With another season comes another club deemed to be the new whipping boy. For Melbourne, that tag line is becoming only too familiar as the Demons went on to be embarrassed at home in round one against a rejuvenated Port Adelaide.
Rightfully so, the Dees were booed off at the long break, the final break and all the way to their change rooms, Melbourne supporters showing their disgust at yet another insipid performance.
When the Port Adelaide players came off the ground to the bench, their dedication was very apparent, looking worn and puffed out. They had run themselves to their capacity for the amount of time they spent on ground. In contrast, it appeared as though Melbourne players casually jogged to the bench, barely breaking a sweat, sitting on the pine with ease.
The knives are out, with coach Mark Neeld left trying to come up with a plausible excuse for his team’s horrid performance, subjected to question upon question about what went horribly wrong.
However, it’s hard to blame Neeld when you take into consideration the losses of Jared Rivers, Brent Moloney, Stefan Martin, Liam Jurrah, Ricky Petterd, Clint Bartram and Brad Green all in one off-season. Between them is almost 800 games of experience in key areas across the ground, and when you consider in the years previous they pushed out Cameron Bruce and James McDonald, that figure of 800 explodes to beyond 1,000.
It is extremely hard to recover from these losses regardless of what and who you bring into your club, and it is difficult to gauge the strength of Melbourne’s coaching group when that type of list turnover occurs.
Melbourne have not exactly replaced those players with born leaders or competitors. In fact, they have simply attempted to plug the holes left behind after these trades.
After promising to be ruthless and on the front foot throughout the trade and free agency periods, the Demons recruited the likes of Shannon Byrnes, David Rodan, Tom Gillies and Cameron Pedersen, all who debuted on the weekend and offered no reason as to why they were recruited.
Salt has been rubbed further into the Demons’ wounds when you consider that Melbourne in the past few seasons has delisted or traded off previous high draft picks in Tom Scully, Jordan Gysberts, Cale Morton and Lucas Cook, which then opens up another can of worms.
Throw in the fact that Neeld changed the way Moloney played instead of allowing him to continue in the same form that almost made him All-Australian the year before, consider that he handed the captaincy to two men who were clearly not ready to fulfill the position and consider that he pushed out senior players, it starts to become clear that this forms part of the problem at Melbourne.
Melbourne are in a diabolical state, but sacking the coach isn’t the answer, nor will it help the financial situation. However, perhaps a shift of power may be justified if this type of performance becomes the norm over the next four to six weeks.
It has long been suggested that the buck stops with the coach, for he is the head of the football club, the shot caller, the man who is required to know exactly who is doing what and when, and everything else in between.
However, not often do we see recruiting management take a hit, nor CEOs or club presidents. The so-called buzzword, ‘culture’, seems to be just a term the majority use when they cannot definitively put their finger on the problem.
Culture is a loose term, thrown around easily especially in these types of situations. What supporters are looking for is increased leadership, as well as heightened integrity, pride, passion and desperation for the guernsey and for the long-suffering fans.
These fans are demanding a turnaround, and if the first half of 2013 is to resemble anything like 2012, then Melbourne are in a far worse situation than initially thought.
Port Adelaide were once branded a basket case, but a shift in off-field positions, namely coaching and fitness, has seen Port Adelaide turn into a well drilled and capable side.
For Melbourne, it is the same old story and it is almost embarrassing that Jack Viney in his debut game was the only one who looked remotely interested. He played like a seasoned veteran and like the commanding captain. He played with so much ferocity, intent and mongrel that he was Melbourne’s best player, daylight between him and the next best.
The icing on the cake was his post-match address, making a plea to his teammates to pull their fingers out, to share the same pride he has for the AFL’s foundation club. Sources say he was visibly upset, angry, something that a debutant should not be feeling. He should be celebrating with elation with his proud family in the change rooms, with his dream of playing AFL coming true, regardless of the end score.
No 18-year-old player should be subject to that type of responsibility. Despite the positives that it comes with, senior players in Nathan Jones and co-captain Jack Grimes should have stood up and taken an active leadership role, but they did not.
The key task now is for Melbourne to embrace their historically good form over Essendon this weekend and bounce back in the way Melbourne supporters deserve. It would be a disastrous start should the Bombers reflect Port Adelaide’s shellacking.
The Demons need to stand up, as anything short of competitive football and improvements in the easiest of bread-and-butter skill execution could have the fans doing more than booing.