Injuries and suspension
The Demons were impacted by injury, for marking tall Harrison Petty and mid-sized forward Jake Melksham had provided just what was needed before they fell on the eve of the finals. Then came Jacob van Rooyen’s one-match ban in the qualifying final, exposing the Demons’ lack of options inside 50. Ben Brown was underdone and overlooked, while the Demons lost complete faith in ruck-forward Brodie Grundy.
Speaking of Grundy, surely he was a better option as a substitute than Josh Schache, the latter having played only two senior game this season? Grundy may have already started the process of looking for a new club, as his desire to be the No.1 ruck cannot be met with Gawn in the role, but the dual All-Australian would have challenged Blues’ defender Jacob Weitering, or allowed Gawn to push more inside attacking 50. That Schache was then not used was also a point of contention.
AFL great Leigh Matthews said he was surprised Schache had been selected.
“The one Melbourne player who looked like standing up tall and maybe taking a pack mark deep forward [against Carlton] was Max Gawn. He took a couple of them,” Matthews said on 3AW.
“Maybe he would have taken three or four if they had Grundy because whenever he was not in the ruck, I don’t think Max dominated the ruck anyway, but if they had another good ruckman, they might have had another good 20 minutes forward out of Max Gawn.”
Dual North Melbourne premiership wingman David King has suggested the Demons need to revamp their style of play, morphing from being predominantly about contest, to having more flair.
“Maybe they have to release the shackles a little bit and play with a bit more dare and more corridor, and do what the rest of the competition is doing, and trust that their backline will get it done in full flow,” King said. This could help the Demons ease their scoring woes.
While Gawn and coach Simon Goodwin say they will use this latest meltdown for extra motivation, five-time Hawthorn premiership great Dermott Brereton says the Demons are in danger of wasting what should have been a prosperous era.
“My view on Melbourne is their list is too good just to have one premiership to its name. The way they have assembled an awesome backline with [Steven] May, [Jake] Lever and a few others, and they have an awesome midfield with Max, [Christian] Petracca, [Clayton] Oliver, [Jack] Viney, [Angus] Brayshaw, obviously, wasn’t there,” Brereton said on SEN.
“That’s a fantastic midfield as well, and they have some very good players on the periphery. But their forward line has been makeshift-ish through the journey, but it’s too good a list to leave a couple of … expected premierships on the table.”
Gawn said he hoped the defeat “would be a stepping point to what we can do next season”.
Goodwin was “pretty shattered” minutes after the season-ending loss, but insisted the Demons had made progress.
“When we sit down and review the year and we say: ‘How did we go?’, we’ve ended up giving ourselves a double chance in the top four, and we’ve lost two finals by less than a kick. I think we’ve moved forward as a footy club [this year]. We’ve transitioned a bit of our list throughout the last 12 months, and we’ve seen some young guys get a lot of exposure throughout our team, and we’ll continue to build,” Goodwin said.
“We think we’re in good shape to continue to build, but we’ve got to sometimes go through these little challenges, this adversity, to really build the resilience and greatness that’s required to win big games.”
Michael Hibberd has retired, and Melksham and Schache are off contract. Grundy has been linked with a trade to the Swans, and will meet with Goodwin this week to discuss a potential trade. Should that occur, it will add to an already bountiful draft hand the Demons have. They not only have their own first-round selection, provisionally at No.15, and their own second-round selection, No.34, but they have Fremantle’s first selection, No.5 overall, and the Dockers’ second-round pick, No.24, courtesy of the Luke Jackson trade last year. This could allow the Demons to chase a key forward from a rival club.
Brereton said Fritsch, the No.1 forward, should be a third marking tall, for the Demons are “screaming out” for a first and second option.
Said Goodwin: “What I can guarantee our supporters is we will continue to find ways to get better. That can be through our method, that can be through our personnel … trade, draft, free agency, whatever that might look like – we’ll be a club that pursues getting better.”
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