Dee-ja vu: Melbourne return to ground zero of where it all went wrong
Save articles for later
Add articles to your saved list and come back to them any time.
It was the week when anything that could go wrong for Melbourne just about did.
The first cracks appeared in a premiership defence that was largely humming along last year, until the Demons ran head-on into Fremantle.
Christian Petracca and his Demons are hoping for a far different second half of this season to last year.Credit: AFL Photos
They were perfect through 10 rounds and riding a 17-match winning streak that dated to round 20 the previous season – and gave them an aura of invincibility.
Up next on the hit list were the Dockers, at the Demons’ home ground, the MCG, in round 11. What transpired changed the course of Melbourne’s season for the worse.
On almost the exact date 12 months later, the Demons will meet Fremantle again, at the same venue and in the same round, with similarly bullish flag expectations, in a case of Dee-ja vu. But first, the recap.
Norm Smith medallist Christian Petracca woke up sick on game day, not even 24 hours after Melbourne withdrew key forward Tom McDonald from the selected side with ankle soreness.
McDonald did not play again for the rest of the season, eventually diagnosed with a dreaded Lisfranc injury, after being named then pulled out of the following week’s clash with the Sydney Swans, too.
They also lost All-Australian defender Steven May to a concussion before quarter-time in a friendly fire incident with teammate Jake Lever, before a knee issue hobbled fellow key backman Harry Petty in the third term.
After leading at the first break despite the Dockers having seven scoring shots to four and dominating several key statistics, the Dees produced an excellent second quarter to skip five goals clear at one stage.
Steven May was concussed early in the defeat to Fremantle.Credit: Getty Images
Win No.18 on the trot seemed a formality. But everything changed – dramatically – after half-time, in what became a concerning trend for Melbourne down the stretch. Fremantle piled on 13 of the last 14 goals, including eight in the third term, to smash coach Simon Goodwin’s Demons by 38 points. They outscored Melbourne 59-24 in scores from turnover.
The Dockers also won the centre clearances 7-0 in the decisive third quarter against Clayton Oliver, (an under-the-weather) Petracca, and Jack Viney. Petracca gathered only 10 disposals, the fewest in any of his 161 games.
“We have a pretty clear saying in the club – we win and learn, but we’ll also lose and learn,” Goodwin told reporters post-match. “So, we’ll find out some reasons [for what happened], dig a bit deeper, and get better.”
But the Demons were never, or at least rarely, the same. They followed up with two more surprise losses at the MCG to the Swans, then Collingwood, and went down in eight of their last 14 games. A night after the Sydney clash, May – while still in concussion protocol and not supposed to be drinking alcohol – got lippy with teammate Jake Melksham, a standout junior amateur boxer, and copped a knockout blow. Melbourne handed their star defender a one-match ban.
Goodwin’s team had some moments where it looked to be back on track, including comprehensive victories over the Brisbane Lions and Fremantle, in the return bout in Perth, but mostly wobbled into September.
The Dees went on to fittingly cough up 16- and 28-point first-half advantages against the Swans and Lions, respectively, as their premiership defence crumbled in a straight-sets finals exit.
“In finals, generally, your vulnerabilities come out in games,” Goodwin said.
“We’ve had some throughout the second half of the year especially. When we’ve lost games of footy, teams have been able to impact in the second half of games and mow down leads, and it happened again tonight.”
The proof: Melbourne won seven of their first 10 final quarters in 2022, then only five of their last 14. They conceded they demanded too much of their star-studded on-ball brigade, who were weary when it mattered most.
Soon after, young ruckman Luke Jackson – integral to Melbourne’s grand final turnaround a year earlier – made a trade request to those same Dockers, following months of speculation. An in-form Jackson will face his old side for the first time on Saturday.
“We’re rapt to see how well he’s going at Fremantle,” Goodwin said this week.
Premiership-winning Demons big man Luke Jackson will face his old side for the first time on Saturday.
“He gave our footy club a lot, and he’s a premiership player and someone we respect highly. But he’s crossed the border and gone to another club – he’s now the enemy.”
Melbourne are not unbeaten this time, but still boast a formidable 7-3 record that has them inside the top four and being hailed as flag contenders.
Fremantle, on the other hand, lost five of their first seven matches before roaring to life in the past three rounds – just in time for the Demons, who have addressed the problems that plagued them last year.
Melbourne’s high-performance boss Selwyn Griffith revealed on season eve they had reviewed the back-end of the 2022 season and planned to be more conscious of “fatigue”.
That came barely a week after senior assistant Adem Yze outlined the club’s plan to operate a larger midfield rotation, after being one of just three clubs to have three midfielders average 19-plus centre attendances last season.
Coincidentally or not, the Demons had not lost a fourth term until last week’s narrow defeat to Port Adelaide.
Much of Melbourne’s blueprint for success collapsed in the second half of last year, with their famed defence more vulnerable, scoring drying up, and neither their clearance nor turnover game anywhere near as potent.
Melbourne coach Simon Goodwin.Credit: AFL Photos
Barrel-chested forward Jacob van Rooyen and goalsneak Kade Chandler are the new faces in an attack that also welcomed usual-defender Petty until his foot setback. McDonald returned last week in Petty’s spot to kick two goals.
The red-and-blue are the league’s top-scoring team at 103.8 points per match but, importantly, are also conceding only 75, good for fourth-stingiest.
The numbers suggest they have struck a better balance between their inside-outside game, and their forward-half pressure is turning the Sherrin over in more advantageous positions – something Goodwin craved – helping make them No.1 for converting an inside 50 into a goal.
However, they rank only ninth for scores per inside 50, so there is significant room for improvement. But what does it all mean? Plenty, and nothing.
Melbourne were Champion Data darlings entering round 11 last year, too, until life was turned upside down. It is over to Goodwin and his Demons now to prove they truly did “lose and learn”.
Keep up to date with the best AFL coverage in the country. Sign up for the Real Footy newsletter.
Most Viewed in Sport
From our partners
Source: Read Full Article