What was Max Gawn thinking?
As the make-or-break narrative surrounding the Demons’ 2018 season continues to pick up passengers, Melbourne would be wise to ignore the noise.
The Tigers’ premiership has left the Demons as the AFL’s culturally flawed, underachieving lightning rod, but should also serve as a shining light for the club.
There has long been a feeling of schadenfreude towards baggage-laden sports franchises that have consistently flattered to deceive, and the AFL is no exception.
After all, there is a dark comfort in predicting the inevitable failure of a perennial bust, if for no other reason than feeling better about one’s own struggling club.
As much as any other, Melbourne has worn its baggage like a thorny crown.
A foundation club, the Demons have seemingly been dogged by a 50 year-and-counting curse arising from the club’s role in its coach-cum-messiah, Norm Smith’s premature departure in the midst of the club’s glory days.
There is also the small matter of a rusted-on reputation as the competition’s soft-touch aristocrat and a fair weather tag attached to its latent supporter base.
Yet, the Demons’ most recent rebuild has spawned a loaded young list which threatens to finally break the club’s inherent cycle of disappointment.
In fact so real is the threat, that the stage is carefully being constructed for Melbourne to disappoint again in season 2018.
By creating a boom-or-bust storyline around the Demons’ fortunes this season, the media and football public at large is daring the club to fail once again and in doing so, reinforce Melbourne’s popularly held loser stereotype.
For having lost the long-time uber-flawed Tigers by virtue of last year’s flag, the football world is not prepared to relinquish its remaining prized bunny without first taking its pound of flesh.
Yet, if the Tigers taught us anything at all, it’s that it’s not necessarily about this season at all for Melbourne.
The journey from ridicule to respect is most often an odyssey with false dawns and near misses aplenty along the way.
After all, Richmond – still basking in the glow of premiership glory – is the same club that was the subject of scorched-earth rebuild talk following a 13th place finish in 2016.
Not to mention the Cats’ recent dynasty which was forged from the ashes of an annus horribilis in 2006.
That the Demons boast such a relatively young playing roster only serves to highlight that the road ahead is long.
This is not to suggest that 2018 is not an important one for Melbourne, just not the most important as many would have you believe.
Admittedly, a response is required to the remarkably meek way in which the club ultimately succumbed in each of the last two seasons.
Yet, perhaps the calamitous end to season 2016, which brought the curtain down on the Paul Roos era, was more a reflection of a club being led by a coach who had reluctantly accepted (but arguably never fully invested in) an irresistibly lucrative coaching job.
Ironic then that Roos recently choose to contribute (whether unwittingly or not) to the build-it-up-only-to-tear-it-down narrative surrounding his old club by telling The Age, “This year there are no excuses. This year is Melbourne’s year.”
Even last season’s final round capitulation to the Pies must be viewed through the lens of an injury plagued season, in which lynchpins, Max Gawn and Jesse Hogan could each only cobble together roughly half a season of football.
There is also the potential fallout from the coach, Simon Goodwin being wholly undermined by the players’ (needlessly public) pre-season camp revolt.
But on balance, the quality of this Demons’ squad – which boasts the rare combination of talent and toughness with a smattering of veteran guile and now necessarily shorn of the last vestiges of the club’s traditional white collar in Jack Watts – puts all these other misgivings in the shade.
It’s this squad alone that looks capable of ultimately breaking through the club’s glass ceiling and perhaps trading in Norm Smith’s curse for one of his medals.
It just might take a while.