Before the 27th of July, slightly over two weeks ago, majoirty of the media scrutiny had escaped the Melbourne Footy Club, which wasn’t a surprise to most.
They were playing St Kilda later that Saturday night, had just lost to the reigning premiers by barely two kicks the week before, and probably would’ve beaten a rampant Bulldogs outfit in round 17 had it not been for one of the best individual performances of the year from Dogs midfielder Josh Dunkley.
Granted the Dees had suffered a very poor season, after last year promised so much. But the signs were there that they were turning it around, after losing five of their first six games to start 2019.
However, the 27th of June is where it can be pinpointed that the attention finally caught up to the Dees. On that date, Danny Frawley posted this tweet:
“Am I missing something here in AFL media land ???? Melb are 17 th on the ladder only Gold Coast below them that could not beat an egg !! Saints cop it Carl cop it ess cop it north cop coll cop it !! Have they become totally irrelevant?” (include link to tweet)
Now not one to be known as an expert analysis of the game, one of the reasons Frawley is commonly known as ‘spud’, as it is the typical way much of the people in the AFL industry see him. But that hasn’t stopped the wave of criticism coming at the Demons since this tweet, particularly with those jumping on the word ‘irrelevant’. While it had been thrown around a bit before, Frawleys use seems to have woken AFL journalists out of their stupor, and compelled them to attack a club they have left alone for most of the year.
This isn’t an attack on Frawley; he’s a very well respected former player and coach, and seems like a terrific bloke, but he’s not the type to offer genuinely serious opinions on the game. It’s more of an attack on the more serious AFL journalists, who have been more than happy to take his tweet as monumental, and use it to pile more pain on Melbourne.
Since this tweet, a few other have called on Frawley’s words in calling Melbourne irrelevant, including veteran journalist Damien Barrett and Media personality Kane Cornes.
But the lack of fanfare over the Demons doesn’t make them irrelevant; it proves that they have loyal supporters who don’t call for the coach’s head.
It proves that the AFL community understand that the Demons have been absolutely shot down by injuries this season and suffered an interrupted preseason for almost half of their playing list.
It proves that Simon Goodwin has earnt the respect of fans for getting his team to its first finals series in 12 years, and taking them deep into September at that.
It certainly does not prove though, that Melbourne is an irrelevant club.
The Demons reportedly forecast their slow start to the season. It is belived Melbourne high performance boss Dave Misson presemted to the board that in the pre-season, just 25 players had completed a total of 22 training sessions each — a significant drop from the 2018 pre-season figures where 39 players completed a total of 33 sessions, according to Fairfax media.
Take away that slow start, and the Dees could easily sit with eight or nine wins, and still have an outside chance to make finals. In a season that is so even, they never had a fighting chance after the derailment of their off-season.
And even with the pre-season injury crisis, their in-season woes with injury have probably been even worse.
Tom Mcdonald and Sam Weideman, the two key forwards who were Melbourne’s big hopes for this year, have both been officially ruled out for the season for weeks now, both struggling with injury concerns throughout the season before having a line put through them.
Star recruit Steven May has played just eight matches this season, and has also been told to get himself right for pre-season next year, while Jake Lever in his second year at the club has only managed six games. Kade Kolodjashni is another who barely started the season with only two games at the start of the year before missing the rest.
Before last weekend’s game against Collingwood, the Dees had 14 players on the injury list, a similar number to what they have constantly faced all year round.
In comparison, major contenders in Geelong and Brisbane have four players, while Richmond only have five on their injury list. West coast has the most injuries in the top four with eight going into round 21. However, perhaps only one in Nic Natinui is in their best 22.
With a healthy list both before and during the season, there is every chance the Demons would be up there with those teams.
Even with these injuries, the Demons have learnt how to play good football again. For periods of the game against Collingwood on the weekend, they dominated, yet just couldn’t make it count on the scoreboard. To then go down to a team sitting 5th on the ladder by only three goals certainly isn’t the worst outcome.
There is a reason the players sound so optimistic for next season when asked. It’s because they genuinely are. With a healthy list, an easier draw from their lowly ladder position this year, and all the positive stories they have out of this year in regards to new players and different positions, there is no reason they can’t be right amongst it come September 2020.