Saturday 19 August 2017 / 12:21 AM

The Demons Downfall

28 wins and a draw from 143 games since 2007.

That figure represents the sad sorry state of the Melbourne Football Club that is rapidly approaching rock bottom.

I hate to pun, but the last six years for the Melbourne Demons Football Club have been hell on earth.

Blowouts, sloppy performances and controversy has dogged the oldest footy club in the same way the ALP has been awash with leadership speculation.

Yet there always seemed to be hope.

Jim Stynes and his revolution cleared the debt, the club was getting promising young talent via the draft, and there were some inspired performances that showed what Melbourne could do.

But in 2013, the hope seems to have dissipated as quickly as a puddle on a summer’s day.

Their first quarter in the first match against Port Adelaide was the preview to the winters’ biggest horror flick.

Insipid performances and a lack of effort was enough to see Mark Neeld lose his job just 33 games and 18 months into the journey.

Now with a caretaker coach in Neil Craig, vast debt issues and a lacklustre playing group, it is back to year zero at Olympic Park.

But how did it get to this?

Let’s be clear; Melbourne’s plight has come about after years of mismanagement.

There are many little subplots and incidents, however four major issues that stand out.

They are Mark Neeld, recruitment, board mismanagement and culture.

Mark Neeld

Good coach, wrong club.

After untried coach Dean Bailey was sacked in 2011, Melbourne took a punt on another unproven coach Mark Neeld.

His record seemed impressive with 4 premierships at Ocean Grove (Where he took over from Brendan McCartney) and recognition as a key figure in Collingwood’s 2010 premiership success under the guidance of Mick Malthouse.

Yet for some reason, Neeld and the club never gelled.

When he arrived at the club in September 2011, Neeld talked about toughening up the players to make them the best.

“I simply want to coach the team that is the hardest to play against in the AFL. That means all over the ground, we’re going to be the hardest to play against. That’s what our aim is, as simple as that,” Neeld told The Age in 2011.

There was no doubt he was tough.

Neeld reportedly told many players they weren’t good enough and had little patience for the senior group.

He also dumped club legend Brad Green as captain and replaced him with Jack Trengove and Jack Grimes who were both 20 and had played fewer than 50 games.

His game plan though was Collingwood-like and it was despised by numerous players as they felt it was a risk and lacked energy.

With Neeld refusing to budge, he and the playing group never had a proper working relationship.

 

Players such as Jack Watts never looked comfortable while others senior players either left or lost form.

While Neeld had good credentials, Melbourne’s decision in hindsight was a mistake.

Money Ball and Recruiting

Oakland Athletics pioneered it, Brad Pitt made a good film out of it and Melbourne tried to emulate it to with no success.

 

The idea of a smaller club using analytical data to find bargains in order compete with the bigger clubs was embraced by Melbourne last year.

In losing Jared Rivers to Geelong and Brent Maloney to Brisbane, Melbourne decided that as well as youth, they needed to bring in unused talent from other clubs.

With Chris Dawes from Collingwood headlining the recruiting raid, Melbourne also picked up David Rodan (Port), Shannon Byrnes and Tom Gillies (Geelong).

Trouble is, there was a reason the four were given away; it has been reflected in their 2013 performances.

Dawes, while promising, has injury issues. While Rodan, Byrnes and Gillies look shadows of good players.

Melbourne banked their list on recycled players like Sydney but invested in toxic debt.

Furthermore, if you look at their drafting you will realise the extent of the malaise in Melbourne’s recruitment.

For all the techniques taken to get good draft picks, you have to wonder whether it’s worth it when the players recruited seem ill suited.

For example, in 2008 Jack Watts was taken at Pick 1 over Nic Nat and Stephen Hill, while Sam Bleaze was taken over Luke Shuey with their priority pick.

In 2009 Tom Scully and Jack Trengove were taken at 1 and 2 allowing Dustin Martin to be taken by Richmond.

Whatever happened to Lucas Cook being Melbourne’s top pick in the 2010 Draft in front of Brodie Smith and Billy Smedts?

For all the great picks, Melbourne recruited some lemons.

Watts and Bleaze look out of place in AFL footy, while Scully left for GWS.

Lucas Cook is MIA while Trengove is still adapting to footy in an admirable yet frustrating way.

All the players I mentioned above have gone on to become reasonable players.

It’s cock-ups like botched draft selections that set clubs back for years.

Club Mismanagement

While Stynes and McLardy put in hard yards, the board and management of Melbourne have been abysmal in their performance.

Whether it is keeping Cameron Schwab as CEO in 2011 despite voting to sack him, or giving Cameron Schwab a two year extension before sacking him 6 months later, Melbourne’s management is lacking rigor.

Matters such as the tanking issue, the lies told about whether Stephen Dank had any contact with members of the club, and the failure to stop leaks about Mark Neeld’s position have embarrassed the reputation of club executives.

Melbourne management makes minority government look like a well-oiled machine.

Culture

At the end of the day Melbourne do not have a winning culture.

A story that would best demonstrate this comes from the book The Game that Made Australia that was released to coincide with the 150th anniversary of Australian Football.

The story essentially juxtaposed Melbourne’s board asking itself What do we stand for? Versus the Port Adelaide motto, which states ‘We exist to win Premierships’.

 

The fact Melbourne’s’ board members had to ask themselves what they stood for, illustrates what type of culture exists within the Demons.

Melbourne need a killer instinct drummed into everyone from the tea lady to the captain of the club.

Too many at the club seem to accept that they are stuck in a pit forever when defiance and pride is desperately needed.

It doesn’t help that certain members of the footy department wanted Melbourne to lose so they could get valuable priority picks.

Could you imagine the staff and players at Collingwood, Hawthorn or Sydney accepting defeat in the way Melbourne does?

Could you imagine those clubs being pleased that they gained good draft picks despite having a miserable season.

If Melbourne wants to win again, losing a defeatist culture is the ultimate circuit breaker that needs to occur.

So much can be achieved with a positive and winning attitude, which is something the Demons desperately lack.

Since the beginning of the year, Melbourne has sacked their CEO and Head Coach, watched their President resign, and their debt increase.

Many more –including players- will leave as necessary bloodletting occurs.

The road to redemption is still long but as usual, hope springs eternal.

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John Hunt

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