Melbourne fans were heartbroken after their round 23 loss to Collingwood left them relying on Adelaide to get within four goals of West Coast in the final home and away game.
The Eagles beat the Crows by 29 points and claimed a position in the top eight, dumping the Demons to the dreaded ninth position.
While Melbourne haven’t played in finals since 2006 and fans were hoping for that drought to end last year, missing out does not mean that their season was a failure. In fact, the Demons made major strides which should assure fans that their future is brighter than ever.
The Demons looked every bit a finals side in 2017, as only Adelaide, Port Adelaide and Sydney won more quarters of footy. Geelong and GWS won the same amount, while the other finalists, Richmond, West Coast and Essendon, won less. This reflects how much of a competitive unit Simon Goodwin’s side was.
Nathan Jones led his troops as well as any skipper and at times put the team on his back. Clayton Oliver had a breakout campaign, Jeff Garlett became an elite small forward, and Michael Hibberd established himself as arguably the premier rebounding defender in the league with his maiden All-Australian cap.
From a broader perspective, the positives outweighed the negatives, but the Demons were brought down by extensive lapses of form.
Melbourne lost eight quarters in total by 30 points or more in 2017, only Gold Coast, Brisbane and Fremantle could match that. Of those games where they put in horror quarters, they lost seven of them, showing that their worst is abysmal and dearly cost them.
Off Season grade
In: Harley Balic, Jake Lever, Charlie Spargo (Pick 29), Bayley Fritsch (Pick 31), Harrison Petty (Pick 37), Oskar Baker (Pick 48)
Out: Colin Garland, Liam Hulett, Ben Kennedy, Heritier Lumumba, Jake Spencer, Jack Trengove, Jack Watts, Mitch White
Off season grade: B
Their third rebuild continues and suddenly this list is beginning to take shape. The departure of Jack Watts symbolises a new era at Melbourne which will not settle for mediocrity. The arrival of Jake Lever may have been the greatest acquisition of the off season, as he will be just 22-years-old when the season starts.
He fits perfectly into their list profile and is one of the best intercept defenders in the competition. The Demons could still use another key forward to pair with Jesse Hogan, although bringing in Lever could provide the flexibly to do that with Tom McDonald.
The Demons have one of the more balanced fixtures in 2018. They face a seemingly easy start to the season, playing four top eight sides from last year, and travelling three times before their round 13 bye (two of those travels are against Brisbane and Gold Coast). They also play North Melbourne, Gold Coast and Carlton in the first half of the season, who are being widely dubbed the bottom three sides of the competition or thereabouts.
The last six weeks of the season could make or break the Dees’ year, where they play five of last year’s top eight sides. This includes clashes with both Sydney teams in the final three weeks of the season. It is significant that Melbourne lost four its last seven games last year, so they will be hoping to perform much better down the home stretch of 2018.
Champion Data Suggests…
The Demons are still very young, boasting the fourth youngest selected 22 across last year. The last four off seasons have landed Hogan, Oliver, Christian Petracca, Christian Salem, Jayden Hunt, Angus Brayshaw, Alex Neal-Bullen and Oscar McDonald through the National Draft. Even their coach, Simon Goodwin, is just 41 years old.
Through that time, they also traded in Garlett, Hibberd, Lewis, Dom Tyson, Tomas Bugg and Jake Melksham, which is the core of a formidable list. They have 31 players under the age of 25, the equal most in the competition. More importantly, the quality of those player under 25 is rated the best in the competition.
The addition of Lever should push Tom McDonald up forward, which still gives Melbourne the second best defensive rank in the competition. The forward line ranks 10th and the midfield ranks ninth. This is a premiership list of the future. Maybe even this year. Goodwin has the talent, the recruiters have done the job. Now for the execution.
Strengths and Weaknesses
Their percentage rose from 97.6% in 2016 to 105.2% in 2017 as they became a more attacking side, where they ranked seventh in the competition for points for. They ranked first in the competition for percentage shot at goal accuracy and ball movement in the defensive 50. This shows they were calculated with the ball coming out of defence, and even more composed when lining up for goal.
They ranked third in the league for scores from forward half turnovers and defended opposition ball movement the fourth-best in the competition.
The Demons ranked sixth in the competition for contested possessions, winning the count on 15 occasions, which ranked second. Led by hard nuts Jones, Oliver, Jack Viney and Jordan Lewis, they could always rely on their midfielders to get their hands dirty and have a red-hot crack.
Their ball movement was not damaging enough, particularly through rounds 15-23 when they moved the footy 145 percent worse than the AFL average. Only Carlton and Fremantle had a worse attacking ball movement result than Melbourne’s -64 percent.
At ball-ups around the ground, the Demons generated five fewer shots than the opposition but outscored them by 36 points. However, from boundary throw-ins, they generated 21 fewer scoring shots and were outscored by 71 points. In other words, they could win the footy and clear the stoppage but not hit the scoreboard.
As tough as their midfield was, it was at times too handball happy, failing to gain significant meters or hit the scoreboard. This group must become more damaging in 2018.
The Demons should reach for the stars in 2018 and there is a lot to like about this team. Led by new-age talent Petracca, Hogan and Lever with a good mentor in Goodwin, the Dees boast a ton of talent in every area of the field. How quickly it can all come together for this team is the only question mark.
It is not out of the question that the Demons could secure a top four berth, which looked like a possibility last year. It just seems unlikely given the current status quo, with sides like Adelaide, Port Adelaide, Sydney, GWS, Richmond and Geelong seemingly all still ahead of them.
Regardless, Melbourne will be one of the more exciting teams to look out for, and they could make a bigger leap up the ladder than expected. Keep your eye on the red and the blue.
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