18 Teams in 18 Days: Melbourne Demons

2017: 9th (12 wins – 10 losses)

Key Acquisition:

Jake Lever (from Adelaide), Harley Balic (from Fremantle)

Key Losses:

Jack Watts (to Port Adelaide), Colin Garland (retirement), Heritier Lumumba (retirement) Jack Trengove (to Port Adelaide)

Million Dollar Question

Is this the year the Demons finally break their 12 year finals drought? The Demons come as close as any team ever could last year but still missed out by an agonising .5%. No doubt that statistic has been in the minds of every Melbourne player, coach, official and fan as they’ve gone to bed each night over the summer, and there’s even little doubt the club will be out to make amends in 2018. The Dees posses one of the most talented and evenly balanced lists in the league. It feels as though the entire footy universe is waiting with baited breath for them to finally play up to the lofty billing most football experts have placed on them, fairly or unfairly. Is 2018 the year it finally all comes together for the team now burdened with the longest flag drought?

Case For

As stated above, the Demons lay claim to one of the most exciting AFL lists in all the land. Perhaps one of the only knocks on the list has been its lack of key talls, particularly in defence. Though they also just coaxed arguably the most prolific young defender in the game in Jake Lever from the Crows. The Dees also have an extraordinary young midfield group coming through together, a group that gathered the most possessions in the league on average last season (405), and the most contested (153). However, what has been one of Melbourne’s biggest weaknesses for some time now, was also one of their biggest issues in 2017. Their disposal efficiency was a tick under 73% (72.8% ranking 14th in the league). If the Dees are to take the next step, it has to start with better ball use. Taking into account the Dees went majority of the year without two of their most critical players in Ruckmen Max Gawn and full forward Jesse Hogan, there’s no reason why they shouldn’t be able to make up that dreaded .5%. With the arrival of Jake Lever, it allows defender-come-forward Tom McDonald to play alongside Hogan in the forward line. Throw in the imminent emergence of midfield bull Christian Petracca, and this is a team that should have eyes firmly set on a long awaited finals appearance.

Case Against

Melbourne fans would agree that it’s difficult to know just what you’re going to get when you turn up to the MCG each week to watch the Demons play. And despite having some seasoned veterans like Jordan Lewis and Nathan Jones throughout the side, it’s easy to forget sometimes that this is still a developing group of footballers. Quite a few of their star young players are yet to even hit the 50 game mark (Christian Petracca 39 games, Christian Salem 46, Angus Brayshaw 36, Clayton Oliver 35, Jayden Hunt 41, Alex Neal-Bullen 34 and Jesse Hogan 1 game over that threshold with 51). There’s big outside expectations for such relatively young playing core. Perhaps the main issue with the Melbourne Football Club is between the ears. A wise man once said that sport is played 10% out on the field and 90% between the ears. The Demons haven’t been able to prove to their fans or the football public (or perhaps most importantly, themselves) that they’re able to deal with the weight of expectations placed on their shoulders. Can this playing group change the narrative this season? Or will 2018 be a case of “same old Melbourne”?

One to Watch

Bayley Fritsch. The Dees drafted Fritsch out of their own reserves side Casey in the 2017 AFL draft, after the dynamic medium forward kicked 49 goals in 19 games to finish 5th in the VFL goal kicking. With strong hands over head and ability to read the play superior to most, expect the 22-year old to be given a chance by head coach Simon Goodwin early in 2018.

Bold Prediction

Top 4. It’s bold, but these Demons are certainly good enough. One would’ve thought they’d make the 8 last season if not for a string of unfortunate and ill-timed injuries to crucial players. If they’re dealt a better hand in 2018, this prediction may not look so bold come mid season. Expect Christian Petracca to finally announce himself to the competition this season, and Jesse Hogan to finally show why many think he’s the best young power forward in the business.

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