What went right?
A Preliminary Final berth after an 11 year September absence means that 2018 was a season to savour for Demon fans. In a strong finish to the year Melbourne defeated eventual Premiers West Coast in Perth and GWS at the MCG before victories over Geelong and Hawthorn saw them qualify for the penultimate week of the season.
Max Gawn, with over 1000 hit outs, had a gargantuan season that was rewarded with All-Australian Selection and the AFLCA Player of the Year Award. Angus Brayshaw also provided the club with a bit of excitement on Brownlow night. Despite not being invited football’s night of nights the promising 22-year-old came home with a flurry to finish third.
What went wrong?
Preseason camps were a hot topic ahead of the 2018 season and Melbourne was one club who found themselves answering difficult questions about their preparations for the year. In contrast to how the season would end, the club was forced to cancel their preseason camp in response to complaints from disgruntled players.
It took until Round 21 for the Dees to secure their finals berth, it may not have taken so long had they experience better fortune in the close games. Five times they played in games that were decided by two goals or less and five times they left empty handed.
The first half capitulation in the Prelim Final will burn in the players for some time to come. The first team to remain goalless at half time of a final for 90 years, the Demons had no answer for the Eagle onslaught. It was a sour end to an incredible season.
While there could be strong arguments mounted for the likes of Clayton Oliver and Angus Brayshaw, there can be only one – Max Gawn. The 208cm bearded warrior led the competition for hitouts with 1119 (average 45 a game) and was ranked eighth for average contested marks (2.2) in his eighth season. His intercept marking became vital for Melbourne in the second half of the season when he was called upon to float down back more in the wake of Jake Lever’s season ending knee injury.
West Coast 14.7 (91) def by Melbourne (108).
Far from imaginative but it is hard to go past beating the eventual premiers on their home deck to claim a berth in the finals. Having failed in similar circumstances in the recent past with a finals berth within reach, there was extraordinary pressure on Melbourne when they took the field at Optus Stadium in Round 22.
Jumping out of the blocks early, Melbourne were manic in their attack at both the ball and man. For all their dominance however, with an enormous hostile crowd cheering their opponents on, they struggled to put their opponents away. With the door left ajar, a late Eagles surge saw the Demons lead evaporate as the game entered time on in the last quarter. Rather than surrender, the Demons stood tall answering the challenge with the next three goals to claim the win and a berth in September.
What do they need to improve?
Their midfield brigade mixes it with the very best in the competition and will be better from their September experience. They will also be eagerly looking forward to the return of Jake Lever to help their structure down back. All things being equal Simon Goodwin will be hoping much of the improvement the Demons require to take the next step will come from within the group.
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