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Melbourne Demons: the only way is up

The Melbourne Demons have spent the last few seasons at the bottom of the AFL ladder. Will an influx of quality young recruits help drag the Dees up the ladder? Ben Waterworth examines.

You’ve got to feel sorry for Dees fans.

Their team hasn’t won a premiership since 1964 – that’s 46 long years ago. During that time, they haven’t even looked like winning a flag. Even worse, it will be a few more years before they are even considered a genuine premiership contender.

They’ve finished in the bottom two positions for the last three years but despite all the negatives, they are heading in the right direction.

2009 review: We won’t spend too long reflecting on Melbourne’s efforts last year. They had a tough year, managing only four wins from 22 games.

But there were a few positives signs in 2009, including the emergence Liam Jurrah. Few exploded onto the AFL scene in 2009 like the 21 year-old from the Northern Territory did against Essendon in Round 12. After some freakish goals in his first few games, he quickly developed a cult figure status, injecting plenty of excitement into a struggling side. Jurrah is freakishly talented, pulling tricks out of a hat, almost at will. His continual development at Melbourne will be watched with excitement by everyone in the coming years.

Other players to impress were Colin Sylvia and Cale Morton. Both were taken early in their respective drafts – picks three in 2003 and four in 2007 – and finally rewarded their coaches for having so much patience with them. It was Sylvia’s best year statistically, due mainly to the fact that he spent more time in the midfield. His most impressive performance was in round nine against Hawthorn when he gathered 37 disposals – a performance that earnt him three Brownlow votes. Morton’s outstanding versatility saw him moved to the half-back line where he averaged 22 disposals per game and grabbed the most marks by a Melbourne player for the year.

Player(s) to watch in 2010: With picks one and two in last year’s NAB AFL draft, the Demons selected two emerging stars in Tom Scully and Jack Trengrove.

Scully was always a standout at junior AFL level and during last year’s NAB AFL Under-18 Championships, he confirmed that reputation, averaging 26 disposals and five clearances per game as captain of the Vic Metro. Scully possesses explosive speed, a great knack for getting the hard ball and his thumping left-foot kick will have the Melbourne forward line licking their lips. Scully has also been given the honour of wearing the number 31, worn previously by club legend Ron Barrassi.

Trengrove is one of the most mature young talents to come up through the draft in recent years. The boy from South Australia averaged 23 possessions per game during last year’s Under-18 Championships and was named as his state’s most valuable player. But the thing that impressed recruiters the most was Trengrove’s efforts for Sturt during the SANFL last season. His tough and classy best-on-ground performance against Glenelg, where he collected 29 possessions, confirmed to Melbourne recruiters that he is ready to play AFL football. Trengrove will wear the number 9, made famous by former Melbourne captain David Neitz.

I recently went to a practice match between the Demons and the West Coast Eagles and kept a close eye on these two emerging players. It looks like Melbourne has plans to use Scully as a running outside midfielder coming off either a wing or a flank. Trengrove will play more as a traditional inside midfielder who will literally follow the ball. However, their roles could change throughout the year.

One thing that is for certain is that both players will receive a lot of attention and be under huge expectation to perform. Like all young players though, it will take them time to develop but they have an advantage because both of their bodies are readymade for AFL football – Trengrove especially.

What to expect in 2010: It sounds outlandish, but the Demons are shaping up as one of the most exciting sides to watch this season.

Since Melbourne has finished at the bottom end of the ladder for the last three years, they have had the luxury of recruiting some of the best young talent on offer at the time. In last year’s draft, they had four of the top 20 selections and two of the top 20 in 2008’s draft.

Besides Morton, Scully and Trengrove, they have also picked up another future star in Jack Grimes. Since his arrival at the club, Grimes has been hampered by a back injury, which saw him miss the entire 2008 season and the first six rounds of last year. But when he took to the field for the first time last year, Grimes proved his worth as he took 13 marks and gathered 22 possessions against the West Coast Eagles.

He went on to play another 10 games for the year, impressing with tremendous poise and an ability to make effective use of possession in the backline. If fit, expect Grimes to spend more time in the midfield and to further develop into one of the most damaging players in the competition.

You could almost say that Jack Watts – the 2008 number one draft pick – is the barometer of the Melbourne side. It will take Watts a good three to four years to develop into a dangerous forward but when he comes to the party, so will the Demons. There is still plenty of work ahead for the Demons and their fans will experience a lot of short-term pain. But with a promising list and patience, they are heading in the right direction.

Melbourne has a favourable draw this year. They play at the MCG 14 times and play very beatable teams such as Richmond and Port Adelaide. They’ve finished 16th for the last two years, but I believe that this is the season where the Demons arise from that dreaded position.

They have the ability to win more games than fellow struggler Richmond this year and as such Melbourne fans should remain optimistic about some kind of improvement. But not too much.

Final ladder position: 15th

Ben Waterworth is in his second year of a Bachelor of Journalism. This article is the ninth in a series previewing the 2010 AFL season. You can read more of Ben’s work at A short sport thought, or watch him on the podium during the final session of the Sport Journalism Symposium being held at La Trobe University on April 8. He’s also part of the team of upstart’s new audio companion program, upcast.

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