Melbourne Must Make Stand

19 May 2011

Written by: Ben Waterworth

It has been five years since Melbourne last made a finals series, 11 years since it made a grand final and 47 years since it won a premiership. Success has certainly eluded the boys from the Junction Oval.

The heat is now firmly on this proud football club. However it must stand up. The time to ‘fuel the fire’ has arrived.

In 2011, the Demons have won just three and a half of their first seven games. Whilst it may not look terrible on paper, it’s been their inconsistency which has most experts concerned.

Big wins against Gold Coast, the newest team to the AFL, and Adelaide are achievements they shouldn’t be boasting about. They have been on the end of a few hidings, including one from an in-form Hawthorn side in Round 2 and a Round 6 belting at the hands of West Coast in Perth.

Their loss to the Eagles was easily the most humiliating. It provoked an attack from club legend Brian Dixon, who branded the performance as ‘insipid’. President Jim Stynes immediately got to work, stepping in as the new Football Director, so he could place a watchful eye over coach Dean Bailey, who is under the pump to deliver after three seasons at the helm.

A mounting injury list has become one of the many concerns for the Melbourne faithful over recent weeks. Number one pick of the 2009 draft Tom Scully has yet to play a senior game in 2011, Jack Grimes is done for the season after sustaining a foot fracture, while project ruckman Jake Spencer went down with a season-ending knee injury in the VFL. All-Australian ruckman Mark Jamar will also miss at least a month due to a knee problem, while midfielder Rohan Bail and key defender Colin Garland both suffered serious injuries during the Dees’ abysmal loss to North Melbourne on Saturday.

Melbourne’s structure and depth are two style elements currently under the spotlight. The Dees produced a blistering seven-goal first quarter against the Kangaroos last week. However they faded just as quickly, managing just five goals for the rest of the game, allowing their opposition to comfortably storm away to a 41-point win.

Many are suggesting that a tweak in the game plan could do the trick. Whatever it is, Dean Bailey must change something – and fast – or he risks losing his job.

The ‘forward press’ seems to be the most effective form of attack in the modern game, a style top sides Geelong and Collingwood employ well. Both teams pressure the opposition with hard-running football, trapping the ball in their own forward halves and, in turn, giving them a plethora of opportunities to score. This is something the boys in red and blue seem to lack.

Since 2000, the premiership side has conceded an average of just 83 points per game. In 2010, Melbourne conceded an average of 81.6, to sit fourth in the league behind St Kilda, Western Bulldogs and Geelong. Melbourne’s back six had become its biggest asset, with some calling the backline ‘the great wall of Melbourne’.

So what’s happened? How does a team go from conceding 81.6 points per game in 2010 to 89.9 in 2011?

Attitude. Players aren’t playing team-orientated football – unlike the Pies or the Cats. There is a strong sense of selfishness.

However the players’ individual mindset is a result of the controversial retirement of James McDonald and trading of Cameron Bruce to Hawthorn. Those two decisions were handled appallingly by the club, with many believing both were forced out.

With Bruce and McDonald gone, there is now a severe lack of leadership amongst the playing group. I have sympathy for skipper Brad Green, who is one of the few genuine leaders at the club. He busts his gut on a weekly basis for the good of his side.

But the Dees can’t turn back time, and now have to make the most of their depth.

Melbourne has a massive test ahead of itself this weekend as it heads to Etihad Stadium to take on St Kilda – a club whose season is also on the rocks. This is the perfect opportunity for the Demons to make a statement to their loyal supporters.

If they win, great. However they must continue that form and build some consistency.

As Melbourne great Norm Smith once said, it is time for them to ‘play like Demons’.

Brendan Lucas is a second year Bachelor of Journalism student. You can check out his sparkadiar blog and follow him on twitter: @bplucas8.