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The decade that was: Melbourne

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Roar Guru
6th May, 2020

Coming off a second consecutive wooden spoon, not many teams entered the 2010s decade under more pressure than Melbourne.

Coached by the late Dean Bailey, optimism was high after nabbing the top two picks in Tom Scully and Jack Trengove. They had a much-improved campaign, winning eight games – more than the previous two seasons combined.

The Demons started 2011 well and were rated an outside chance of playing finals, sitting one win and percentage out of the top eight following Round 18. However, a catastrophic performance against Geelong a week later sent them into a tailspin, with Bailey sacked and the club winning just one of their remaining five games.

To make matters worse, Scully would depart after just 31 games in two seasons, joining the new Greater Western Sydney Giants club.

Former Collingwood assistant Mark Neeld was announced as the new head coach for 2012. Despite impressing in the pre-season, the Demons were incredibly inept once the season started, losing their opening nine matches.

They would manage just four wins for the season, finishing above only the fledgling Giants and Gold Coast Suns. Following a busy off-season which saw a number of out-of-favour but experienced players recruited, no improvement was seen in 2013.

With just one win from his opening 11 matches, Neeld was sacked mid-season, departing with a dismal 15.2 per cent winning record from 33 games. Assistant Neil Craig took the reigns for the remainder of the season, which netted just two wins.

Desperately needing an experienced head in the coaches box, Melbourne sought the signature of former Sydney premiership coach Paul Roos, who had recently handed the keys to John Longmire.

Roos accepted the offer, embarking on a journey to not only improve results on the field, but reset the losing culture that had engulfed the club.


Melbourne played better football in their first year under Roos, but a four-win season resulted in a second consecutive 17th-place. Former Adelaide skipper Simon Goodwin, having spent time at Essendon as an assistant, joined on a five-year deal that would see him succeed Roos at the end of 2016.

(AAP Image/Stefan Postles)

The Dees improved yet again in their second season under Roos, winning seven games to finish 13th. In Roos’ final year as coach, the Demons played good enough to nearly qualify for the finals, finishing 11th and just two games and percentage off eighth.

Goodwin then led Melbourne to two wins in the opening fortnight of the 2017 season, something they hadn’t achieved in 12 years. Heading into the final round of the season, the Demons sat in seventh and were well-placed to end a long finals drought, however, a horrible capitulation against Collingwood would see them slip out of the top eight altogether.

The wait would finally be over for long-suffering supporters in 2018 after a strong season that resulted in a fifth-place finish.

In front of over 91,000 fans at the MCG, the Demons took on Geelong in their first final since 2006. With an emphatic opening quarter, the Dees ran out 29-point winners, setting up a semi-final clash with Hawthorn. They kept their run going, knocking off the Hawks to set up a monster preliminary final clash with West Coast in Perth.

Having beaten the Eagles at the same venue just weeks earlier, the Demons were rated an outside chance of advancing through to their first grand final in 18 years. Instead, they would concede the first ten goals of the match in a heavy defeat to the eventual premiers.

Rated by many as a premiership chance heading into 2019, Melbourne crumbled under the weight of expectation, winning just five matches as they slumped second-last.


With many now questioning whether legitimate inroads have been made under Goodwin, or whether their finals run was an anomaly, Melbourne have a point to prove as they enter the new decade.

Best wins

Round 12, 2017 – Melbourne 15.14 (104) defeated Collingwood 15.10 (100) (MCG)
Having gone nine years without tasting victory on the Queen’s Birthday, the Demons were shooting for their second consecutive win against Collingwood on a day that had become much bigger following former coach Neale Daniher’s diagnosis of motor neuron disease.

Both sides went into the match sitting just outside the top eight as over 70,000 fans flocked to the MCG. Missing gun ruckman Max Gawn, the Demons found themselves 23 points in arrears early in the second half, with Collingwood looking like taking further control of the match.

However, led by young midfielders Christian Petracca and Clayton Oliver, the Dees surged back to grab the lead at three-quarter time. In a seesawing final term, the much-maligned Jack Watts, who made his infamous debut in the same game eight years prior, kicked the sealing goal.

The win would see Melbourne jump into the top eight, before they threw away a spot in the finals.

Elimination final, 2018 – Melbourne 10.15 (75) defeated Geelong 6.10 (46) (MCG)
In front of over 91,000 parochial fans, the Demons were looking to reverse their 2018 results against the Cats; a three-point loss after Gawn missed a simple shot to win the game, and a heartbreaking two-point defeat where they squandered a 29-point final quarter and lost via a Zach Tuohy goal after the siren.

Nathan Jones

(Michael Willson/AFL Media/Getty Images)


Racing to a 34-point lead before Geelong could even kick a goal thanks to a breakout performance from young forward Sam Weideman, the result looked sewn up early in the second quarter. Despite a fightback, Melbourne would cruise through to the second week of the finals with a 29-point victory.

Semi-final, 2018 – Hawthorn 10.11 (71) defeated by Melbourne 16.8 (104) (MCG)
Just a week after their stirring victory against the Cats, Melbourne were presented with a golden opportunity when they were scheduled to take on Hawthorn in the semi-finals, a team that finished just one win above them. Following an even start to the match, Melbourne flexed their muscle and found themselves 32 points ahead at the final change. Eyeing off a spot in the preliminary finals, they off a fierce final quarter challenge to make the preliminary finals for the first time since 2000.

Worst losses

Round 19, 2011 – Geelong 37.11 (233) defeated Melbourne 7.5 (47) (GMHBA)
Potentially the darkest day in the history of the club. Needing a win to stay in touch with the top eight, the Demons came face-to-face with a Geelong side next to unbeatable at home and were quickly exposed.

After conceding 20 goals in the first half alone – while only kicking one major of their own – the Demons fell to the second-biggest defeat in the history of the VFL/AFL, with Geelong cruising to a 186-point annihilation as they piled on a video game-like score.

The Cats fell just six points short of equalling the biggest total ever recorded in a game, with the defeat signalling the immediate end of coach Bailey’s tenure.

Round 2, 2013 – Essendon 28.16 (184) defeated Melbourne 5.6 (36) (MCG)
In Neeld’s second year, there was an air of optimism heading into 2013 with a swathe of new recruits wearing the red and blue.

A crushing 79-point defeat in the opening round to Port Adelaide was a major blow, but any hope of making an unlikely charge up the ladder disappeared completely a week later.


Taking on an Essendon side who had endured a hellish off-season due to the supplements scandal, they were used as a proverbial punching bag.

Trailing by 55 points at halftime, that deficit ballooned out to a monster 148 points by the final siren as the Demons conceded 28 goals. In a stark sign of how poor Melbourne’s was, the team had 190 fewer disposals than the Bombers, but astonishingly had 26 fewer tackles as well.

Round 23, 2017 – Collingwood 14.15 (99) defeated Melbourne 12.11 (83) (MCG)
The equation was simple: defeat Collingwood to qualify for their first finals series since 2006. However, the 13th-placed Magpies didn’t read the script, racing away to a 32-point lead after a six-goal opening term.

Max Gawn Brodie Grundy

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

The Demons would play catch up footy all day, getting within eight points in the last quarter, but Collingwood would hold on to land a devastating blow to Melbourne’s September prospects.

With Essendon overtaking them the following day after their win against Fremantle, Melbourne needed Adelaide to either defeat West Coast in the final game of the season, or for the Eagles to only win by a small margin. With a 29-point victory, the Eagles went ahead on percentage to kick the Dees out of the top eight.

Moments that shaped the club

The passing of Jim Stynes
Just over a year after club legend Jim Stynes was announced as the new chairman, the popular Irishman revealed he had developed cancer. He would not give up his role, however.


Stynes continued as chairman right up until February 2012, with vice-president Don McLardy stepping in to take over. A month later, Stynes sadly passed away at the age of 45, just 11 days before Melbourne’s first game of the season.

The Stynes family were offered a state funeral by Victorian premier Ted Baillieu, which was accepted.

The Paul Roos era
With a combined 34 wins from 2007 and 2013, the Demons brought in Roos, who oversaw changes to both training standards and overall club culture. The Dees would steadily improve under Roos’ guidance, going from four wins in his first year to ten in his final campaign.

Returning to finals footy
The disappointment of 2017 would spur the team on in 2018, as they stormed into the finals with a fifth-place finish. After knocking off the Cats and Hawks, the Demons were exposed against the West Coast Eagles in the preliminary finals. Despite the heavy loss, it was a step in the right direction for a club that had struggled for direction for over a decade, and a great cause for celebration for long-suffering.

Melbourne Demons AFL Finals line up

(Photo by Paul Kane/Getty Images)

Best 22

Back pocket – Lynden Dunn
After spending the first few years of his career as a defensive midfield tagger, Dunn found himself on the outer at the start of the decade, dropped to the VFL in 2010. He returned to the senior side to play a new role up forward, where he kicked 16 goals in the final six games of the season.

Dunn’s form in 2011 was patchy, seeing him dropped to the reserves twice, but he impressed in 2012 as an undersized key defender. It would be the making of Dunn’s career, resulting in four consecutive years of top ten finishes in the Keith ‘Bluey’ Truscott trophy.


He would again fall foul of the selection committee in 2016, playing just four games, before he was traded to Collingwood. Dunn departed after 113 games and 61 goals for the decade.

Full back – Colin Garland
After a stuttering start to his career, Garland enjoyed a breakout 2010 that resulted in a top ten finish in the best and fairest. His form would continue to improve, standing tall in a defence often under siege.

In 2013, Garland enjoyed the best season of his career, finishing second in the best and fairest. He fell out of favour in 2016, managing just six games, before his 2017 season was wiped out by a knee injury. Garland retired at the end of 2017 following a 141-game career, 121 of them coming in the decade.

Back pocket – Neville Jetta
Entering the decade as a teenager, Jetta looked set for the footballing scrapheap early on, managing just 26 games between 2010 and 2013. At the end of the latter season, he was delisted before earning a lifeline on the rookie list.

This saw Jetta reinvent himself as a small defender, with his career taking off. In 2014, he finished in the top ten of the best and fairest for the first time, a feat he would replicate again in 2016, 2017 and 2018. An injury-interrupted 2019 saw Jetta finish the decade with 133 games to his name.

Half-back – Jack Grimes
Following an injury-interrupted start to his career, Grimes showed enormous potential in 2010 with 14 matches, however, a broken navicular in his foot would wipe out the majority of his 2011 campaign.

On the comeback trail, Grimes was surprisingly announced as co-captain. It spurred Grimes to a career-best season in which he finished runner-up in the best and fairest. A broken collarbone in 2013 would restrict him, before further injury issues put his career on the back foot.

Grimes stood down as captain at the end of 2014, before he faded into obscurity, playing just 14 matches in his final two seasons, delisted after 88 games in the decade and 100 in total.


Centre half-back – James Frawley
The nephew of the late adored St Kilda defender Danny ‘Spud’ Frawley, ‘Chip’ Frawley started the decade in fine form, realising his potential with a superb season in defence.

Playing on some of the best forwards, Frawley was not only adept at stopping them but was able to provide crucial rebound from the backline. It resulted in selection in the back pocket of the All Australian side, while he came runner-up in the Keith Truscott trophy.

In 2011, Frawley achieved another podium finish in the club best and fairest, claiming a spot in the top 10 in each of the next three years. Frawley spent most of the 2014 season playing as a forward due to injuries in the forward line, kicking 15 goals. Frawley departed after 99 games in the decade, moving to Hawthorn as a free agent.

Half-back – Christian Salem
A top 10 draft selection from 2013, Salem arrived with high expectations. Injury and form limited him in his first few seasons, but a breakout year in 2017 saw him evolve into a damaging user of the ball from the backline.

Salem finished in the top ten of the club best and fairest in both 2018 and 2019, finishing the decade with 90 games and 19 goals.

Christian Salem

(Photo by Quinn Rooney/Getty Images)

Wing – Bernie Vince
After eight seasons with Adelaide, Vince moved to Melbourne in the 2013 off-season. The veteran made an immediate impact, starring in the young midfield. After a top-three finish in the best and fairest in his first year, Vince won the award in 2015 – beating Jack Viney by just one vote – while he would finish in the top 15 of the Brownlow Medal with a career-best 14 votes.

Vince gradually began playing in defence in the later years of his career, before a season-ending shoulder injury in 2018 saw him miss the finals campaign. Vince then retired following a more-than-handy 100 game cameo.


Centre – Jack Viney
The son of club champion Todd, Viney committed to the Demons as a father-son prospect in 2010 at the age of 16. He joined as an official player at the end of 2012, impressing in his debut season as he was named Melbourne’s best young player.

Viney enjoyed a breakout campaign in 2015, finishing second in the Keith Truscott trophy, before claiming the award a year later. Viney was named co-captain alongside Nathan Jones ahead of 2017, resulting in a terrific campaign in which he again came runner-up in the best and fairest despite missing four matches.

Viney endured an injury-interrupted 2018, but was brought back for the finals after missing two months. He again placed in the top three of the best and fairest in a torrid year in 2019, before the captaincy was handed to Gawn.

Wing – Christian Petracca
Touted during his draft year as a potential number one selection, Petracca was taken with pick two in 2014. The lofty expectations would have to be tempered after he suffered a torn ACL on the eve of his first season.

Petracca made his long-awaited debut in 2016, quickly developing into a key member of the team. A breakout year in 2017 saw him finish in the top ten of the club best and fairest, before winning Melbourne’s goalkicking award in 2019 with a total of 22 majors in what was his best year yet.

Christian Petracca

(Quinn Rooney/Getty Images)

Half-forward – Jeremy Howe
Recruited from Dodges Ferry in Tasmania, Howe arrived with a reputation for being able to take high-flying marks. It was a trait he wasn’t afraid to show off at the AFL level, quickly forging a reputation for the best exponent of the specky.

Howe began his career as an undersized forward, kicking 65 goals in his first three seasons, winning the leading goalkicker award in 2013. In 2014, he was shifted to the backline, where his marking abilities were used to help pick off opposition attacks. It resulted in a career-best sixth-place finish in the club best and fairest. After another strong campaign in 2015, Howe requested a trade to Collingwood after 100 games and 80 goals.


Centre half-forward – Tom McDonald
After a late-season debut in 2011, McDonald quickly became a key player, finishing third in the Keith Truscott Medal as a 19-year-old in 2012. Having spent the first half of his career playing on some of the opposition’s best key forwards, McDonald made the switch forward in 2017, before taking out the goalkicking award in 2018 with a haul of 53.

He notched his 150th game during an injury-interrupted 2019.

Half-forward – Jack Watts
The number one draft selection from 2008, Watts was widely criticised in his debut season for not being ready for the rigours of AFL football, so the attention on him in his second year was fierce.

Quad and back injuries would restrict him in 2010, but upon his return, Watts displayed a much better understanding of what was required at the senior level.

He played every game in 2011, kicking 21 goals as he finished in the top ten of the best and fairest for the first time, but a year later he would see himself stationed in defence, with Neeld preferring to use his height and excellent foot skills coming out of the backline.

He would be used both up forward and down back in 2013, before a move into the midfield under Roos in 2014.

2015 would be Watts’ most challenging year, bringing up the 100 game milestone but being widely condemned by the football media for not showing enough urgency in his play. Watts requested to be dropped back to the VFL, returning after a week with improved form.

He returned to the forward line in 2016 with great results, kicking a career-high 38 majors as he finished top five in the Keith Truscott trophy. However, just a year later, he was traded to Port Adelaide, departing after 150 games and 141 goals in the decade.

Jack Watts of the Demons

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

Forward pocket – Jeff Garlett
Melbourne acquired the extremely talented Garlett in 2014, with Carlton offloading the small forward after an off-field incident. He enjoyed a strong debut season in the red and blue, kicking 40 goals in 2015. He struggled at times in his second year, being dropped to the VFL multiple times as he managed 29 majors.

Garlett then rebounded with a superb 2017 in which he led Melbourne’s goalkicking with 42 goals. Despite kicking nine goals from his opening five matches of 2018, he was dropped, returning late in the season but again getting the axe just prior to the finals.

He managed just seven matches in 2019, leading to his delisting after 138 goals.

Full forward – Jesse Hogan
Melbourne paid a high price to acquire the rights to select Hogan in the 2012 GWS mini-draft, giving up selection three in that year’s draft.

Ineligible to participate in 2013 due to being underage, Hogan was able to play for the VFL-affiliate Casey Scorpions, winning the best and fairest as a teenager with 39 goals from just 15 games.

Anticipation for Hogan’s long-awaited debut were tempered in 2014, with the youngster suffering a back injury that would end up seeing him miss the entire campaign. Hogan made up for lost time in 2015, establishing himself as a future star of the competition with a club-high 44 goals, resulting in a top-five finish in the club best and fairest.

Hogan became the first Demon to win the Rising Star award since Jared Rivers in 2004, backing it up with another strong season in 2016 as he won Melbourne’s goalkicking award for a second consecutive season with 41 goals.


2017 saw Hogan endure an incredibly challenging year, battling a bout of testicular cancer shortly after the death of his father. After missing two months, Hogan returned with promising form but was again forced to the sidelines after suffering a broken collarbone. He returned just a few weeks later to celebrate his 50 game milestone, kicking six goals against Brisbane.

Hogan enjoyed a much better 2018, kicking 47 goals in his first 20 matches before a stress fracture in his foot ruled him out of the finals. Despite being contracted for one more year, Hogan requested a trade back home to Perth, with Fremantle picking him up following 152 goals from 71 games.

Jesse Hogan

(Photo by Michael Dodge/Getty Images)

Forward pocket – Brad Green
Green started the decade as one of Melbourne’s most experienced players and had a career-best year in 2010, kicking 55 goals to win the club goalkicking award for the first time. He was named in the All Australian side and capped off a sensational campaign by winning his first Keith Truscott trophy.

Green was named captain heading into 2011, enjoying another strong year up forward with 37 majors, however, he was often criticised for going missing for long periods of time.

That year also saw him skipper Australia in the International Rules Series against Ireland.

Green’s career came to a quick end, losing the captaincy and having injury and form restrict him to just 13 games and 19 goals in 2012. He retired following 111 goals from 56 games in the decade.

Ruckman – Max Gawn
It was a slow start for Gawn, who arrived at the start of the decade. Having torn his ACL in his final year of U18 football, he was forced to wait until 2011 to make his debut. Tragedy struck when Gawn suffered another serious knee injury in the 2012 pre-season, seeing him miss the whole year.


He returned in 2013 with 13 matches, but again could not stamp himself in the side, playing nine games in 2014.

Gawn would enjoy a breakout campaign a year later, announcing his impending domination of the league with his first three Brownlow-vote performance against Geelong.

Now the number one ruckman at the club, Gawn shot to stardom in 2016, finishing third in the best and fairest while polling 16 Brownlow votes and earning selection in the All Australian side.

A serious hamstring injury curtailed his 2017 season, but he returned with a bang in 2018, named All Australian again and finishing equal-fourth in the Brownlow count. He also won his first Keith Truscott trophy, adding a second to his mantlepiece in 2019 after another outstanding campaign, earning selection in the All Australian team for a third time.

Gawn finished the decade with 120 games, 58 goals and the captaincy heading into 2020 and beyond.

Ruck-rover – Clayton Oliver
A top-five draft selection from 2015, Oliver had an immediate impact, earning a Rising Star nomination in his first game. A clearance machine, he played 13 matches in his debut season, winning Melbourne’s best first-year player award

In a meteoric rise, Oliver stormed the field to win his first club best and fairest award in just his second season, although it was a controversial campaign for the youngster. He failed a roadside breath test during the off-season, before being accuesed of taking a dive against West Coast.

Only a couple of weeks later, he confronted an opposition supporter during a game against Carlton.


Oliver enjoyed another strong campaign in 2018, this time getting through without any controversy, as he was named in the All Australian team for the first time and finished second in the best and fairest.

He would claim his second Keith Truscott trophy in 2019 after another strong campaign, finishing the decade with a highly impressive cabinet of awards after only 82 games.

Clayton Oliver of the Demons kicks the ball

(Photo by Michael Dodge/Getty Images)

Rover – Nathan Jones
The inspirational Jones hardly missed a game last decade, playing an incredible 216 matches out of a possible 223. After struggling in 2010, Jones bounced back with a strong 2011 that saw him finish in the top five of the club best and fairest.

It was the springboard Jones needed to play his best football, standing tall during arguably the club’s their worst years as he won every Keith Truscott trophy between 2012 and 2014 – joining Jim Stynes as the only players to win the award three consecutive times.

In 2014, Jones was named co-captain alongside Grimes, before assuming the role full time in 2015. The tough midfielder continued to toil hard in the midfield, falling just short of claiming a fourth best and fairest award in 2016.

Jones would once again share the captaincy in 2017, with Viney joining him at the helm. It would be a frustrating campaign for Jones, missing six games through injury, but he returned to lead the club to a preliminary final in 2018. After struggling through 2019, Jones was replaced as captain by Gawn.

Interchange – James Harmes
Arrived via the rookie draft at the end of 2013, making his debut midway through 2015. Harmes impressed quickly with his tenacious style in the midfield. Had a breakout year in 2018 as the Demons charged into a preliminary final, playing every game and averaging over 20 disposals. It resulted in a top-three finish in the Keith Truscott trophy, before coming fourth a year later in another strong campaign.


Interchange – Mark Jamar
The big ruckman came back from an injury-ravaged season in 2009 to star at the start of the decade, having a career-best year which resulted in All Australian selection and a top-three finish in the best and fairest.

Had another strong season a year later, but was forced to miss six weeks after injuring his PCL. Jamar played just 23 games in 2012 and 2013 due to injury, but returned the year after to again assume the mantle as the club’s number one ruck. After being overtaken by Gawn in 2015, Jamar opted to retire following 82 games and 28 goals in the decade.

Interchange – Dom Tyson
A top-three draft selection from 2011, Tyson arrived via a trade after playing 13 games in his first two seasons with the GWS Giants. He had a superb start to his career in the red and blue, claiming a runner-up finish in the Keith Truscott trophy in 2014 while also polling an impressive 11 Brownlow Medal votes.

Tyson bounced back from an injury-interrupted 2015 to once again finish in the top five of the best and fairest. His output started to decline slightly as the decade came to a close, with Tyson traded oncee again after a disappointing finals campaign in 2018. He departed for North after 94 games and 40 goals.

Interchange – Angus Brayshaw
Another top-three draft selection, Brayshaw arrived in the 2014 draft, selected alongside Petracca.

Angus Brayshaw

(Photo by Quinn Rooney/Getty Images)

While Petracca would miss the first year of senior football through injury, Brayshaw enjoyed an unimpeded debut, playing 21 games and claiming a top-five finish in the Rising Star award.

He suffered a spate of concussion issues in the ensuing two seasons, casting serious doubt on his future. Now donning a protective helmet, Brayshaw broke back into the side early in 2018, going on to put together an impressive season, surprising all with a third-place finish in the Brownlow Medal after polling 21 votes.


Brayshaw would play every game in 2019, but his output was well down on the year prior, finishing eighth in the club best and fairest and not polling a single Brownlow vote.

Are the Demons placed better or worse going into the new decade compared to ten years ago?
Much better, however, the mental demons (pardon the pun) continue to hinder this team.

After breaking a 12-year September drought in 2018, many tipped Melbourne to be a premiership contender in 2019, however, the abomination that followed has many questioning whether the Demons are on the right track, or whether their preliminary final appearance a couple of years ago was an anomaly.

The talent coursing through the list is definitely good enough to trouble the best teams in the competition, but it remains to be seen whether they can go all the way and break a premiership drought that is fast approaching 60 years.