 2015. Compare this to the top five Hawthorn ball-winners, who averaged out at 29 per cent.

Tyson is the midfielder that might be able to elevate this midfield group from good to great. He polled 11 Brownlow votes and hit the scoreboard regularly in his first year at the club, but failed to do much of either last season. He didn’t look quite as sharp in his second year at the club and may have been carrying something, but he has the ability to be a top 50 player in the comp.

Jack Viney is another critical element, a barnstorming finish to 2015 almost claiming himself a best and fairest. He’s never going to be a penetrative kick, but he did neaten up his disposal. Others may be his equal, but no player in the land goes harder at the ball than he.

Viney and Vince shared some run-with roles last year, but the addition of Bugg may free them up.

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To the naked eye watching the Demons play in recent years, they have been crippled by a chronic lack of run, and the above stats seem to bear that theory out.

The recruiting of Lumumba was supposed to partly address this, but he couldn’t find the ball. Jimmy Toumpas was drafted to play an outside game but is now gone. Jack Grimes has also been used, but his kicking is poor. Jake Melksham was recruited for this purpose, but must now sit out the year.

Christian Petracca, yet to play after doing an ACL last year, was more renowned as an inside player at TAC Cup level. Clayton Oliver, pick four in the 2015 draft, is also an inside bull, but has a few more tricks besides.

Angus Brayshaw was excellent in his first season doing more than his share of inside work, but also displayed skill on the outside and has a special quality about him. Perhaps he can be utilised more effectively. Maybe Billy Stretch can run the wings like his father did before him.

Max Gawn should be in the top handful of ruckmen in the AFL come season’s end, if he’s not already, and will add a dimension to Melbourne that few other clubs have. Athletic, great hands, fiery. He possesses a great leap when flying for a mark, but appears reluctant to use it in the ruck. This would complete his game.

Like many of the clubs coming from the lower reaches of the ladder, the Dee’s have their forward-line limitations. Carlton were the lowest scorers in the competition last year, but Melbourne only averaged a couple of points a game more than them.

The Demon forward-line starts with Jesse Hogan and ends with Jeff Garlett.

Hogan is a powerful presence already, only 20 games into his career. He craves the football as much as anyone in Demon colours ever has, and he has all the means to get it. Garlett was one of the recruits of the year, his speed and clean hands inside fifty, plus canny goal sense exactly what Dee’s fans had been crying out for.

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The Chris Dawes from the Collingwood 2010 flag no longer exists, and the memory of him fades with every passing game. Not that he was anything special then, but he’s even less now. Jack Watts is a good player prone to poor lapses that are always going to define him for many people. It’s a shame, because he would add value to any side in the competition.

Dean Kent has something of a cult following among the Demon faithful, despite showing only sporadic glimpses of his potential. A long term hamstring injury curtailed his 2015 season, but at his best he brings fanatical defensive pressure and a nose for a goal. He needs to get a lot more of the ball though.

Ben Kennedy will also add some zip and intensity in the forward-half. Dee’s fans will be looking forward to seeing what forward-line pressure he can apply, while hopefully winning his own ball and having scoreboard impact too.

The Demons look fairly solid in all areas of the ground now, able to compete with most teams in the present, but finally with some stable building blocks for the future that suggests finals isn’t the pipe dream it’s been for the last decade.

But then, many thought that in the Scully / Trengove / Morton / Grimes / Gysberts era, and we all know how that turned out. But was that player fault, or club culture and lack of development?

In summary, there’s a bit to be positive about with Melbourne, always remembering how low a base they’re coming off. This is a club that won two games in 2013. Two! They won four in 2014 and seven last year. They are improving steadily, and can be expected to again.

Predicted ladder spread: 10th – 15th

Predicted finish: 12th

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Best and fairest: Dom Tyson

Leading goalkicker: Jesse Hogan

All-Australian potential: Tom McDonald, Jesse Hogan, Dom Tyson

Rising Star candidates: Christian Petracca, Clayton Oliver

Current ladder
Melbourne – 12th
Gold Coast – 13th
Port Adelaide – 14th
St Kilda – 15th
Brisbane – 16th
Carlton – 17th
Essendon – 18th