As we sit here on the eve of round eight, the Demons are sitting atop of the AFL ladder undefeated and one game clear. A general feeling of unfulfillment has been replaced with a air of optimism for long-suffering Melbourne supporters. The narrative of discussion around the water cooler on a Monday morning from football followers has gone from “how did you lose that?” to “you still haven’t beaten anyone yet”. Although that narrative has started to decline with the demons continually winning each week, Melbourne supporters are still deciding if we can learn to trust a club that has disappointed us so often, and promised us so much only to leave us shattered and disillusioned time and time again.
When assessing the Demons premiership credentials, a number of factors need to be addressed. The first one is whether they can be in fact trusted not to revert back to their fragile mental ways. On the data for season 2021, we can at this stage say yes. The reason for this is because in all seven games they have been challenged heading into the last quarter and during the last quarter, and in all seven games have thwarted that challenge and then pulled away to win. This in part is because of two factors. One, the fitness levels of the playing group, mainly due to the work of the unheralded Dean Burgess. And secondly, the number of players that have now gone past, 80 games, 100 games, a level of experience which starts to produce consistency each week. The start of the Richmond game was an example of being jumped early, wrestling back control of the game, and then playing the game on their own terms. This has been foreign in the past.
One of the key components of premiership sides in the past has been good solid key defenders. Lock down small defenders, good drop-off defenders, and offensive rebounding defenders. Melbourne of 21 tick all these boxes. The loss of Tomlinson is still yet to be felt but the Demons defensive unit has conceded the least points of any team in the competition. Lever and May have finally gelled, Rivers and Salem have provided counter-attacks from deep in defence and the midfield has finally started to develop their two-way running which has assisted greatly.
A deep midfield and a list that has the depth to cover any areas of deficiency is important. Melbourne bats very deep with its depth this year, and the emergence of Rivers, Pickett, Jackson, and Jordan as regular best 22 has seen several players spending time in the VFL stacking up solid performances to get in a position to get an opportunity at senior level. Players considered to be “fringe” players like Tom McDonald, Charlie Spargo, Nathan Jones, and Alex Neale-Bullen have increased their output and are contributing every week or will encounter the scenario of not getting a game. Melbourne’s VFL form mirrors that of the senior team, and positions are scarce.
One major area that could improve is the ability of a couple of clean, highly skillful outside ball distributors. The Demons at time lack some polish. We’ve seen with Richmond and their success that it’s not quintessential for premiership glory, but it does help with ball movement. The inclusion of Brown recently changes the dynamic of the forward structure, one built on high octane pressure in the forward half. If they are to use a key forward like this delivery needs to be accurate and clean.
Each week presents new challenges for this side, different scenarios, and experiences. If they continue to work their way through them and learn they will continue to improve. Most Melbourne supporters know not to give their hearts in full, because it will just get broken again. It’s been exciting to watch so far and with each week we start to believe more, can they win the premiership? Yes, they can, but they will encounter some very good sides along the way. I personally don’t think they are quite ready yet, but I will be happy to be proven wrong…