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The unfulfilled and wasted dynasty of Simon Goodwin and his Melbourne Demons

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19th September, 2023
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Melbourne are now breathing rarefied air, or eating mouthfuls of dirt to put it more accurately, by becoming the first club to suffer back-to-back straight sets exits out of finals this century.

The Demons won 16 home and away games in each of 2022 and 2023, giving them a total of 32 that only Collingwood has bettered across that time. They finished second on the ladder last year and fourth this season. They earned two double chances and have a grand total of zero finals wins to show for it.

After Melbourne won the flag in 2021, playing their finals in Adelaide and Perth, there was all the talk of being hungry to do it in front of their loyal Victorian fans, a packed MCG, etc… Of course, such things are always easy to say and this has proven empty talk. It’s doubtful whether it was ever truly believed in the first place, and certainly not from a playing group that has proven to be so smug yet so delicate at the same.

Jack Viney and Brayden Maynard fight.

Jack Viney and Brayden Maynard fight. (Photo by Quinn Rooney/Getty Images)

Some will say the burden of trying to replicate their 2021 feats in front of a home ground has become a noose around their neck, but that is nonsense. In finals, weaknesses get shown up, and for the Demons it is their dysfunctional forward line and inability to kick goals.

In their qualifying final loss to Collingwood, Melbourne conspired to kick a losing score despite amassing 69 inside 50s to 37, generating roughly one score per four entries. However, this isn’t a new problem under Simon Goodwin.

Rewind back to Round 14, 2018, a Friday night against Port in Adelaide. The Demons won the inside 50 count 69 to 39 yet still lost. Five years later and it looked exactly the same as the final against the Pies two weeks ago – bombs away from all corners into the forward line with no care, responsibility or skill in the delivery.

Dees fans have been bemoaning the lack of system in the forward line for most of Goodwin’s tenure, apart from parts of 2018 when they were kicking monster scores for fun. But with all the focus on Melbourne’s tight defence, they simply haven’t got the balance right when it comes to attacking off that base.

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And in those last four finals losses, all at the MCG, they have kicked of 37 goals. 37. They kicked 40 goals just in the prelim and grand final of 2021. How the mighty have fallen.

Tom McDonald must have almost played his last game of competitive football. In his last five matches as a key forward in a top four team, he has averaged six touches, two marks and less than a goal a game. He couldn’t have looked older and slower, to the point they might as well have brought David Schwarz or Allen Jakovich out of retirement instead.

Max Gawn

Max Gawn withj he 2021 AFL premiership trophy. (Photo by Paul Kane/Getty Images)

Joel Smith looked like Wayne Carey at stages in the first half against Carlton, but is a 27yo that has 42 games to his credit, averaging seven matches a year since his debut. He ain’t the answer, and also only had six touches in the end despite his three goals.

Jacob van Rooyen has the talent, and the fire in the belly to be a key forward of substance, but is going to be erratic for a while yet. Ben Brown’s papers appear to be stamped.

The best Melbourne’s forward line looked all finals series was a 20-25 minute patch either side of three-quarter-time. The forward line was open, Kossie Pickett was playing out of the square, Bayley Fritsch had space to lead into, and the two of them put their team into a winning position. Most importantly, the ball carriers were hitting them on the lead.

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What can’t be denied is that the Melbourne midfield continues to be less than the sum of its parts. Max Gawn, the ruckman of his generation, Christian Petracca and Clayton Oliver, who both have claims as the number one midfielder in the competition, and Jack Viney coming off a career best year and on the cusp of All Australian selection.

The problem is none of them can kick. Between the four of them, they had 32 inside 50s in that first final against Collingwood. Gawn was dominant on the night, but how did that help the team? Do Demon supporters want Gawn having 27 disposals and kicking it inside 50 ten times? What sort of system is that?

And let’s not get started on the Brodie Grundy trade. Does it even happen if Gawn didn’t kick five goals against Geelong in the 2021 preliminary final? The idea was supposed to be that Gawn would play more forward, both giving Melbourne a focal point and prolonging his career, while Grundy could come in and take more ruck duties.

What they ended up with instead was a downgrade in the ruck spot and a poor key forward, that can take the occasional mark near goal but be a less than 50/50 prospect of converting it anyway.

Brodie Grundy of the Demons handballs.

Brodie Grundy. (Photo by Chris Hyde/Getty Images)

And then the question has to be asked, what sort of lunatics would bring Josh Schache into their football club, thinking he was anything other than simply not up to the cut and thrust of AFL football?

Not only that, but to then make Schache the starting sub in a final after only one full game for the season? And to know your judgement was so appalling in making him the sub, that you couldn’t even bring yourself to inject him into the game with tired bodies everywhere and the season on the line?

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It’s just infuriating to think about. We can only imagine how Demons fans must feel about it.

And all the way through, Simon Goodwin talking the same old nonsense about taking learnings, whatever that means, without ever acknowledging the midfield ball movement and forward line disarray that keeps bringing them unstuck at the big moments.

But he brought a premiership to the club after an almost 60 year drought, and the way of these things is that you get an eternal sort of credit. We see it with Luke Beveridge at the Bulldogs to this day.

Perhaps Melbourne are destined to be like Sydney of a decade ago. The Swans won the 2012 flag, and have chipped around the edges ever since, making some grand finals without ever winning another. The Demons may well be one and done, and are already on the downslope. It has to leave them unfulfilled.

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