Story of the Summer
The rebranding of Melbourne under Paul Roos continued over the off-season, with the club adding several new recruits in its bid for on-field success. The off-season acquisitions from other clubs – running defender Heritier Lumumba from Collingwood, small forward Jeff Garlett from Carlton, tall utility Sam Frost from GWS, and midfielder Ben Newton from Port Adelaide – are aimed at providing an inexperienced Melbourne team with more football nous.
Lumumba brings class off half back, while Garlett, out of favour at Carlton, remains a talented player, and will give Melbourne an additional, and desperately needed, avenue to goal. Newton impressed during his time at the Power, but was unable to cement his spot in a strong squad, while Frost had limited game time at GWS, but has the flexibility to be used as both a key forward and defender. The departure of key defender James Frawley to Hawthorn was undoubtedly a loss for the Demons, however, and it remains to be seen how Roos will structure his squad in order to cover this loss.
Melbourne also acquired a number of impressive youngsters through the draft in 2014. Top picks Christian Petracca and Angus Brayshaw were progressing well before a season-ending ACL and illness ended their pre-seasons, while father-son draftee Billy Stretch and Alex Neal-Bullen have been largely untried, but have shown some good signs. Rookie pick up Aaron Vandenberg, acquired from Ainslie in the ACT, has been in excellent form during the NAB Challenge, and looms as a likely upgrade to the senior list in place of Petracca.
The best news for the Demons was the good form of a finally injury-free Jesse Hogan. Since being selected in the mini-draft at the end of 2012, Demons’ fans have been waiting for the debut of the much-hyped key forward; however, injury cruelled his season in 2013. Seeing Hogan fit and firing during the pre-season will undoubtedly bring joy to many Melbourne fans.
Where They Excel
After finishing second last on the ladder in 2014, it’s fair to say there aren’t many areas in which the Demons fared well. However, what was clear under Paul Roos was a reinvigorated emphasis on defence. The Demons became much more difficult to score against, and conceded less goals than they did the previous year. Testament to this renewed defensive vigour is the fact that they forced 74.0 stoppages a game last year, ranked first in the league. The Dees were also ranked sixth in opposition goals scored from inside 50, and took 32 more contested marks than their opponent all season, ranking them fifth. A little surprisingly, given their lack of star power in the ruck, the Demons ranked third in hitouts won per game, averaging 44.8 per game. This is an indication of the hard work of ruckman Mark Jamar last year, but is also a testament to the improved clearance and stoppage work of the team, which rose noticeably with the recruitment of Dom Tyson.
Where They Struggle
However, this focus on defence came at the expense of scoring ability, with the Demons one of the worst teams for converting scores, and for being able to move the ball. Far too often, players became mired in slow movement of the ball – the Demons moved the ball successfully from defensive 50 to forward 50 only 18.4% of the time, ranking them 17th in the competition. The team also ranked last in the league in the inside 50 and clearance differential, something they will be looking to improve on this season. Another area of concern for the Demons was their lack of polished foot skills, with turnovers an all-too-frequent part of their game style.
The Year Ahead
2015 will be another year of consolidation for Paul Roos’ team. The off-season recruits should help add some class and poise to the Demons, and a new focus on offence during the pre-season should help the Demons score more effectively. The younger players are beginning to gel with one another and, if they can implement Roos’ game plan, should see improved results this year.
Off-field, 2015 will be important for the Demons as they seek to re-establish themselves as a successful, debt-free club. The strategic plan set out by CEO Peter Jackson and other board members has the club well positioned to both attract more members and sponsors, and to relieve the club of some of the crushing debt that has burdened it for many years. The executive has set down a vision that involves the club featuring in finals in the next few seasons, the kind of vision the Demons have been sorely lacking.
Ladder range: 15-18
B: Neville Jetta, Tom McDonald, Colin Garland
HB: Jack Grimes, Lynden Dunn, Heritier Lumumba
C: Bernie Vince, Nathan Jones, Dom Tyson
HF: Jack Watts, Chris Dawes, Jeremy Howe
F: Jeff Garlett, Jesse Hogan, Christian Salem
Foll: Mark Jamar, Matt Jones, Jack Viney
Int: Cameron Pedersen, Ben Newton, Jay Kennedy-Harris
Sub: Dean Kent