The 2012 season was certainly not one to remember for Melbourne supporters, and it’s hard to envisage a more difficult initiation for a first year coach than the one Mark Neeld endured. Liam Jurrah was arrested on assault charges in February, legendary former player and president Jim Stynes passed away in March and the Dees failed to win a game until a remarkable round 10 upset victory over Essendon.
The pressure seemed to take a serious toll on newly appointed co-captains Jack Grimes and Jack Trengove, as the decision to appoint the two inexperienced young men as key leaders coincided with an incredible baptism of fire.
Trengove is a highly touted and talented footballer, but was reportedly burdened by the tag of have the ‘c’ next to his name and struggled to produce any resemblance of his promising 2011 form.
Nathan Jones was one of very few shinning lights, winning the best and fairest award, while forward Mitch Clark shone until severely injuring his foot mid-season. He won the goal kicking with 29 majors for the year – a dismal reflection on the broader struggles.
Heading into 2013, the Demons have targeted specific recruits over the off-season to give the club more options. They picked up Chris Dawes from Collingwood, David Rodan from Port Adelaide and Shannon Byrnes from Geelong to bolster their attack, while also drafting two more potential stars – Jimmy Toumpas and Jack Viney.
Having finished 17th with four wins and 17 losses, Melbourne should certainly be more competitive this year. They won’t be premiership contenders in the short-term, and even finals look to be a distant objective. Improved competitiveness and getting games into their young brigade are key for Mark Neeld.
Key Player: Chris Dawes
A premiership player with Collingwood, if ever there was a time for Dawes to stand tall and be accountable, now is the time.
He had a poor 2012 season with the Magpies and with the addition of Quinten Lynch from West Coast, Dawes sought to be reunited with former assistant coach Mark Neeld at the Demons.
He is an expensive recruit and therefore will carry big expectations. He needs to improve his goal tally of 16 from 2012 and find a more effective way of marking the ball in contests.
Circle it on the calendar: Round 11, Melbourne vs Collingwood
The traditional Queens Birthday clash at the MCG is widely considered Melbourne’s home and away grand final. The Demons have struggled to pull significant crowds in recent cellar-dweller seasons, making the guarantee of a big showing from the Magpie army a huge occasion, both from a playing perspective and financially.
Excluding the incredible 2010 Queens Birthday draw, Collingwood has won the past eight meetings between the sides. The last time Melbourne won the Monday fixture was in 2007. Given Collingwood’s powerful squad, a Melbourne victory may be beyond the realm, but it is vital that they put up a better fight than they have previously.
2013 Prediction: 15th – 17th
Unfortunately for Demons supporters, it’s tough to see them finishing any higher than 14th. Although they seem to have recruited well in the off-season, they are still an inexperienced team in a transition period.
The mature bodies of Rodan, Byrnes and Dawes will help, but Melbourne needs to continue blooding the likes of Toumpas and Viney, and move forward from there.
Alexandros Karavas is a first-year Journalism student at La Trobe University. You can follow him on Twitter: @Alex_Karra