Demons fans were put through hell this week as all sections of the media put the blowtorch on every facet of the club. In the wake of the crushing opening round defeat, Melbourne met a club in which they have traditionally had a good record against. Things were meant to turn around. While they might not have won, they were expected to put in a markedly improved performance.
In stark contrast, it got worse. Much worse.
The Demons were batted from pillar-to-post as they were crushed by a whopping 148 points. They were defeated in all keys areas of the game as the Bombers gave them a footballing lesson they will not forget. Mark Neeld had three things written on the whiteboard before the game: ‘Trust Yourself,’ ‘Attack & Hunt With Speed’ and ‘Mistakes Do Not Matter.’
For the first few minutes, they seemed to listen to the message of the coach but as the game wore on, all semblance of structure went out the window.
The match ended with their biggest losing margin ever against the Bombers and 20th worst ever loss in VFL-AFL history.
Leadership at the Demons has often been criticised but as another tortuous week in the media beckons, it is those at Melbourne who hold key positions that should be the voice at a football club currently on its knees.
In perhaps one of the most telling signs that this footy club lacks leadership, Mark Neeld was forced to face the post match media scrum by himself. Usually a player is there to shoulder the burden but he was left by himself. This only exemplifies the sort of culture that exists at the moment.
Mark Neeld has often been maligned for being too honest at press conferences and this one was no different. Neeld delivered the stark message that their efforts were simply not good enough. He urged his players to work harder in order to arrest the sharp decline in performance. It is Neeld who will come up the most scrutiny this week and whether he deserves that or not is a matter of opinion.
As written last week, Melbourne’s experienced players were being forced to lead the club in a time where the long term Demons players needed to step up and be counted.
Players such as Jack Watts, who was taken to the cleaners in the post-match press conference, in no uncertain terms was implored to lift. The fact that he was dragged from the ground with his tail between his legs puts into question the sort of scapegoat culture that is present within Melbourne at the moment.
It is a sad indictment on the club that there are no realistic leaders on field at the moment, as well as off it. While Jack Trengove and Jack Grimes have bright futures, they are simply not leaders at their young age. You simply can’t compare them to the likes of Jobe Watson and Joel Selwood.
While Watts was just one of many players who put in a sub-par effort, the issue at Melbourne is beyond one player or official. It is an overall club culture that needs to change before things on field improve
It has been a disastrous start to a season of promise for Melbourne, but it is time that Mark Neeld is not the only off-field figurehead that is blamed. It is simply unfair to shoulder the blame squarely on him when so many players continue to underperform while off-field head honchos stay silent.
The likes of club president Don McLardy and CEO Cameron Schwab need to give the club a voice that it has been painfully missing. They hold vital positions at the footy club yet have been silent in the week where they should have been leading from the front. Instead it has been left to Mark Neeld to face up to the media.
The Melbourne Football Club is going to be battered from every conceivable angle this week and it is about time those that hold key leadership positions stand up and be counted. When the CEO and President emerge and throw their support behind embattled coach Mark Neeld, progress will have been made.
All is not lost for Melbourne but clear leadership is needed at this crucial time. The Demons will face much tougher opposition than Essendon in the coming weeks so things will need to change sooner rather than later if they are to be competitive in 2013.
Melbourne fans have been put through hell in the first two weeks of the season and the least they deserve is clear leadership from the top. If McLardy and Schwab continue to remain invisible as the season progresses, things will get much worse before they get any better.