“We need to maximise our ability to use the ball forward of centre and impact the scoreboard more.
“We leave the door ajar too often. That’s an area we must get better at. That’s a vulnerability. We put our hand up for that one.”
Sound familiar? This was Simon Goodwin.
Not this year, but last year – after Melbourne lost to Brisbane in an MCG semi-final boilover.
“Clearly there was a pattern throughout the year with what we struggled with,” he continued.
“We will unpack all of that as a club. We tried to address it on the run throughout the season… but once again in finals, your vulnerabilities find you. And if they are not corrected, they will keep finding you.
“We must go away and fix it.”
Melbourne had 29 shots at goal but went down by 13 points against the Lions last September.
Against Carlton on Friday night, the Dees amassed 26 scoring shots to 18, only to lose that one too.
The cold reality is they did not ‘go away and fix it’. The issues which lingered in 2022 persisted in 2023.
Melbourne’s problems have not solely been execution, nor the absence of a gun key forward. The star-studded midfield should wear a degree of blame, but no more than that.
No, for some time the Demons’ problems have stemmed from a combination of all these factors: personnel, panicked execution, and poor connection between on-ballers and forwards.
Put them into a melting pot and what do you receive? Back-to-back straight sets finals exits.
“In the end it was just our efficiency with the ball that cost us,” Goodwin said on Friday night.
“That’s two times in the finals we haven’t been able to do that, so we need to get better at that. We will go to work on that.
“What I can guarantee our supporters is we will continue to find ways to get better… we will be a club that pursues getting better.”
As Melbourne found out in last year’s trade period, it’s one thing to say you’re going to improve, but another to do it.
Lachie Hunter and Jacob van Rooyen of the Demons celebrate a goal. (Photo by Michael Willson/AFL Photos via Getty Images)
There were forwards available – Jack Gunston went to Brisbane, Dan McStay found himself at Collingwood, and Rory Lobb finally got to the Western Bulldogs – but Melbourne decided to hitch its $600,000 wagon on Brodie Grundy instead.
The Demons could bank on Jacob van Rooyen enjoying a huge summer, or Harrison Petty continuing his development as a forward. They might even hope Tom McDonald recaptures the form he showed in 2021 as an athletic tall in attack.
But they need to be bolder than that. To think outside the box: just as they did with Grundy, but better. Grundy hasn’t worked, but I don’t blame Melbourne for trying something different.
Surely, when you’re smack bang in the heart of what should be a premiership window, you need to seek solutions aggressively and unapologetically for the present. Another flag with the current group is all that really matters: replenish the list, yes, but focus on 2024.
Melbourne could wait 12 months and go after Oscar Allen, Aaron Naughton, Ben King, Jamarra Ugle-Hagan or Logan McDonald this time next year.
While all are out of contract at the end of 2024, there are no guarantees any will take the Demons’ call, let alone agree to move.
And the reality is Melbourne must be better before then anyway. Waiting 12 months could mean another year wasted.
Another option for them is to package up a suite of 2023 top draft selections – let’s say picks 5, 15, 24 and whatever they receive for Grundy – and offer it to West Coast for Allen.
Knowing their one missing piece is a gun key forward, they could try to extract Allen via a deal the rebuilding Eagles could not refuse.
What’s left should this fail – aside from organic, internal growth?
Two players: Tom Hawkins and Jack Riewoldt.
(Photo by Robert Cianflone/Getty Images)
Riewoldt has retired, while Hawkins is yet to re-sign at Geelong.
I appreciate both are long shots, but if you’re truly in a premiership-winning mode, why not ask the question?
Luke Hodge retired, then played on at Brisbane. Why couldn’t Riewoldt?
The three-time premiership Tiger was a smart footballer right until the end. Yes, athletically he had faded.
But at 35 in 2024, he would at worst help educate Petty, van Rooyen and Fritsch on forward craft. At best, he’d be a target himself.
He’d straighten Melbourne up. Tasmania could wait another year.
If you don’t think Riewoldt is the right option? No worries – I get that. Maybe he’s not. So what about Hawkins?
Put the Geelong sentiment to one side for a moment. He’s precisely what the Demons need: a big body who will lead up at the footy and kick truly most of the time.
He may never want to leave the Cats. But who could have predicted Sam Mitchell would finish up with a year at West Coast? Or Doug Hawkins to spend a year at Fitzroy?
Their legacies are not tarnished at all by a second club, nor is Hodge’s. They are remembered as Hawthorn and Bulldogs champions, just as Riewoldt and Hawkins will be known for their feats at the Tigers and Cats even if they played a year at the Demons.
Even if the answer is a firm no, Melbourne should explore all possibilities. Asking the question costs nothing.
In 12 months, Hawkins could move into a coaching role and continue to assist the development of van Rooyen and co. By then, Melbourne might have a better line of sight on King, Naughton, Allen or any other key forwards testing the market. Van Rooyen may even be ready to assume the mantle as Goodwin’s No.1 target.
And time is ticking – by the start of next year, Max Gawn and Steven May will be 32, and Christian Petracca will be 28. Jack Viney is a warrior, but he turns 30 in April.
Two things can be true at once: they all have good football left in them, but the clock is still ticking on their careers.
“I don’t necessarily say the window’s closed on them, but their time will run out,” retired Demon Nathan Jones said on Seven after Friday night’s loss.
“Gawn becomes a little bit older, and Petracca and Oliver, and then where’s that next layer of talent?”
Regardless of which approach you deem the most likely to succeed, a re-jigged forward setup is badly needed at the Demons.
There are no easy solutions here, but there are possibilities.
It’s incumbent on Melbourne to explore each and every one of them.