The second half had just begun at the MCG, and a decent sized crowd of people who had come out to see Melbourne’s season opener were shocked.
The lowly Port Adelaide was running the Demons into the ground, and as then Melbourne coach Mark Neeld said after the match, they didn’t see it coming.
This wasn’t how it was meant to be in Neeld’s second year, and yet the Power were showing the Demons up as fraudsters going into 2013. Whilst nobody could have guessed how good they would be that season, it was still a horrific 87-point deficit. Especially considering the raft of mature recruits brought in to stem the bleeding from a shocking 2012 season.
At this point in proceedings, the Dees were down by a relatively surmountable 31 points. The Power had the ball with Jasper Pittard on the back 50 arc, and he chipped it short to Campbell Heath. As Heath looked to kick it long down the corridor, what happened next would come close to defining the career of a player who had thought this would be his fresh start.
Cameron Pedersen, playing his first game for the club after being traded to the Dees from North Melbourne, saw the ball coming to him on a string. It was a wobbly kick from Heath, too low for his three streaming teammates to get on the end of and at chest height for his opponent. Pedersen, who perhaps heard their footsteps, saw the football but didn’t mark it. Instead, he ducked underneath it, raising a feeble arm as tribute before being swamped by his three opponents who had covered substantial ground to even get near him.
The Demons forced it out for a throw in, and the now retired leader Mitch Clark turned to Pedersen and just looked at him with raised arms. The ground could have swallowed him up there and then, but it didn’t: that was left to the horde of Demons fans who didn’t shy away from criticising their new man.
His effort would be symbolic of the Mark Neeld era: players scared of their own shadows.
From then on, he would be a whipping boy for the club’s failings. Neeld professed to stand by Pedersen during the following week, but then dropped him anyway for the round two clash against Essendon. The Demons were beaten by 148 points, controversial CEO Cameron Schwab resigned, and the coach was on borrowed time.
Every match he played, Pedersen was heavily scrutinised. A relatively smooth mover, he was seen as too cumbersome a player at 193 cm to really fit a position. He struggled up forward on his own when he was given the opportunity, and his only good game was in the loss to Greater Western Sydney when he played off half back.
Despite his improved form late in the year, most Melbourne fans would have swept Pedersen out of the door were it not for a bizarre three year contract tabled by Neeld. Seven years in the bottom eight does funny things to a supporter base, and the frustration gun with a plethora of ammunition was directed firmly directed Pedersen’s way.
When Paul Roos named him in round one, he competed hard alongside Jack Fitzpatrick up forward but couldn’t get his hands on it. He missed a crucial shot for goal when the Demons were still a chance, and the fans were dreaming of the return of Clark, Chris Dawes and Jesse Hogan from injury.
With Clark’s retirement and Hogan struggling to return from a back stress fracture, Pedersen remained in the side, and what happened next has defied belief.
Slowly, beginning with the round four win over Carlton, he began to win some respect. Put into the midfield by the Roos administration, Pedersen has comparatively thrived for the Demons.
At the bottom of the scrap heap but for that massive contract, he’s managed to untie the noose around his neck and become a settled member of the line-up just seven games into the season.
Melbourne fans admire his tireless work rate and his new found propensity to throw himself into the contest. The fact that he’s clearly still atoning mentally for his mistake against Port over a year later has endeared him to the supporters.
He’s not the only one to surprise, mind you. Once considered an image-conscious liability, Lynden Dunn has spent the last season in defence and redeemed himself so sufficiently that he was recently added to the club’s leadership group. Jack Watts too, after being criticised heavily in the media for his showing against Sydney in round six, came out against Adelaide yesterday after being publicly backed by Roos with a team mindset and a far better intensity.
Players who don’t want to go back with the flight but do it anyway are to be admired, and Cameron Pedersen is drawing plenty of praise for his courage.
Pedersen has shown the football world that people who work hard in the face of scrutiny, vitriol and ridicule can claw their way back with some elbow grease, a bit of faith from above and, above all, a true commitment to the cause.